MADE WITH LOVE. Batik is always in the heart of Mariana Sutandi, the founder of Parang Kencana. She converses with Gabriela Yosefina about the wondrous textile
Mariana Sutandi is truly a one-of-a-kind designer and businesswoman. Even as she turns 73 this year, her passion is still as fiery as the time she first opened her venture, Parang Kencana, in 1992. The animated founder still approves every design before it goes into production and has a hand in various aspects of the company. She even admits to fitting as many pieces as possible before putting them in stores. On top of it all, her continued commitment to convince people to start wearing batik is more than admirable. In over two decades, Parang Kencana has grown far beyond its humble beginnings in her own garage to include eleven independent stores and a number of outlets located in department stores across Indonesia. Through it all, the brand has managed to maintain incredible consistency in delivering a wide array of high-quality batik. Sutandi’s love for batik is further demonstrated by her active involvement in Yayasan Batik Indonesia, an Indonesian non-profit organization that focuses on supporting local batik artisans. Together with the foundation, she took part in nominating batik as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, which was granted by UNESCO in 2009.
Gabriela Yosefina: Why did you decide to establish Parang Kencana in the first place?
Mariana Sutandi: Everything starts from the heart. Art is my first love, so my love for batik came naturally. That love led to Parang Kencana, and it keeps on fueling the business until today. One point of advice for those who want to venture into batik: If you don’t love batik, forget about setting a batik business. Batik is not easy to make; I have to face a lot of challenges in the production process from coloring to designing. However, despite the challenges, I can enjoy the process because I love it.
GY: So, how did your batik venture get started?
MS: Initially, there was no actual store. I basically built the business from my own garage. My purpose was, and still is, to introduce batik to every layer of society—from the youngest to the oldest. People need to know that they can wear batik every day, not only for certain occasions.
GY: Was it hard to bring batik to the people back
then? What about today?
MS: When I was just starting, people couldn’t understand the concept of wearing batik every day. People who live in the city used to think that only those from villages would wear batik. They weren’t aware that it is one of our national heritages. So, the
earlier Parang Kencana batik collections were not like the ones you see today. The pieces only had batik as accents instead of the main motifs. That way, people would not be discouraged to try wearing one. All in all, educating the society about batik is pretty much a gradual process. Today, thankfully, batik has been widely accepted. UNESCO has confirmed that batik is from Indonesia—I was a part of the movement along with other committee members in Yayasan Batik Indonesia who fought all the way so that the world would acknowledge batik as our national heritage. At the same time, Indonesians still have to preserve batik because UNESCO has the right to amend the decision if we cannot maintain our status. I am grateful that the government has allocated more support and funding for batik producers. Before, I had to fight and do everything on my own.
GY: What’s special about Parang Kencana batik that makes it different from other brands?
MS: In Parang Kencana both batik tulis and batik cap are handmade, so that every batik piece is a one-of-akind. Additionally, no two shades are the same because the production process depends on a lot of things such as the dye used and natural heat. We also provide a lot of motifs and designs to cater to different customers, from casual to semi-formal and formal pieces. In general, what makes batik all the more special is the way that these time-honored techniques are passed on from generation to generation.
Outfit by Parang Kencana, shoes by Tod’s
GY: Although batik is considered traditional, in one of your more recent runway shows I saw a modern version of batik on a sporty jacket. For another piece, you mixed batik with other textiles. It is quite a departure from your usual design.
MS: Yes, I released a collection of batik mixed together with other textiles because there was a suggestion from Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (Indonesia’s sixth president) to match batik with modern fabrics. The mix of patterns is quite a breakthrough in terms of design because it can make batik appear modern, thus the younger generation will be more inclined to wear it. At the same time, we have to be selective in choosing which textiles to work with. We cannot just mix anything with batik. Polyester, for instance, doesn’t sit well with batik. My other concern with this new kind of design is actually plagiarism. We will release this new collection in just a small quantity, and you’ll see that soon others will follow selling in bulk.
GY: Do you check out the current trends before creating a new design?
MS: I used to come to a lot of fashion shows in Indonesia and observe what’s going on internationally. These days I have been reducing my time out and letting my children observe the trends. I do think that it is essential to understand what’s happening around us and what the newest developments are. If you want to be the best, you have the check out your surroundings. Otherwise, you are going to get stuck.
GY: Talking about batik for men, what do you think about today’s trend in comparison to when you were just starting?
MS: It is totally different nowadays. Modern men are now willing to wear pink or peach—colors that are considered feminine—especially young executives. Our colorful shirts are almost always in high demand. Yet, we don’t want to stop at our current color selections. We should keep on experimenting with new dyes and shades to stay ahead of the others.
“People need to know that they can wear batik every day, not only for certain occasions”
GY: Can you tell me more about this experimentation process?
MS: In addition to the in-house production team, I have outsourced some of the production stages to artisans in Pekalongan, Cirebon and other areas. Some of them send us the finished products; others send us semi-finished ones. Regarding the experimentation process itself, getting the perfect colors is one of the hardest elements to achieve in the batik production process. Therefore, my production team and the artisans have to struggle extra hard when it comes to mixing and working with our dyes. It can take months to achieve the right shade, especially when the weather is not favorable.
GY: I think a lot of people do not realize how hard it is to create batik. What do you think needs to be done to increase public awareness about this rigorous process?
MS: There must be an educational event or workshop to help people understand their own national heritage. Additionally, Indonesian embassies in different countries should be obliged to organize batik workshops to introduce foreigners to the textile. I have an interesting experience about this: When I was in Paris, I found Mega Mendung—one of the most popular batik motifs—but the tag said “Made in Turkey.” If people knew more about batik, such an occurrence could have been avoided. On another note, I am thankful that the government has banned importers to bring printed batik to Indonesia. The printed ones are cheaper to
produce and can be detrimental to the local market. Unfortunately, we cannot prevent people from printing batik, so banning the imported ones is a good move.
GY: Taking into account all that you have achieved so far, what is your motto in life?
MS: The most important thing in life is to be thankful. Whether it’s working from a garage or running the fullfledged business I have today, there is no way I could have done all of it on my own. I entrust everything to God, especially in my old age.
Designer Talks: Mariana Sutandi
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