Rama Dauhan: A Carefree Spirit

Staying true to himself and readying himself for challenges in his way, Rama Dauhan is up for anything.

Photography Joe Sabarto

Rama Dauhan is arguably one of the brightest young fashion designers in Indonesia. As part the generation of pioneers that spurred the rise of local brands in Indonesia, Rama Dauhan remains true to himself, just like when he first started thirteen years ago. It’s hard to miss his quirky works and his bubbly persona—one of his strongest traits that goes into his unique designs. Dauhan’s daring and distinctive style is what keeps demand for his pieces so high throughout the years. DAMAN sat down with the designer at his newly renovated studio and talked about his journey in Indonesia’s fashion industry.

DA MAN: Hi Rama, thanks for having us. What’s keeping you busy these days?
Rama Dauhan:
We’ve just finished renovating the studio and are preparing for the upcoming Plaza Indonesia Fashion Week. Besides that, there’s an ongoing contract with Samsung where we will design and create a collection based on its latest cellphone. But I’m excited for the 30th anniversary of Plaza Indonesia and the Plaza Indonesia Fashion Week where we will showcase 30 looks! We started preparations since three to four months ago, so we’re in the development at around 60 to 70 percent of completion and there’s still few weeks left.

DA: For our readers who might be unfamiliar with your name, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
I graduated from ESMOD in 2003 with a specialty in menswear. After graduating, I went straight to work at (X)S.M.L for almost eight years. Then, together with Dana Maulana and Liza Masitha, we established Danjyo Hiyoji, did rebranding for the brand and won several awards. I stayed with Danjyo Hiyoji for about two and a half years, then suddenly I got bored with fashion. When I left Danjyo Hiyoji and wasn’t doing any kind of work, I got to think on what I wanted do. Was I ready to have employees and be a good leader for them? Was I ready to build my own brand? During that time, other offers came in, so I opened up a restaurant called Mangia and did murals for a year. All I wanted to do that year was making murals. But it turns out that fashion is still my passion and the demand is still there.

DA: When did you decide to build your own brand?
In 2014. I started in my garage with just two seamstresses and one assistant. And that lasted only for eight months because we needed to expand the team and more space. I originally didn’t want to have employees because it’s really hard to manage them. I just wanted to take one order at a time and that’s it. But at that time, Aida Nurmala pushed me to do a collection for Fashion Nation and I went for it. After eight months in that small garage, we moved into a workshop which lasted for five years and then moved into this studio.

DA: What’s your vision for the brand?
When we worked in that workshop, the space was really small and it’s really hard for us to expand. Now that we have moved in into the new studio, I’m starting to think that we can make ready-to-wear collections. I can see more possibilities with this space, collaborations and workshops. People kept asking me why don’t I do a showcase or sell my designs in Paris where people can appreciate my work. But the way I see it, if I’m personally not capable and my internal team is not strong enough, I don’t have the guts to do it. Why would I do something that’s so grandiose? I’d rather do something that is in line with my capacity. I sell my designs in a few flagship stores in Jakarta and also a small store in Jogjakarta. The quantity is not much, the pricing is quite high, but it turns out everything was sold out. So, the demand is there and it got me thinking about making a ready-to-wear collection with more affordable pricing. Maybe call it “ready-to-wear deluxe.”

DA: How do you normally start a new collection?
It varies. Inspiration comes from everywhere. For instance, I’m really into roller skates these days so I poured it into the latest collection. I like to read; I was once inspired by a German painter. But I need something that I’m really into to become an inspiration instead of intentionally looking for something. That way the inspiration will become soulful.

DA: What is the quintessential Rama Dauhan design?
I’ve never stated anything about my designs, but people see my carefree spirit. I really like to mix everything up. I like to mix fabrics, inspiration, colors and silhouettes. What I like at that moment is what I bring to the collection.

DA: How about menswear in particular? Do you approach it design differently from womenswear?
Creating menswear is a challenge and that is the reason why I specialized in menswear in school. I’m not saying that creating womenswear is easy but the market is bigger and they’re more open to new things. Men are the opposite. So, the challenge is how to create menswear without it making it look too effeminate. That’s the hardest part for me because it’s not just about the design, it’s also about your attitude, your lifestyle—these kinds of aspects. So, my approach is, if I want to make something new, I’ll be the first one to wear it. Then I see the reactions from people around me and if the response is good, I take notes and store them in my data bank. As such, I only launch one menswear collection per year, whereas I can do two for women.

DA: What was the most memorable or challenging piece you have designed so far?
Everything is memorable. I do weddings now and I want to do both the groom and the bride because then the concept is comprehensive that way. I can’t remember which pieces are the most memorable but the most priceless and meaningful moment is when there’s a wedding client who are completely strangers and along the way we got to spend time and get to know each other intensely for about five to six months then I got to dress them for the most important moment of their life. From complete strangers turned into best friends then family, that is much more priceless that the pieces.

DA: Do you still enjoy the process of designing as you did when you first began?
Yes, that is one feeling that I really have to keep. That’s why I have to really love the concept because you need four to five months to prepare a concept and when you’re not really into it, you’ll get sick of it.

DA: How do you see your brand evolving further?
I want to see this brand as something that people still look and wait for. I want to do collaborations, have more new clients because you’ll never know where that can take you.

DA: Speaking of which, what do you think about designers doing collaborations? And just how important are they for a fashion brand?
It’s really important, especially in this day and age, with the strength of social media. Collaboration basically means merging two different markets together and creating a larger market scoop. That’s why I really like collaborations; that’s why on shows I ask for collaborations with different brands, such as shoe brands, accessories brands and so forth., so I can get larger market exposure.

DA: What are the main challenges you have to face as a fashion designer? Specifically here in Indonesia…
The market. Because you really have to follow the market here, so it’s hard to create a trend, especially if you’re a small brand. But I can make peace with that. The hardest challenge for me is to build a solid team, how to have standards that are on-par. Because I’m certain that there is no fashion designer anywhere in the world who would be successful without a solid team behind the.

Photography Robby Agus / Styling Peter Zewet / Styling Assistant Safina Harys / Styling Intern Lebrina Stephanie Yesayas / Grooming Leonardus Yosafat / Model Pavel Samsonov / Gustav Models, Gabriel Forti / F-MODELS

DA: What kind of aspects do you still want to develop for the brand?
I still have a lot of dreams! [Laughs] Like I said before, I’d be great if I can sell overseas but I had to have a solid team and it’s not easy.

DA: For someone that has been in the industry for quite some time, what do you think about the fashion scene in Indonesia?
I feel annoyed by how online shops are mushrooming everywhere, honestly. They sell low-priced clothing but they steal the designs from left and right, and they offer poor quality. I’m happy to see the rapid growth and new colleagues with great designs and shows. But when we talk about ready-to-wear, people nowadays prefer to buy a lot of cheap clothes so they can change wardrobes or even just to take pictures for social media instead of looking for something with good quality. They just want to be seen without actually caring about the brand, the process behind it or interacting with the designer. It just shows that this generation wants things instantly.

DA: Last question: What do you enjoy most about being a fashion designer?
The creative process and how it makes me learn, every single time. And building a team is a never-ending challenge. I like to be challenged, I like to meet new people, I like to be exposed to new opportunities