Cover Story / March 2019

Taking Batik to the World

The sound of heels clicking on the floor becomes prominent as a figure sashays toward our crew. Her elegant bun of thick ebony hair matches her dark-rimmed glasses sitting on the bridge of her nose.

A picture of elegance, Lisa Mihardja sits back and tells us that Alleira Batik featured at this year’s New York Fashion Week.

The brand has already been in New York for the past three years, in the Indonesian Fashion Gallery, and is managed by one of Lisa’s partners. Their latest collection, “Puspa,” was given the same treatment as any other designer during the prestigious fashion show – bright lights, long runway, striking models – but we are going to tell you what really goes on behind the scenes at Alleira.

“Batik for me is an Indonesian art we need to preserve, but preserve it in such a way that we don’t want it to be traditional, we want to keep the tradition,” Lisa explains.

 

Diving Into International Waters

Alleira started off in a humble garage, where four people had a mutual passion for batik. Although it was not the pioneer batik brand, it is best known for giving the traditional fabric a modern touch.

The act of modernizing it did not mean foregoing the use of wax or hand-drawn motifs, but rather the way outfits made from the fabric are designed. “We follow the international trend to be accepted in the international market,” Lisa says.

This means they must pay attention to the pantone color of the year (a chosen color that guides fashion designers, florists and other consumer-oriented companies) and trends from fashion weeks around the world.

Alleira’s use of gradient and ombre styles with a mix of vibrant and pastel colors is very different from the traditional black, brown and white. Each product also has its own specific home – meaning that an item popular in Indonesia will not necessarily appeal to buyers in the United States.

“For the market outside Indonesia, they really like something simple, so we have to do it differently,” Lisa says. To put it simply, less is more. Instead of wearing head-to-toe batik, the woven designs are only incorporated into one part. “So we work with local designers, for example Singaporean designers, to make sure that it is accepted in the local market,” Lisa says. Alleira is best known for producing batik incorporated into denim jeans – something no other batik brand had done before.

As a homegrown brand, Alleira also works with several groups representing underprivileged people in the country.

“We work with groups of refugee women; we teach them how to make stuffed toys from leftover batik. And when it’s up to our standard, we buy it back and sell it in our store,” Lisa explains. Alleira cooperates with the Indonesian Breast Cancer Foundation (YKPI) every year, but this year, the company will be launching a new movement.

Alleira’s upcoming project will be a collaboration with Australian model Madeline Stuart to commemorate Down Syndrome Day on March 21. Madeline is the first professional model with Down syndrome and she crossed paths with Lisa’s partner during Paris Fashion Week last year.

“There are many kids in Indonesia with down syndrome that have not been, I wouldn’t call it exposed, but they have not been brought up to the next level. They stay at home, or they just go to a special school and that’s it,” Lisa says. Lisa hopes the fashion show will inspire children or adults with Down syndrome to achieve their dreams.

 

Dream Teamwork

As a mother of three, Lisa’s eyes light up when asked about Indonesia’s young and upcoming designers.

“Indonesian designers are very talented, they have a lot of these crazy ideas but really turn it into something creative, something that I think is an art,” Lisa gushes. However, she emphasizes that though times have changed, one factor always remains the same, and that is the importance of teamwork.

“There are many designers I feel are good in one thing, but they want to take care of everything themselves; they’re one-man shows, and it’s not right for the business,” Lisa says. Especially for a large fashion brand, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes.

“You really have to work with someone else who is good at what they do. So work as a team, build a fashion brand that does not hit and run, and turn it into a legacy,” she says.