As you should know if you've been following this blog for at least a year, I am an advocate for ethical fashion and original branding. This meaning that I support brands which are made without harming the environment and their workers as well as have their own original designs and not irresponsibly steal other people's work and blame it on their suppliers, as some retailers do. Seeing as it's eco month on the blog this March, I thought I would talk about one ethically made brand that I've been quite fortunate to get to know a little bit this past month. If you've been following me on instagram - and here too, actually - you would have heard of this brand. Let me introduce KANA for those of you who don't know who they are. Kana is a local Indonesian clothing label, which carries plenty of ethically made sartorial pieces using our traditional batik technique and natural dye, extracted from indigo plants. Therefore, the production process takes a long time to finish and their products are obviously not mass-produced. The other day I managed to sit down with their founder, Ms. Sancaya Rini, for an interview. Enjoy!
How and why did you start KANA?
Well, first, I had a fabric label business named Kanawida, which means 'colourful' in Kawi (old Javanese). We made plenty of fabric using batik technique and sold them to people. But we never processed them into clothing items and soon our customers asked us to turn them into clothes. Apparently, the name Kanawida was already taken for a fashion label so we settled for KANA instead. It was later on found out that KANA means 'beautiful' in a lot of languages, Korean, Japanese, Arabic. When my son decided to help me, we decided to come up with a way to make batik clothing pieces more adaptable for younger generations. And so we adapted a Japanese-esque aesthetics using our traditional wax-resist dyeing technique.
Why do you use natural dye?
At first, when I started learning how to batik at the Textile Museum, they taught me using chemical dye, which was cheaper. When I tried to apply the technique at home, my husband scolded me. He said, where would we throw away the waste? It would obviously pollute our groundwater. Not only that, the chemical substance isn't good for the hands. They made mine very itchy. So I asked my teachers if there was another way or another ingredient I could use. They referred me to natural dye. Our batik artists used to use natural dye, actually, but then the Dutch came, started buying our batik, they took our books on natural dye and insist we use the chemical dye they brought from Holland, such as naphthol, which still gets exported to our country until now while it's banned in the European countries themselves.
How do you know what can be used as natural dye?
People ask me all the time if I have a secret recipe or technique in turning plants into natural dye. My only secret is trying everything out. At the Textile Museum, they informed us on where to buy natural dye, which plants can be used to extract what colour and where to get them. But the information is strictly regional, focused in Jogjakarta, which means plenty of these plants are hard to find elsewhere. But we're all surrounded by nature everywhere so I just tried out everything, from the grass on my lawn to the tree barks on the side of the streets. Soak them, boil them, mix them with other ingredients, grind them, juice them, anything. I observe nature and pay close attention to fruits' or leaves' dyeing potential. Basically, everything can dye. But you have to determine which will be more efficient and which will not.
It all depends on how difficult the patterns and the cuts are. In average, the batik-ing takes 1-2 days. A simple pattern usually takes a day but a more complex one takes around 2 days. Afterwards comes the dyeing which depends on how dark the colour will be. It usually takes around 5-6 days. It doesn't matter if it rains because the dye will not get washed off by the rain. Then comes the sewing. Our seamster can finish around 12-15 items a day, depending on the style of the items.
What is your opinion about batik in today's fashion industry?
These days younger generations seem to misunderstand batik. They only regard batik as traditional patterns or motifs. But it's actually a process, a wax-resist dyeing technique. They see textiles with traditional patterns and think they're batik, when they were actually printed. I hope that by seeing the simple batiks, they will be more curious to learn more about traditional batiks. So that not only the older generations will understand them. Aside from that, I feel like batik is a little forced sometimes. For example, there is a region in Indonesia which doesn't have the batik tradition in their culture and all of a sudden they're asked to make batiks as an icon of their region, such as Papua Batik. They've never made them before, so they wouldn't understand! They have their own technique of resist dye, using sap per se. That should be developed instead! We should develop our fashion industry using the culture roots from each region from across the country. In fashion, batik has been relatively widely used now. But, if you're talking business, the biggest fashion retailers who are involved in pure business no longer use authentic batik, they simply print batik patterns on fabrics, not even using metal stamps or canting anymore. Where will we take our batik culture at this rate?
Lastly, why do you think people should buy ethical fashion products?
First of all, in a small industry like the batik industry, it will provide jobs for the craftsmen and -women. And fairly too! They will work with us happily, free of oppression. I'm very honest to my workers; if an exhibition didn't go well, I will let them know. If I'm collaborating with a designer, I will let people know who make the designs, I will respect their works. If someone wears or uses someone else's design without crediting them, that is no longer ethical. We also treat the items - the fabric - with care. If we want to make a certain item, we cut the fabric according to the pattern as efficiently as possible so as to cut down the waste as much as possible. Sometimes I sew the rest of the fabric to turn them into scarf, tablecloths or drapes.
Last month on Indonesian Fashion Week and last weekend at Pop Up Market Indonesia KANA have exclusively introduced their newest SS 2015 collection. Aside from working as an independent label, KANA have also collaborated with a number of other local clothing brands, such as Bluesville and Bobobobo.com. If ever you feel like spending your money on something worthwhile and incredibly chic, you should start thinking to invest on ethical labels such as this. Not only do they use environmental-friendly materials and dye, they also accommodate and support young craftsmen and -women who are good and passionate about what they do. So let's be more fashionable with a conscience!