Sarongs and Beyond.
How long have you been in the industry?
Although it even feels longer, almost like forever, I have been in the industry for twenty-one years. It has been challenging years but mostly it has been a wonderful career path that has allowed me travel,creative freedom and a way to express myself and build working relationships with many talented people.
How did you get into designing sarongs?
I become a designer by accident, or same may say by luck. I started out as a graphic designer, and designed the branding of many hotels and spas in Bali during a booming time in 1996. My graphic designs also went into production to be included in some hotels and spas on their kimonos or sarongs to reflect the continuity of the brand, it was very rewarding to see this evolution. It was however during the economic crisis in 1998 that I fell into hard times. After being successful I found myself down and out. At my lowest I sat in a friend’s shop and I was doodling designs. As I sat there an American lady came in and had a look at my design and she bought it from me for her label in New York. I was then commissioned to make thirty more original designs for her label and soon I found myself back on my feet again. I was also invited to their label at a tradeshow in New York, and was appointed to handle the labels production in Indonesia and so I learned many skills through this opportunity. It was only natural for me, being an entrepreneur, to launch my own label Astra Deco. I was determent to build this brand abroad. I believed that if you can make it out side of Indonesia it will be easier to make it in Indonesia.
Was it easy to get into the international arena with a product like a sarong?
I went to many trade shows all over the world. Each time I studied the market there and made unique designs for each different country. In some countries it worked, in others it did not. But I do not design for profit I design to express my vision. Understandably not everybody understood my vision, but in the countries, they did it was a huge success. Brazil has embraced me to become my best market thus far. Once you have one good client base it is only a matter of time until you have more, although my designs have featured under a different label in New York, I am still on a mission to present Astra Deco in America and make it big there as well. The key is to never give up, it is better to toughen up and change your strategy while remaining true to yourself. Astra Deco is a global brand born in Indonesia.
But why a sarong, it is such a simple garment?
On the contrary, a sarong might be basic but it is very versatile. Besides being able to use it as a blanket or a towel there are more than hundred and forty-six ways that you can tie it. Astra Deco displayed the magnificence of the sarong during the Miss World Pageant held in Bali and ever since I am approached regularly to showcase sarongs at high fashion events as many prestigious fashion week events. A sarong allows you to be on the beach in your bikini the one moment, and inside a posh restaurant the next by turning it into a dress. Ask me how,because I have done it many times myself! I know I did not invent the sarong, but in my own unique way I elevate the sarong and illustrate its importance and flexibility.
As for exporting your product, did you find it to be challenging?
It has really improved over the years, but it is very important to research each countries requirement as you may find yourself in a difficult position if you don’t. It is also wise to keep copies of all your documents for administration and to be able to handle any queries efficiently if they should arise to insure you can resolve them. Exporting may be a challenge and feel tedious at times, but to be diligent is the key.
Do you export high quantities?
Yes, my shipments I prefer to be large enough to prevent me from having to share a container with another company. You can only control your own shipment, and if you share with somebody else if their shipment gets rejected, your product will also be rejected. So, it is saver to ship larger quantities as I do of million pieces of sarongs each year or even more, it is a numbers game so the more the better.
What raw materials do you use for your sarong, and where do you source them from?
I only make my sarongs from pure Rayon. You can make sarongs from cotton, but that is not my brand’s choice of material. I did try to import raw materials, and found it costly and complicated. Sourcing locally from Indonesia is the way to go. If I do import material it really must be something unique, as the local market can supply sufficient raw materials.
What dyeing techniques do you prefer?
We use three different techniques, but most of our products are handmade and painted by artisans. This means that each sarong is a unique work of art. When it comes to mass production we use the stamp technique as well as screen printing to produce a specific design in mass quantity.
Do you find production in Indonesia challenging?
I have a high standard set for the quality of material I use, and quality control of the product I produce. I am not driven by price but by quality. In Indonesia, the challenge is your design can be copied. That I come up with my own designs is to my advantage. Being copied I think is a compliment, and the people that copy do not have their own ideas and lacks in quality, so having my own ideas and quality control keeps me in the lead of my competitors. I block a range set at a high grade to produce over a million meters of yarn. The sheer size of my production line also gives me an advantage in the market. Quality and quantity combined with creativety enhances my production line. The other secret weapon I use is my intuition, I do not do what I do to make money, I do it to make my statement and this is my signature approach to any product I place on the market.
Do you produce any other products besides sarongs?
It is just natural that you do add to your line, so we also have hair scrunchies, pouches and other small accessories. I also make bikinis to match with my sarongs, this I have found very pleasing especially marketing it and using social media and celebrities to promote the product. We have also decided to make men’s shirts from Rayon and it is starting to really get attention for being a practical shirt to wear in the tropics. I am always open to new ideas and possibilities.
Have you taken advantage of the Asian market?
Although most of my exports go to Brazil now, the Asian market also hold many opportunities. Astra Deco has been sold at Changi Airport and the Botanical Gardens in Singapore, in retail outlets around Thailand and currently we are busy expanding into the Philippines.
In Indonesia where can people find your product?
In Bali, Jakarta and Malang. I have few concepts stores and shared retail spaces where I sell my sarongs, bikinis and other accessories.
What would your advice be to any young upcoming entrepreneur like yourself?
Do what you love with passion and if you need skills in your company invest in people. I have a skill to spot talent, and then to hire it. From the maestro that tied the sarongs on one hundred and thirty Miss World contestants to my loyal staff in my production and retails outlets. Surround yourself with talented and likeminded people and you will succeed. My own personal payoff line has been: Never go wrong with sarong!Believing in what you do are the keys to success.