October 28, 2017

Is Batik Fair?

Guave presented their Batik cap collection at the Fair Fashion Festival 22 October in Utrecht

Wastra Indonesia event at the Indonesia Embassy on 24 July

After seeing Batik being presented as Fair Fashion a couple of times, I think it is a good moment to dive in this terminology. It seems Fair is the magic word right now in fashion, design and food. I heard during a talk, I believe it was a one of the Meet Up's at Centraal Museum, that food is a good indication when it comes to what people want. And that you can predict what people want fashion-wise in the next decade. Fashion is the last to join the party when it comes to trends even though it presents itself as being the first.
In the food section we already are aware of and are choosing more and more fair, organic, eco friendly, local and vegan products. Where first we look at our wallets, more people now start making a choice for healthy, sustainable goods. The shift in fashion is becoming visible as well. But with a big difference. In the supermarket you have to make choices between organic flown in strawberries from Spain or pesticide covered ones from the farmer in the area, but in fashion industry these little, big impact distinctions are harder to spot.
Take for example Adidas. I visited their website a while ago to see if I can find if they make Fair, Sustainable, Eco friendly Fashion. I mean a big brand like that surely has the money, and therefor knowledge and opportunity, to make their product in a responsible way. When I look at their sustainability progress report I see a lot of "We will"'s, but not many "We have"'s. At the same time their 'We will''s give them this free pass to produce in the fashion they are doing. I'm not saying Adidas is evil, but they are not anywhere near being sustainable either.
In my previous post A search for sustainable shoes, I already wrote about brands that are considered fair or sustainable and mostly are selling us their good intentions. So what is fair fashion and how does it apply to Batik?

My Batik Buketan temporary carpet at Museum Batik in Pekalongan, Java 
made from materials used for natural dye, 2016

Fair Fashion consist of many labels, which are mainly freely interpretable. Most are based on improving labour standards such as a living wage, a fair price for the product, reasonable hours. Also no discrimination or child labour are strong points in Fair fashion. Sustainability or how eco friendly the fashion is made is mostly linked to safe and healthy working conditions and respecting the environment. There are no actual standards for when is it a fair price or what are reasonable hours.
Mostly this depends on what is the standard in the country where the product is being made and therefor with a little extra a fair label is easily reached.
Also when we hear Fair, we not only think of Fair Trade, we also think of how sustainable the product is. So Fair is also used for products which are bio or organic, an eco friendly alternative or produced with zero waste, cradle to cradle, zero emission or with re-used materials.
Next to this we als think that handmade is also more fair then mass-production and if only one part of the entire process had one of the elements I mentioned above, it can be Fair Fashion (or design, or food).
Now, I'm not saying something can only be Fair if it good on all fronts. If you try to truly make a Fair product, you will decide to make nothing. When I'm talking about Fair, I'm more referring to the choice of the buyer. If you are a conscious consumer you already know that labels are guidelines, even marketing tools, but not the whole story. And before you can make a good choice, you need to inform yourself.
And what is important to you can be different to what I find important and it can vary per product. For example, I find a natural, biological, eco friendly made products super important, but when it comes to Batik, my idea about it is different.
During the Mini-Batik Symposium in Köln I met Reynold Rudyismanto. Reynold is studying his Master in Law researching how and if Indonesian batik should get a “Voluntary EU-Ecolabel”:

The EU Ecolabel scheme is part of the sustainable consumption and production policy of the Community, which aims at reducing the negative impact of consumption and production on the environment, health, climate and natural resources. The scheme is intended to promote those products which have a high level of environmental performance through the use of the EU Ecolabel. To this effect, it is appropriate to require that the criteria with which products must comply in order to bear the EU Ecolabel be based on the best environmental performance achieved by products on the Community market. 
The core purpose of the research is to find the most appropriate policy the Indonesian government can make to support the batik industries with natural dyes which in the end could increase the export value of Indonesian batik textile in the international market, especially in European Union, where it is believed to be a very good market for environment-friendly products.

Reynold concludes his research that there is a market for Batik and especially sustainable Batik on certainly the Dutch and probably the European market. But my question is does promoting "sustainable Batik" help Batik makers or the Art of making Batik?
I asked this question, because when I met Reynold again it was at the 'Wastra Indonesia' event organised by the Indonesian Embassy. Promoting "Sustainable textiles" and getting an eco-label for Batik were part of the program. Nothing wrong with that and some lovely Indigo, Blue and Sogan, brown Batiks were presented. My problem, or better my concern is with the makers of these textiles. I already noticed on Java that producing with natural dyes was something celebrities and royalties were doing. I noticed that so called natural dyed Batiks were extremely expensive compared to chemical dyed ones. The colours mainly consist of vague brown shades and Indigo. I was already warned that most natural dye is not really natural dye, because part of the process is still chemical or chemical dyes are mixed in to get a lasting colour. The lasting of the colour is a problem. Where chemical dyed Batiks can keep their colours for decades, natural dyes fade quickly. If you want a good price for your Batik, the consumer wants a Batik that keeps its colours. The story on that it is better for the environment, which can be argued about, is only reaching those who can afford it. Afford to make it and to wear/use it. The Batik makers I met 7 years ago switched back to using chemical dyes after not being able to make a good quality, good priced product with natural dye. And here lies the problem. If celebraties and royalties with the right connections and right price, because I'm sure they are getting more than a fair price, can make Batiks that fit the eco-label, because they use natural dyes, what effect will this have on the Art of Batik and its makers? How will this effect the price Batik makers get for their chemical dyed Batiks and how does it improve their chances on making their product more sustainable? Who will benefit from this? If you consider that the maker is getting the least paid already, how can this improve with an eco-label on the market?
There is a true problem with chemical dyes and the waste produced with making Batik and there is a true health risk involved. But this will not disappear by introducing something unreachable for many. It can disappear by education, support and sharing knowledge. The Art of dyeing with natural dyes has been lost almost a century ago on Java and it's not getting restored by trying to re-invent it. Get people from all over the world who do know how to use natural dye to the Batik makers, get people who can make safe drainage, who can help with waste-disposal. People who can inform Batik makers on how to get a fair price for their products. And what is a fair price? Put money in making it better for the makers of Batik, Pembatiks, not in Batik product placement and "Fair" market expansion.
And besides, isn't there a bigger, more polluting industry that you should be dealing with? People are pointing fingers to Batik makers, but they are not making the rivers red, or blue or purple. It is our "normal" textile industry who does that!

So is Batik Fair Fashion, or can it be Fair fashion? Yes and no. Batik is fair when it is bought for the right price and from the right person, preferable directly from the maker or from a seller you can really trust. Batik is fair when it is handmade under the right conditions. Batik is not necessarily more fair when it is made with natural dye although I hope in the near future there is more being done on improving the conditions in which Batik is produced as I mentioned above.

Thanks Reynold for sharing your research with me!
Lets see how this develops, I'll keep you updated here on The journey to Batik!

October 21, 2017

The Lady Africa Wax Print

Power Suit Meet up, Creating the bag that goes with the suit

A few months ago Irene Hin of Lady Africa asked me to write and research some things for an upcoming project. The last few weeks it's been shown on the catwalk and in a museum. I'm talking about the Lady Africa Power Suit!
When I heard Lady Africa was planning to use a newly designed Wax Print from Julius Holland Wax for their contribution for the Fashion Cities Africa exhibition at the Tropenmuseum, I got so excited. It was great to follow the creative process and seeing the final Power Suit on display and on the ever so elegant model Dorothe Schiks at the Fashionshow in Rotterdam & Den Haag. Only a third of what I wrote actually made it to the exhibition, so time to share more about it here!

Dorothe Schiks in the Lady Africa Power Suit 
at the Fashionshow in Rotterdam on 1 October

First, Lady Africa. I met Irene during the first Africa Fashion Week in Amsterdam in 2014. I was literally drooling over this Christie Brown Wax Print textile cords necklace a girl was wearing, when Irene introduced herself and explained this necklace was available at her store. After that I visited the shop at the Denneweg in Den Haag (NL) a couple of times, saw a fashionshow by Lady Africa in Den Haag, which was a proper party and we kept in touch through Social Media. Our love for Wax Prints and other gorgeous textiles is something that keeps us connected.
Next to the wonderful brands from the continent, Lady Africa started making their own custom LA line. Pencil skirts, jackets, custom made designs, A-shape dresses and much more is created by a tailor team in which Florence Hin, Irene's mother, plays an important role. She is LA Senior Fashion Advisor and if you see what her hands can do with fabric, amazing!

Detail of the Brilliantly printed Wax Print by Julius Holland Wax

For their LA custom-made line they work with textiles by Julius Holland Wax. In 2002 Jansen-Naninck in Helmond (NL) started producing their own Wax Print brand, Julius Holland Wax. The family business was already trading textiles since 1935 and if you've ever been there you know its a true candy-store for everyone who loves prints, patterns & textiles.
For the Power Suit a new, not yet on the market, design by Julius Holland Wax was used. The normal wax print version with big, abstract flowers in yellow and blue was used for the handbag made by Marianne Aulmann. For the suit the same pattern was used, but in a Brilliantly print. So with a nice chique silver shimmery finish.

Detail of Power Suit bag designed by Marianne Aulmann

The choice for a custom Lady Africa Power Suit, came from the idea to make a tribute to the strong women who inspired Irene and Gumi to start Lady Africa in 2011. The strong women in Ghana where Irene was born. How the women pass on their knowledge and strength to their daughters. The women in Irene's life, her family. Her mother who is now her Fashion advisor with her wide knowledge of tailorship. Her grandmother who was an entrepreneur herself and sold Vlisco fabrics on the market. A Power Suit Tribute for Strong Women.
The great thing about new Wax Print designs is that they don't have a name yet, and that the name comes most times from how and when it was introduced to the market. So meet Julius Holland Wax: Lady Africa

You can see the Power Suit on display as part of the exhibition Fashion Cities Africa at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam with lovely other fashion from Casablanca (Morocco), Johannesburg (South-Africa), Lagos (Nigeria), Nairobi (Kenya) and the Netherlands.

You can shop Lady Africa custom line at Denneweg 21A in Den Haag. For new arrivals check out www.lady-africa.com, their Facebook or Instagram!

For more on Wax prints, read my previous posts "Wax Prints are based on Javanese Batiks, But what is a Batik and which elements can still be found in todays Wax Prints?", 'Take some elsewhere, and let some come back to me' or use label 'Wax print'

October 12, 2017

Where Batik Belongs

Where Batik Belongs by Ada Van Hoorebeke, Frankfurt am Main, 2017

Where Batik Belongs - Frankfurt am Mein (Grandmother) 2017 by Ada Van Hoorebeke 

Little Red Riding Hood Batik Bandana Workshop

This weekend I'm travelling to Brussel to see and to participate with the work 'Fake Calligraphy' by Ada van Hoorebeeke and Maartje Fliervoet, a co-creation with the Gent based Artspace Manoeuvre.
I met Ada a few months ago when I was in Köln for the Mini Batik Symposium at Galerie Smend. Rudolf told me another one of the "new generation", as he calls us, would join. When I introduced myself asking about her upcoming exhibition, Ada asked me if I was the writer of this blog. She told me she got inspired by my posts about Fairytale Batiks. And that she had printed copies of it to make her exhibition 'Where Batik Belongs'.
We continued sharing during lunch. She learned making Batik during a residency in Gambia and is now exploring Javanese Batik. She complimented me on my interesting take on Batik and that she really liked my writing. While continuing Ada casually said: "My birthday is on Batik Day, the 2nd of October". I casually replied: "Mine too ".

Me & Ada, Selfie to share our birthdate is on Batik Day

Talking about synchronicity! Rudolf made a special announcement after lunch of our discovery.
In Where Batik Belongs Ada was exploring the Fairytale Batiks and especially Little Red Riding Hood. She gave a Bandana workshop in which you make your own red dyed Batik headscarf. I recently learned that Bandana comes from the Indian technique Bandhani which is a type of tie-dye. So a different way of creating dots on textile.
Ada's style seems rough, investigative and spontaneous, yet everything comes together, fits. Like a pattern taken from an actual Batik Tulis from the Smend collection which is repeated as a backdrop for the Grandmother picture (see picture above). The dyes are natural, yet from unconventional sources. An Art take on Batik. Where Art meets Traditional Textiles. When Batik is put into a museum as Art. When you are exploring where Batik belongs...

This weekend wil be a different yet again interesting take on Batik.
Fake Calligraphy is a sculpture inspired by the calligraphic batik, Batik Besurek, a tradition from Bengkulu (Indonesia). Batik Besurek, originally conceived by Indonesian Muslims, is derived from the Arab script but the signs are not always readable as such. The Fake Calligraphy sculpture presented at WIELS is inspired by those calligraphic batiks that are playing with the aesthetics of a written language abstracted from its original meaning. The sculpture is made as such that it can be activated, reminiscent of a workshop, where it serves as an environment to create a new interpretation of calligraphic batiks. In this sculpture different stages of batik production such as creating a design, transferring it in wax on texte and dying with natural dyes are used as a means of communication that goes beyond language barriers. Fake Calligraphy aims to be a platform for exchange of speech, body language and the sharing of different cultural knowledge in an artistic and social context.

Looking forward to meet my Batik Day Birthday Twin again!

More about

Ada van Hoorebeeke on adavanhoorebeke.blogspot.nl

Fake Calligraphy on www.wiels.org 

October 2, 2017

Pattern Edition Birthday Batik Day Statements

Batik with banana flower motif by Ibu Ramini 
& wax print with bananas by African Textiles Holland
Banana plant from Taman Indonesia & Bananas from Ekoplaza, 

Since I started my Batik Statement series in 2012, I've also been making Batik Statements to celebrate Batik Day & my birthday, both today! 
Last year I was standing in Barbara's jungle garden in Sleman, near Yogyakarta. I made a series with the newly bought Batiks. The year before I posted my version of 'We Can Do It'. Which was used this year for the IDFX project 'Colourful Woman Power'!
I use my Batik Statements as reflections. Reflections of what I find important, what and who inspires me and to share my and others love for Batik. My series maybe started as a joke, but they became part of my work. This part is always tricky and something I'm always contemplating about: What is my work as an artist? And when is it not Art?
I consider myself as an artist first, always, in every role I get or play. I say role, but you can fill in job, assignment, idea...Of course when I blog, when I'm writing, when I organise an event or do someones PR, I'm not making Art, yet I am not not an artist at that moment. From everything I do I get inspiration and I also learned "making an artwork" can have many forms. In my case; a nature walk, a film, a temporary carpet, a performance, a school project, yes maybe even my Batik Statements, maybe even my blog. When I write, I feel I create, but the next day I have to take a photo, so I end up on a cold February morning in a Wax print with a banana plant at my feet before my camera. I ended up not using the pictures, till now, because they didn't fit the idea I got from making them; the new Pattern Edition Batik Statement series

Made this photo in February

When me and Koen go somewhere, recently I end up taking a Batik or another fabric with me. I'm walking around with this idea in my head and think out places to make the shot. Like the previous posted Batik Buketan and Pisan Bali made in a public garden and at a museum. In the same way. I ended up posing with ducks at the Botanical Garden. Because, well because I have this crazy Batik dress with flying ducks and a khanga from my brother with ducks and I needed to pose in it with actual ducks. I love that Koen supports me in my crazy ideas!

Posing with ducks at Botanical Garden in Utrecht in May

Wearing Batik Cap dress bought at Taman Indonesia, with a Khanga with ducks and my Sankofa earring from Ubuntu

While documenting some of my Batiks I brought with me from my last journey, I got the idea of staging Tracey Emin's famous 'I've Got It All' photo using Batiks instead of money. I had muscle ache for a week after this picture haha. And then I though, how do I share this? I love Tracey Emin, but who will get it? And, why am I making these statements? 
Well, I guess because I'm an artist.

After Tracey Emin's 'I've Got It All' (2000), made in March

I will be making a booklet to celebrate 5 years of making Batik Statemenst! I already had some pre-orders, sorry for the delay, I hope to be ready at the end of this year. You can pre-order your copy at sabine{at}sabinebolk.nl and you will receive first option to buy it! They will be limited edition, so le me know if you want one!