After years of working apart, Indonesian apparel manufacturers and fashion designers have finally started to collaborate. Two recently launched events - Indonesian Fashion Week and the Indonesian Textile and Garment Fair - provided a platform for this new teamwork, as Jozef De Coster reports from Jakarta.

Taking place for the first time, last month's Indonesian Fashion Week was a truly 'national' event.

Held in Jakarta at the end of September, it replaced previous regional fashion shows in the archipelago, such as the annual Bali Fashion Week, organised since 2000 by the designer Mardiana Ika, and the Jakarta Fashion Week.

Taruna K Kusmayadi, chairman of the Indonesian Fashion Designers Association (IFDA), described the first edition of the Indonesian Fashion Week "a historical breakthrough."

He explained that until now, the Indonesian apparel industry and local fashion designers have occupied two separate worlds.

Indonesia's top designers systematically shunned the industry - the ninth largest apparel exporter worldwide - while the industry seemed unaware of the designers' possible contribution to export success.

However, thanks to the parallel organisation in Jakarta of the Indonesian Fashion Week and the Indonesian Textile and Garment Fair, apparel manufacturers and fashion designers have now pledged to cooperate.

The industry demonstrated its support for local fashion talent via generous sponsorships. South Pacific/Lenzing, Indonesia's biggest viscose producer, acted as the main sponsor of the event, while a few leading garment exporters, such as APAC Inti Corpora and Argo Manunggal, sponsored individual fashion designers.

Modern heritage
The shows, displaying new collections from 18 Indonesian designers, were staged under the title 'Indonesian Heritage Fashion with Modern Textile.' They presented an interesting mix of traditional Indonesian fashion elements (batik, handmade lace, beads and stones) and western influences.

The Indonesian government too is aware that the country urgently needs to harness its design talent in order to enhance its international competitiveness.

On 13 July 2006, the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Co-operation and SME's, in conjunction with the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KADIN Indonesia) organised a seminar on 'Indonesian Design Power.'

Mari Elka Pangestu, the Minister of Trade of Indonesia (the first female Indonesian Chinese to hold a cabinet position), stressed that well-designed Indonesian export products will contribute to a larger GDP, improve the trade balance and create new jobs.

The government-supported programme aims to invite some of the worlds' leading design companies, such as Marimekko (Finland), Philip Stark (France) and Karim Rashid (USA), to collaborate with Indonesian designers.

Working with industry
The fashion designer Vicky Soetono, who showed a cocktail collection under the theme 'Sensual Woman' during Indonesian Fashion Week, is enthusiastic about working with the Indonesian industry.

He explained: "Until now, it was nearly impossible for Indonesian fashion designers to meet foreign buyers or fashion press. Indonesia lacked an internationally attractive fashion show. So our only opportunity was to participate in Hong Kong Fashion Week."

Several leading Indonesian fashion designers, such as Ali Charisma, Dina Midiani, Denny Kho, Arifan Mas were indeed able to establish contacts with foreign customers after attending Hong Kong Fashion Week.

According to David Landart, sales director in Bangkok of the French fashion consulting bureau Carlin International, around 85% of Indonesian garment exports (US$4.9bn in 2005) are still CMT (cut, make and trim).

Landart notes, however, that a growing number of Indonesian garment exporters are trying to present self-developed collections to their customers.

Alim Zaman, professor at the Indonesian Art & Design Academy in Jakarta, agrees that fashion awareness among Indonesian garment exporters is growing rapidly, with companies like Busana already employing 15-20 fashion designers.

Other fashion schools in Jakarta include Esmod, Collège Lasalle and Indonesia International Fashion Institute (IIFI), which claims to be the first fashion institute in Indonesia offering a Bachelor degree.

One of the best connected fashion designers in Indonesia is Patrick Zaffini, a self-taught designer of French origin who lives on the island Bali with his Indonesian wife and daughter Agnes Caroline, who's a gifted fashion designer in her own right.

Zaffini's company Shaman is a producer of 'electrowear': highly fashionable T-shirts, pants, skirts, dresses, jackets in ecological fabrics which hide the latest electro-psychedelic-biomechanical devices.

Shaman collections are sold in boutiques in Albania, Portugal, Shanghai and New York. The company, which employs 45 people directly and 90 in seven sub-contracting workshops, enjoys financial support from a strong Swiss partner.