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Batik: Making Its Way Into the Modern Era

August 16, 2023
4 Mins Read

It’s impossible to visit Indonesia without seeing people wearing batik. Although it’s no longer people’s first choice for daily wear, most will still wear traditional clothing on Fridays. Why Fridays, you may ask? In 2009, former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono encouraged Indonesians to wear batik following its inclusion in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. The Indonesian batik’s inauguration was held on 2 October 2009, which, you guessed it, was a Friday.

What is Batik?

The origin of batik word, membatik


Batik is derived from the word 'ambatik' which translates to 'a cloth with little dots'. ‘Tik' means little dot, drop, point or to make dots. The traditional way of making it is labor-intensive (which often translates to its hefty price tag). It utilizes a wax-resist fabric dyeing technique: before the fabric is dyed, patterns are “drawn” by hand with molten wax, using a tool known as a ‘canting’, or manually stamped on with handcrafted blocks. After the dyeing process, the design will then appear in stark contrast to the dye (usually a neutral color like brown).


What makes batik even more unique is that each area of Indonesia has its own unique design. It usually contains information on their livelihoods, flora and fauna, and even customs. For example, in Cirebon, the motifs often resemble clouds (Mega Mendung). In Banten, however, you will see the Simbut batik motif, resembling a taro leaf. Just like the many ethnic groups and islands that make up Indonesia, it is also diverse and unique depending on where you are in the country. Although it is still often used during special occasions, the traditional motifs are making their way back into everyday wear, including leisure and even streetwear.

Bringing Batik Back

Youngster wearing batik in a festival

There is a growing group of Indonesia’s younger generation taking an increased interest in incorporating batik—not just the motif and design, but batik sarong—into their fashion lookbooks. Remaja Nusantara is one of the many batik communities making headway in the online world. They encourage the younger Indonesian generation to get back in touch with their cultural roots. Their content features Indonesian youth donning batik sarongs with blazers, or styling them with boots for a chic streetwear vibe. They have even organized events to teach others how to properly wear and tie batik sarongs. Featuring a variety of ways to style batik sarong for any and every occasion, they are heading a movement they call ‘berkain’ (‘kain’ means cloth, and the suffix ‘ber’ indicates an action).

However, the designs and motifs are also finding their own place in the modern fashion world. Fashion designers are incorporating the traditional motif onto suits, dresses, skirts, and even accessories like hats and bags. Some designers have also incorporated other cultural references into their batik designs. Most notably in Indonesia and Singapore, cheongsam is also incorporating batik motifs. As there is a large group of Chinese Indonesians living in Indonesia, many have taken the creative liberty to represent their ethnic and cultural upbringing through the clothes they wear. These batik-cheongsam designs can most often be seen during engagements and weddings, as well as Chinese New Year celebrations in Indonesia.

Beyond The Movement

With the hopes to preserve the meaning and heritage of batik, many designers have taken on the task of making the motif much more accessible for people to wear, but in a more creative and modern flair. Some brands strive to make it more wearable from formal to casual. Not only batik, but many local designers also take their inspiration from other traditional fabrics such as tenun and more. Here is the top ready-to-wear collection we find interesting.

Sejauh Mata Memandang

The brand boasts a minimalist collection that still evokes the rich tradition of Indonesian batik. Using materials like cotton, linen, and Tencel, they support environmental issues by using textiles that are considered sustainable materials. They also take it further by utilizing recycled textiles in the designs.

BINHouse

BINHouse’s unique creations evoke a sense of simplicity and elegance with the traditional touch of batik. Inspired by the silhouettes of the kebaya, BINHouse adds new excitement to its ready-to-wear pieces. Most of them are a juxtaposition between the old and the new that tells a beautiful story.

Purana

Purana, which means ‘old scripture’ in Sanskrit, was established in 2009. They are true to their commitment to adopting Indonesian local wisdom. They even utilize artwork made by local artisans and combine them with fashionable cuts, patterns, and color mixes.

bateeq

Launched in 2013, bateeq offers a fresh, fashion-forward take on batik. Their collection is available for men, women, and children, as well as home decor. They provide a modern edge, offering a timeless collection of ready-to-wear dresses, shirts, blouses, and pants.

Batik In The International Waters

Batik has also made its way to international haute couture. Many celebrities donned it on the red carpet; Bill Gates, Barack Obama, and even Beyoncé. Internationally renowned designers from other countries have also included batik in their runway collections. Notably, the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton wore a batik dress made by Belgian-American designer Diane von Furstenberg. We also saw Angelina Jolie wearing a batik dress by US designer Nicole Miller. Other international designers who have featured it in their collections include Belgium’s Dries van Noten, Thailand’s Ek Throngprassert, and Italy’s Milo Milavica.

Kate Middleton wearing batik

No longer a thing of the past, batik is making its way back into everyday wear. With the growing help of fashion designers re-imagining the motif in trendy and modern ways, it will not be going away any time soon. And in doing so, the younger generation has also taken it upon themselves to bring their cultural heritage back in their own ways. Creating movements such as ‘berkain’ is just one way that the Indonesian youth are having fun with their heritage and encouraging other Indonesians to wear batik sarongs, like their ancestors used to.

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