Post D: Batik’s Battle against Modernisation

Usually when we think of traditional Indonesian fashion, we think of colour…and lots of it. With over 300 ethnic groups present in Indonesia, each one has their own regional costume that is unique to them. However, due to the pressures of fast modernization, are the ancient methods of textile production such as balik being lost?

Batik is the oldest form of textile decoration present in Indonesia, which uses a dyeing process where “melted wax is applied on the cloth with a special pen called ‘canting” (Haake 1989). This would reserve the white areas of the cloth, which is then removed post boiling. Thus, the repetition of this technique would lead to beautiful patterns and vibrant colours.

The batik is very significant in Indonesian culture and history, where it has both a local and international role. Locally, batik is a representation of their identity and cultural heritage, which is used in a range of different areas including religious and ceremonial rituals, to more domestic areas such as indoor furnishings and decorations. Internationally, Evi Steelyana W believes that, “The role of batik in international diplomacy…gives significant meaning for batik as a commodity which preserve Indonesian culture.” (Steelyana W 2012) Teruo Sekimoto also supports this notion, as “In the fields of textiles and fashion design, batik has an international reputation” (Sekimoto 2003)


However, in contemporary society, traditional Batik production is now facing the influence of rapid globalization of Indonesia. Especially in Java, “batik making is deeply rooted in the history of Java and Indonesia” (Sekimoto 2003) There is now a dichotomy between economic and cultural practices of this technique which has been increasingly modernized due to foreign European and Asian influences, including the imports of different cotton, chemical dyes replacing traditional dyes as well a decline of skilled batik artisans and shortage of buying power (Hitchcock & Nuryanti 2016) As such, the batik industry has suffered a huge blow, namely due to the screen printing industry, which does not involve the traditional wax-resistant dye. Although this didn’t have much influence at first, the print industry developed so rapidly that it was difficult to decipher the difference between a printed batik and a wax-dyed one. Traditional batik makers also took a toll from huge mass production firms. Thus, Sekimoto believes that “the golden age of batik lies in ancient times and every change the modern era has brought to batik has been negative: modernity always means the decay of tradition” yet ironically, it is due to this decay that we have developed such a traditionalist view to it. After all, it seems that modernity has allowed batik making to survive into a “modern industry representing Indonesian tradition” (Sekimoto 2003) without being completely lost in its battle against globalization.

Presence of traditional batik artisans in 1950 on the island of Java (Jin, M. 2017)
Presence of traditional batik artisans in 1980 on the island of Java (Jin, M. 2017)




  • Cohn, F. L. 2014, Traditional ‘canting’ technique, From Bali to Bala, viewed 7 December 2017 <>
  • Expat Web Site Association Jakarta. 2017, Batik, the Traditional Fabric of Indonesia, viewed 7 December 2017, <>.
  • Haake, A. 1989, ‘The role of symmetry in Javanese batik patterns‘, Computers & Mathematics with Applications, vol. 17, no. 4-6, pp. 815-826.
  • Hitchcock, M & Nuryanti, W. 2016, Building on Batik: The Globalization of a Craft Community, Routledge, UK.
  • Oxford Business Group. 2017, Modern role for Batik in Indonesia, viewed 7 December 2017, <>.
  • Sekimoto, T. 2003, ‘Batik as a Commodity and a Cultural Object’ in Yamashita, S & Seymour Eades, J (ed.), Globalization in Southeast Asia: Local, National, and Transnational Perspectives, Berghahn Books, United States.
  • Steelyana W, Evi. 2012, ‘Batik, a Beautiful Cultural Heritage that Preserve Culture and Support Economic Development in Indonesia’, Binus Business Review, vol. 3, no.1, pp. 116.
  • Strand of Silk. n.d, Screen printed batik, Strand of Silk, viewed 7 December 2017 <>.

POST C: The Traditional Textile Industry in Indonesia – An Interview

As someone from an illustration and graphic design background, when I met with the opportunity to learn about the textile industry – a design industry I am not familiar with – from someone with a strong background in textile design in Indonesia, I immediately took up the chance. Mr M.N. Subramanian, current Senior President and Managing Director of PT. Five Star Textile Indonesia, has well over 40 years of experience working in the textile industry in a number of countries such as the USA, India, Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia.  He has worked for a few years in Surabaya, and has been working in Bandung for the past 6 years.

sadfgjhyukj.pngExamples of lace and embroidery work in PT. Five Star Textile Indonesia (Sridharan 2017)

I asked Mr Subramanian about the traditional textile industry and whether it is being overshadowed by contemporary textile companies, such as Unkl347, in Indonesia’s increasingly contemporary milieu. He immediately responded that there is, “no doubt the modern textile clothing industry is gaining popularity, but it is no threat to the traditional textile manufacturing and markets in Indonesia (2017, pers. comm., 27 January).” Steadfastly, he affirmed that traditional products cannot be replaced, though the commerciality of the contemporary textile/clothing scene may make some dents. Further, he went on to describe the differences between traditional textile manufacturing and contemporary textile units, saying, “The product range is different. In traditional manufacturing, the industry concentrates mainly on spinning, weaving, knitting, dyeing, printing, and finishing.  The garment industries buy these products and make ready-made garments for final consumers,” and contrarily, “the newly formed contemporary textile units mostly make branded apparels for the final consumers selling in the retail shops. They mostly buy their raw materials like yarns, fabrics, etc. from the traditional textile companies (2017, pers. comm., 27 January).” He went on to say that contemporary branded items are usually more popular due to their premium prices and saleability.

Youth in Indonesia are now creating indie clothing lines, “that use international commercial culture as the visual vernacular of their designs (Luvaas 2008).” The clothes they design are sold at urban, youthful stores called distro and, “are some of the most popular brands among teenagers and university students (Luvaas 2008).” Mr Subramanian says that although the traditional and contemporary textile sectors seemingly run parallel to each other, they, “are actually interdependent and will co-exist (2017, pers. comm., 27 January),” since contemporary brands purchase their textiles from traditional textile companies.

Further, I wanted to ask Mr Subramanian about the technologies used in textile design and whether modern technologies and techniques are necessary to create prominent textile design. He proceeded to take me on a tour of the PT. Five Star Textile Indonesia factory to take a look at some of the technologies and equipment used.

IMG_8539.JPGemAARO technology from India (Sridharan 2017)

IMG_8560.JPGSaurer 4040 technology from Germany (Sridharan 2017)

Emphasis is placed on design, and the ideas and innovations generated are arguably the most important aspect of textile design. Mr Subramanian stated, “Computerized modern technology only helps in developing such ideas into designs faster (2017, pers. comm., 27 January),” as modifications can be easily made, as per the customer’s wishes. Traditional methods, on the other hand, take many days to modify, which can irritate some customers, making them impatient and disinterested. Mr Subramanian disclosed, “Speed brings business due to modern technology so that we can retain customers.” He also disclosed that his factory in Bandung exports embroidered textiles to around 26 countries all over the world.

This interview helped me open my eyes to the textile industry and allowed me to gain further respect for traditional textile practices and companies. As can be concluded, both the traditional textile industry and contemporary textile/clothing companies require the support of each other to function and are both valid and needed in society.


Luvaas, B. 2008, ‘Global fashion, remixed’, Inside Indonesia, 22 June, viewed 13 February 2017, <>.