Are you familiar with the “all-blue” booth at one of the popular events in Jakarta, “Brightspot Market”, she is the one behind it. Before doing this interview, we’ve already spoken with Sancaya Rini, an organization called Warlami (Warna Alam Indonesia). As one of the seniors in natural dyes, she is also known as the woman behind Kanawida, Kana Goods and Bluesville. In her lovely blue dress, she welcomes us with a smile and warm black coffee. We talked in her porch whilst sitting on a wood bench. The weather was on our side, subtle grey-ish skies with a touch of blue patterns here and there. She talks slowly at first but starts getting excited as the dyeing recipe topic came up. As the sun sets, our conversation begins with the “blue topic”
We’ve seen a lot of your products, ‘Kana Goods’ focuses on using Indigo Blue color. Why Blue? How it started?
To be exact, I would like to encourage younger generation to learn more about natural dye technique. In 2011, The Indigo Blue became one of the color trends, and Japanese Indigo style was one of the references for it. Seeing my kids browsing through the topic, I felt agitated, because I know Indonesia has a lot of potentials to produce stuff like that, and I know the technique how to make it.
So, in the beginning, there was this community called “Darahku Biru”. From it, my children introduced me to Bluesville, it was segmented only for men, and also influenced by Japan. I did the coloring for Bluesville. As time went by whilst producing products for men, I asked myself “why not we make something for young women too?”. Afterward, I joined Indonesian Fashion Week, and met Leo, who encouraged me to join Brightspot. That is when Kana Goods arose to the surface for the first time. In 2012, it was still “Kana”, not “Kanawida” yet. We attended 2013 Fashion Week, that was when Kana turned into “all-blue”. Then, we joined Brightspot in 2014, where most of the visitors were youngsters. Finally, we began the branding process. Things were different when I was still in Kanawida, I didn’t do any branding and neither thought of the marketing strategies for it, and only put it in Grand Indonesia.
We recognize you from Warlami, when you're already known as a natural dyer. We’re curious to know how did you get into textiles and what was your first textile work?
I have absolutely no background in textile, design, and business. I’ve never thought about profit and what was beneficial to me. I don’t want to be stressed out about profit for myself, so I can educate and introduce to people the process and benefits of natural dye. I'm trying to encourage them to be concerned about fashion sustainability. I suppose those reasons are indefinable feelings for me. Furthermore, I can pour myself into my passion for exploring natural dye.
So you learned Indigo dyeing technique all by yourself?
From my son, actually. I didn’t teach about Indigo dye in Jakarta Textile Museum, but my son learned about all those things on the internet. I’ve tried a lot of recipes and found the one that fits. You could say it was the result of the internet and my own experiment. Blue is easy to be regenerated if it gets faded or mottled, I can dye it all over again. It can withstand sunlight, lime drops, etc.
Do you have other colors that you explore as well?
Yes, a lot of colours! Honestly, I’m more interested in exploring other colors besides blue and use it for coloring in Kanawida. As there are no boundaries when using color, from light to dark shades. There is no fixed color scheme, just play around with it.
What is your favourite color actually?
I love blue and earthy colors, such as Terracota. However, I would say blue is my first favourite color. Reminds me of all my clothes since university, they were all blue.
Do you have the perfect blue?
No, I don’t. The Indigo from Tuban, Pantai Utara, Ambarawa, Temanggung, or Solo, have their own characteristics. Last August, I dyed and obtained dark shades of blue, but the other day, I dyed with the same paste, and it didn’t turn into dark blue, but instead a very pale blue. So far, I don’t have my own “perfect-blue”, but when I do the coloring for Bluesville, yes, I must have my own definite blue. Every blue has its own characteristics depending on the region they come from, for example, Indigo from Tuban turns out more like sky blue, the one from West Java turns out to be dark blue, and Indigo from Solo has greenish-blue. I also managed to produce a fine navy blue. For example, if one day I only get light blue, it’s not going to change its color even after I dye it several times. It depends on environmental conditions, mainly weather.
What are the obstacles when using natural dyes?
Actually, there are no obstacles when it comes to the dyeing technique, but if we’re talking about the product, there are obstacles. I would say the most difficult thing is finding the right material because it has to be environmentally friendly products. Ikat weaving is already using 100% cotton, but in my case, I use textiles from the supplier. I don’t have the consistency of the yarn itself, and I have to buy it in large quantities. Bluesville is already using imported textile from Japan, it has the best quality so far, although, it has obstacles in the customs process.
Being constantly surrounded by color, have you noticed their effect on your well-being? Do certain colors boost different feelings/moods within you?
Of course. In terms of lifestyle, I’m more into a slow-living kind of person right now. Very slow (laughing). I accept everything just as it is, not trying to be a perfectionist. The surprising result of natural dyeing makes me have this kind of mindset “gak ngoyo” (try to not force herself). Initially, when I was searching for a color, and the output didn’t turn out as I per what I wanted, I kept complaining about it. Now, I just accept it and be glad about it. Gak ngoyo. Oh, and maybe it influenced me in how I dress everyday, how I see people and how I live my life.
If I am in the mood for dyeing, I’ll do it. However, if I’m feeling upser, sad, or angry for example, I couldn’t dye. From my experience, dyeing in a good mood usually turns every step of it into a smooth process. Once, I tried to push myself to dye on a day when I’m not feeling well, the result was ruined. The color was blotched here and there. Then, I needed help from my assistants to continue the process. I still had to do the finishing, as the color will be determined within that time frame itself. The result is depending on my mood.
The funny thing is, we have a similar experience in Maumere just like yours. Rosvita, the leader of Watubo told us, the woman in Watublapi has to be in a good mood to go to the indigo picking site. If you are being grumpy all day, the blue must doesn’t show up. If you have a menstrual problem? Then you can not participate in this kind of activity.
Really? Not just Indigo dyeing, the mood (our mood) does affect other colors as well. I never comment about what they’re doing, maybe only a little revision at the end. That is something that should not be blamed when their assistants are doing the dyeing.
Some of the critiques that use natural dyes often point out that there is a limited range of colors possible to achieve. Did you find the use of natural dyes, limited your color palette?
Not at all. The Indigo blue, for example, every region has its own blue, and if you mix it with Jelawe (yellow), it becomes green. Adding lime into it, it becomes brown, the more you add lime, the darker it appears. So many possibilities, and we can make a color chart from it too! We can also produce desired colors from natural dye by examining the color trend every year.
Do you have your own recipe to produce a new color?
I did, but unfortunately, I didn’t take notes. Sometimes I just add this and that into the pot, just like cooking, but never write it down (laughing).
What does the future hold for Kanawida? Have any of your children inherited your skills?
Actually, I don’t know for sure. It is a bit sad because I don’t know who will inherit all of my skills and knowledge. I never force my children to continue my workshop.
But in our opinion, it seems your family supports each other. Your son is a business graduate, you’re being a creative and skilled leader in this team, together you built Kana Goods and Bluesville. What a team! However, isn’t your last child also an art graduate?
Yes, one of my sons is a Fine-art graduate. Idealistic for sure. He has his own strict opinion. In the beginning, he wasn’t interested in any of my textile art and dyeing. Once, I recommended this natural dye coloring technique in a drawing to him, he was still not interested. Then he graduated, and we have this reality in front of us. You have to pay for your living. It’s not like he’s a famous painter that can sell millions of drawings. Not yet, I suppose. So, I assigned him to an entrepreneur school, now he’s more of an open-hearted person, and contributed as well, such as making a design. Currently, he’s working on a Final Project about slow fashion, I hope his idealistic view can be beneficial there. He is in charge of Kana Goods online store, he’s the one who manages it, and it’s going well. I guess he couldn’t focus yet, whilst working on his final project. It should be managed by youngsters because they already know the general basics, concepts, and marketing of slow fashion.
Now that you’re surrounded by youngsters, is there a different mindset among you guys?
Yes, a lot of their contribution is based on my points of view, such as design, but I’m thrilled by the fact that they love something simple. Also, lots of inputs, although, I should keep my own idealism to myself. I want to introduce them to traditional Batik, which is more complicated, and see if they can accept it or not. Even though, they rather make simple polka dots. Maybe because the image of traditional Batik is very relatable to middle-aged women, so the consumers are only such people.
So what will the future hold for Kanawida?
Kanawida will remain colorful because it’s a place for me to explore colors and designs. Our Batik workers are mostly from Pekalongan, they often laugh at my batik design (at Kana) as it looks like an elementary kids school uniform, because there are many simple motives, which sometimes they find it difficult to make.
How about the future of the textile itself?
More youngsters means more people recognize local textile, besides Batik or Ikat. For us, natural dye is our main core, I wish it could become a fashion trend. Natural dye is suitable and comfortable for sunny weather, especially since we’re living in a tropical area. I think youngsters shouldn’t have to spend their money to buy fast fashion product.
To make “re-use” in the natural dye is familiar, what we do is re-dye customer’s worn-out clothes and make it appear new again. Alternately, they’ll also understand that natural dye clothes can stay longer in their closet.
I think there’s nothing wrong with natural dyeing clothes, it’s inexpensive. You just need to buy one cloth and you can re-dye it again and again without harming the environment. You can see from the previous slow fashion exhibition, a lot of clothes were wasted and turned into garbage.
Thank you for your time! Can we look around your workshop?
You’re welcome. Yes, of course, I bet you’ll get inspired.
-- Interview DONE. Next, we were invited to walk around her workshop, seeing some fabrics which had just been dried, buckets with Indigo paste, and several Batik makers taking their lunchtime.