Alvin Tjitrowirjo, the mastermind behind the design firm AlvinT Studio, draws inspiration from Indonesia’s love of art, translating it into modern furniture and product design. Utilizing local artisans and craftsmen, Alvin’s distinctive and eye-catching designs effortlessly melt tradition and innovation.

NOW! Jakarta had the chance to speak to Alvin shortly after he returned from Frankfurt, Germany where he, alongside five other local designers, represented Indonesia at the international consumer goods fair Ambiente.

How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
I am a rationalist, nationalist, atheist and I believe that as a designer we should work by solving problems and creating improvements for those living in this problem-filled country of ours, Indonesia.

When did you first become interested in design?
Drawing was the introduction of design to me. I used to make drawings as long as I can remember. I drew planes and cars when I was very young and started drawing cars until I began my university degree. The university then introduced me to “design” and taught me that design is not just about making things pretty, but that it is a blend of creativity, wisdom, philosophy and aesthetics that was fused to solve problems. That made me interested in design.

You studied in Melbourne and Madrid. How have these two cities influenced you in your work, and, more generally, as a person?
Melbourne was a very multicultural city where different cultures collide. It is a good place to study as it helps you to understand these different cultures. It was a good step to leave the country [Indonesia] and learn to socialize and make friends with different people from different backgrounds.

I later went to Madrid because the master’s degree programme I took was very interesting. It consisted of workshops with different creative practices – architecture, product design, art philosophy, fashion design, film making – in different cities in Europe, which broadened my perspective and understanding towards design. I also learned more about many cultures, traditions, history, design language and different kinds of art. This influenced my taste towards design, a sense of refinement, way of thinking or living philosophies, and a way of living beyond giving me an influence in aesthetics. In a way, I became more worldly.

What would you say are the main characteristics of your brand AlvinT?
AlvinT is a brand that tries to interpret Indonesian’s tradition into modern furniture. We take inspiration of traditional cultural values and fuse them with modern design approach. AlvinT’s endeavor is to create a new design language that is Modern Contemporary Indonesian Design.

You often initiate collaborations. How do you select your collaboration partners?
I always enjoy collaborating with people who are like-minded. People and companies who are passionate in their business, and who value original design and creativity.

You were recently in Frankfurt to represent Indonesia at the Ambiente. Could you tell us about your experience there?
I was part of of the six designer brands that were supported by BEKRAF to represent Indonesia at the Ambiente exhibition in Frankfurt. 

I am currently assisting BEKRAF in creating a new presentation of Indonesian designers and brands on the world stage. Indonesia has been known more as a OEM manufacturers, and is slowly sinking into a price-war zone with its neighboring countries and China. BEKRAF wants to change that and believes that through design, we can create added value to our products. As we all know, Indonesia is currently known as raw material and commodity exporter, so the next step is to start exporting finished products along with its creative talents and professionals – fingers crossed!

Does it ever happen that you are uninspired? If so, how do you deal with it?
Every now and then my energy is drained. This often happens after dealing with unprofessional business people, who are deceiving and unethical. To “cure” myself, I normally go to the mountains or travel far away from crowded cities to let nature take over and cleanse my mind. There’s wisdom in nature that you often can’t find in cities and from people. Creativity is a renewable resource but it can’t be abused.

What advice would you give young, aspiring designers from Indonesia?
Be honest to yourself and be who you really want to be!

Indonesia is constantly hit by all kinds of lifestyle-related trends and with a capitalist society that takes pride in fame, many pursue “instant” success. Design is a tough profession, with the fear of always not having enough money, and this often leads young designers to design simple things that are in trend, so they can sell them quickly and make money. Not to mention the copycats that are around, sadly they have more business than original creators!

To me, design is a very personal and psychological type of work. If you really care about your design, then your work should tell who you really are. 

Knowing what you know now about the business, is there anything you would have done differently?
I would have created my business overseas when I started out 10 years ago and label my products as an international brand and then sell them in Indonesia. I am sure I would have sold more products. 

Unfortunately I didn’t do that, because I believe that it’s important to educate the market that Indonesian made, grow and designed products can be as good as products made by international brands. I believe that it’s important to be here in Indonesia to create awareness towards design values, the importance of original design, to improve the value of locally designed products and create pride of using locally made products.

Where are you planning to take AlvinT in the future?
We are currently focusing on entering the international market. We want to grow AlvinT into an international brand that is based in Indonesia and become a household brand that all Indonesians can be proud of and the rest of the world can enjoy.

Katrin Figge

Katrin Figge

Katrin Figge is a previous editor of NOW! Jakarta. An experienced writer and avid bookworm.