Since 2013, the creative mind behind fashion label Lekat di Hati, Amanda Indah Lestari never gave up on reimagining and innovating the textile of Baduy culture. It’s a lifetime investment in one culture. Photo by Rintang Azhar/NOW!JAKARTA

Many designers have taken inspiration from the many Indonesian traditional textiles or other indigenous fabric on their fashion design with some of them even accused of cultural appropriation. It’s never been a concern to Amanda Indah Lestari, creative director of LEKAT DI HATI, who chooses to focus on understanding the Kanekes culture where she found her love for Baduy textile.

Since Don Hasman, the Indonesian prolific ethno-photographer introduced her to the Baduy tribe, LEKAT has become a gem in this less known cultural hand-woven fabric, which originated in the isolated indigenous reserve area in Banten. Catching a spotlight during top fashion week in Jakarta to Paris, the fourth generation Indonesia Fashion Forward (IFF) figure who is familiarly called Mandy has been consistently nurturing her relationship with this homegrown heritage she loves, making the brand synonymous to the face of Baduy itself.

Now, Mandy moves forward to the next step of her life, ensuring the sustainability of the brand that she created and spending more time innovating only one heritage culture.

Is it the best way to do fashion when it comes to featuring a tribal textile? We sat down with her to find out.

The soul of LEKAT is no other than Baduy textile. As a few fashion designers take experimentation with many different cultural textiles, why do you consistently feature Baduy on every season of your collection? 

I just want people to know Baduy textile through LEKAT. If they see Baduy they will see LEKAT, at least in my own imagination. It was unheard of back then. No one really uses this heritage textile as a fashion. It’s a personal journey until I showed the debut collection at Dia.Lo.Gue and invited people to see the craftsmanship of the native female weavers in front of public for the first time.

If we could look back to 2013, what was the turning point that made you decide to put Baduy under the spotlight of the runway?

I visited Baduy Luar (Outer Baduy) and recognised them (female Baduy weavers) doing an active routine producing hand-woven textiles for daily clothes and SMEs. I tried to approach them, had a conversation, spent time with them until I understand their habit. I was introduced to senior photographer Don Hasman who has done such prolific ethno- photography pieces there. As someone who also learns about Baduy, he assured me to do this. I knew that Cita Tenun Indonesia (CTI) had a one-year programme to develop Baduy textile. My team and I at LEKAT, have been nurturing a relationship with them until today. So, it’s a routine for us to be there.

Do you think it’s the best way to invest particularly in one culture as a part of cultural appreciation that can be done by any fashion designer who is inspired by the indigenous tribe?

We can’t put it in one perspective. For me, I don’t own Baduy. Again, I want people to know Baduy from us. That’s it. We also can’t patent the woven. Who am I? This textile has existed since long time ago. Baduy belongs to Indonesians, so we have to treat it the right way. Since Baduy is more open to outsiders, many people use this textile for the reference of their design. Some others also adopt many different kinds of textile heritage. Every tribe and indigenous community are different with their unique characteristics, heritage and its philosophy to textile.

Speaking of Baduy, they use their textile for clothing only, they don’t know how to generate the value of their geometric hand-woven fabric. Through the spirit of collaboration, we present ourselves, invest our time with them, we exchange the knowledge about this traditional textile. Respect and innovation are the souls of this process. It could be a lifetime of the reciprocal relationship between LEKAT and Baduy.

How does it reflect on the production process?

We travel there like anybody else who visits Baduy Luar. We come to learn. We ask them specifically by asking permission to market their textiles. I asked specific questions about changing the colour, the functionality of the textile and details. They are very open-minded and ready to be explored. When it comes to production, we follow their workflow as they also have daily activities such as farming, and maintaining the household. We know our timeline. We can’t force them to speed up the production like they work at the factory.

You also established LEKAT DUA as an effort to penetrate into massive production similar to the number of designers who do the same thing. What’s the focus on that?

It’s a way to make LEKAT more sustainable in terms of business. It’s also our way to introduce Baduy to wider consumers with more affordable prices and its accessibility. For me, as the designer who prioritise craftsmanship, it’s quite a challenging experience. We are used to having a step-by-step model of work and we have to pay more attention to the production side. It’s more massive and we market more products. The approach of the season of the collection is also needed to be learned.

Nowadays, we have to compete with many different brands and labels. We have to find a way to make LEKAT sustainable while maintaining our identity as a champion of craftsmanship, culture, and storytelling.

Your recent collaboration with Zoe and Salt n Pepper is also part of extending the business. As a high fashion designer, how do you cooperate with retail while maintaining your idealism?

I was introduced to them through PAN Brothers. It’s my first collaboration with other brands. During the creative process, I learn more and more about retail. As a designer, I just want to extend my capacity, opening new ideas and new business opportunities. I pretty much learn about making a business sustainable. In the other way, also get to work together with established menswear brand, Salt n Pepper and also a brand that need branding like Zoe.

We share a similar standard. We have to change the mindset when it comes to retails, but we also need to preserve our value as a brand that want to move forward towards sustainability. Spread within 10 articles of clothing for each brand, we try to cooperate with the material and fabric that have an organic texture, using cotton and screen printing to create an impression of a Baduy hand-woven pattern.

Your campaign that involves collaboration with Rio Prasetya also speaks to the opposite of luxurious fashion? Is there any mission behind this collaboration?

I only think if I did it in the studio, it will be dull. We are in Jakarta and I think It will be honest to bring it to the street and build an urban atmosphere through it. I don’t want it to be boring. Rio Preasetyo, also known as Riop, has a personal photography project that involves a reality of urban life, capturing daily body language in Glodok and many other places in the city. We manifest the campaign to connect to the wider audiences.

As one of the generations of Indonesia Fashion Forward, what is your take on sustainability and the future of the Indonesian fashion designer?

I look at sustainability through a business perspective, the material and the waste. We have been trying to maintain the continuity of the business and heading to the environmentally-friendly production. In Indonesia, we just got started with this where a company such as Tencel offers its eco-fabric and few designers are more aware of recycling fabric for their upcoming collection. As a brand, of course, we want to be sustainable, especially when I also want artists, weavers and other creative minds behind LEKAT to keep living while preserving the textile. It’s not an overnight success, but we are heading there.

Rintang Azhar

Rintang Azhar

Rintang is a previous staff writer for NOW! with experience in hard news and lifestyle journalism. He specialises in art, design, culture, fashion, environmental, and urban issues.