Indonesian brand Tulisan is mostly known for its collection of handmade and limited-edition illustrated prints, which are applied to bags, totes and household accessories.

Boasting an easily recognizable but unique and quirky style, Tulisan – which literally translates as “handwriting” – has quickly turned into one of the country’s most favorite brands.

NOW! Jakarta spoke to Melissa Sunjaya, founding artist and creative director of Tulisan, about the success of her brand, her inspiration and her desire to give back to the community.

You are the founding artist of Tulisan, and the brand has received a lot of recognition. What have you done over the past years to ensure that it keeps evolving?
Tulisan is an honest and clean company that is dedicated to empowering others, celebrating individuality, and caring for our world. The organizational structure has been designed to reflect a guild that accommodates artists from different disciplines and honors all forms of art from illustration, literature, music, cinematography, dance, ceramic to wood work. The manufacturing methodology has been planned carefully to showcase Indonesia’s finest artisanal craftsmanship and excellence in production quality. The design principles of our base products have always been simple and pure, which appeals to a universal audience. With this groundwork set in motion, Tulisan is preparing a blueprint for a stage that is ocean deep – a stage where a label imprinting ‘Jakarta’ will tell a different story about this city.

You recently launched the Dry Season Collection 2017. Could you tell us more about the story and inspiration behind it and how it relates to your anthology of literature and artworks “The New East Indies”?
This Dry Season Collection 2017 relates to my second letter, titled “Nexus”. My essay employed the set theory in mathematics to visualize social and emotional connections between humans. The objective was to propose several perspectives in resolving communication conflicts within organizations consisting of two or more individuals.

The New East Indies presents an anthology of literature and artworks by Melissa Sunjaya, which examine the present state of Indonesian civilization and its potential future transformation. Traditionally, civilization has been interpreted through a distinct methodology based on human tendencies in viewing various problems and solutions through emotions, language, culture, art, and science.

The second letter from The New East Indies examines the essence of touch in human connection. The cultural shifts during this robotic era have caused an intricate connectivity and some communication conflicts, leaving touch and empathy behind as an unfamiliar and rare language. I recounted my personal experiences in discovering harmony between heterogeneity in my surroundings.

For this new collection, you and your team have developed four new bags. What makes them special and stand out from the ones you have created before?
Each and every product we make has always has its own special character, story, and function. The same goes for our four newest models. We have an Art Division that continuously does research and develops products as the absolutely best they can be. In this Dry Season Collection 2017, my team and I developed four new bags: the Architect bag is a bag designed for the lifestyle of creative practitioners, the Mungil bag is a mini bag for a cocktail rendezvous in the night, the Mochilla bag is a backpack, designed for adventurers whereas the Senja Tote is a casual tote for the afternoon stroll.

You have a very distinctive, recognizable style yet never seem to lack creativity and innovation. What is it that drives you as an artist and as a person?
The joy of my work as an artist lives in exploring the art of storytelling through different media. All my creations in Tulisan are based on original fiction and research. When I see a woman carrying my illustrated bag, it is like seeing a slice of my dream in reality. Nevertheless, the deeper enthusiasm springs from empowering a team of talented dreamers. Only one person out of 20 people in my team has a design background. The rest of them came to me with a dream and the belief that one day we can be proud of creating the most wanted products, locally made in Jakarta.

For a couple of years, you have worked with Kampus Diakonia Modern, an NGO that rescues street children. Why did you choose this particular NGO and how did the collaboration look like?
In 2011, I first got to know about KDM from a friend. KDM is a non-profit organization dedicated to rescuing abandoned street children since 1972. After knowing more about KDM, I felt that KDM is an outstanding organization. Rescue teams in KDM work every day looking for street children and fight for them to get a decent life. From the KDM team, I heard the story of a girl who shaved off her hair and dressed up like a boy to keep her from being harassed. These street children also sleep in a corner at the City Station with only used cardboard boxes.

KDM conducts their activities independently. They have a dedicated staff and build their own curriculum so that children can acquire the knowledge and practical skills when these children are later in the community. But almost all the volunteers who had been involved in KDM came from other countries, not from Indonesia.

When I first worked on ideas for KDM, me and my team didn’t want to give them a one-time money contribution but something that is sustainable and can be developed in the future. The energy and struggle of these street children inspired me to make Pepe’s character. I started an illustration of “Pepe and the Flying Balloon”, which was later developed into Pepe Doll’s stories and products inspired by the delusions of the Tooth Fairy who became the guardian angel for the little boy. We then conducted a training for five KDM children and taught them how to make the Pepe products themselves. These five children are expected to share these skills with their peers at KDM. Entrepreneurship and creative skills encourage self- confidence, and Pepe became something that mattered to them.

We include stories about KDM for every PepeDoll, and what kind of impact a purchase of one PepeDoll can have. The proceeds of our PepeDoll sales go directly to the KDM team. In 2012, for instance, we were able to donate IDR 90 million through the sale of Pepe Dolls.

Furthermore, we also encourage domestic companies coming in and getting involved by providing financial support and cooperation. Until now, Pepe Doll is also our zero-waste project because we use all the material in the production process and in the end, nothing is wasted.

When you are not busy taking care of Tulisan, where do you spend your free time?
My ideal free time includes sketching or browsing and reading interesting articles, and spending time with my two daughters, Miya and Clio.

PT Tulisan Susunan Tinta
Darmawangsa Square – The City Walk Ground Floor | Unit 24

Darmawangsa VI

Jakarta 12160
T: +62-21 7278 0235

Katrin Figge

Katrin Figge

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