Jakarta. Eight years ago, Dian Erra Kumalasari was busy backpacking across Indonesia. Little did she know that her adventures would lead her into running a successful fashion business.
It was during these trips that Dian found herself mesmerized by the beauty of traditional fabrics from all corners of the archipelago.
Then there was the lightbulb moment when she realized she could use these fabrics to create her own ready-to-wear fashion label.
"Indonesia has such a rich culture and craft tradition. In almost every island, I found different kain [cloth] or sarong with their own unique patterns," she said.
Dian said she tries to represent this rich cultural diversity in her collections.
"Each fabric pattern carries a different meaning and reflects the culture of a specific region. I combine different fabrics into a piece clothing, a unity in diversity."
The 38-year old is still a relative newcomer in the Indonesian fashion industry, but her first ready-to-wear line under the brand Oerip Indonesia has already found buyers in Belgium, the Netherlands, the United States, the Czech Republic and Italy.
"I want to support our local artisans, help them get recognized globally," said the designer, now known by her nickname, Dian Oerip.
While other local designers prefer the glamor of couture, Dian said her brand is the fashion equivalent of a backpacker.
"I don’t even like to show my collection in fashion shows. I use nature as my runway," she said.
Dian has been known to hold fashion shows on a mountain resort, on beaches and in remote villages.
Last year, she held fashion shows in Aceh, Sabang and Bangka Belitung.
"I want to encourage young people to appreciate traditional fabrics. I want to show them that local fashion is never outdated," Dian said.
"I'm a free spirit. I like surprises. I might do a little preparation here and there but that's it. I like personal touches. All of my designs describe me in different ways," she said.
Dian said the biggest challenge in designing her clothes is finding a way to respect the meanings and stories in each fabric that have been carefully inserted by the artisans.
One way of doing this is by offering all her clothes as one-size-fits-all garments.
This has also helped her sell more clothes online since customers don't have to worry about sizing incorrectly.
Dian said she still cuts the fabrics herself, since often she's the only person who knows the meanings and stories behind the fabric patterns.
"It's just easier when I cut the fabrics myself. My team will pick up the pieces and construct them according to my design," she said.
Dian's unique outfits have won her several awards, including the "Womenpreuner Award for Best Costume Design: Hip Hop in Los Angeles" in 2015 and the "Alfamidi Womanpreneur Award" in 2016.
Starting out with batik, Dian has now expanded her fabric repertoire to include lurik, ikat and hand-woven kain from Sumba.
Dian said she only produces her designs in limited quantity and does not follow the traditional Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter fashion cycle.
"I only produce 300 to 500 pieces per month, and all of them are only available for sale at Oerip Indonesia stores," Dian said.
Dian's clothes are produced in a workshop run by a small team in Bekasi on the outskirts of Jakarta.
Though she had just opened a brick and mortar store in Rotterdam, all productions are still held in house at her Bekasi workshop.
"That way I can monitor everything," she said.
Dian's outfits are now sold in 13 countries, but her domestic sales are not to be sneered at. She typically sells 50 to 60 items to local customers from her online shop every day.
An outfit by Dian Oerip costs anywhere from Rp 350,000 ($25) up to Rp 5 million.
As of now, Dian said she has no plan to open a brick and mortar store in Indonesia.
"I already have many loyal customers online. I'd rather use my money to make new, exciting fashion projects than to open a physical store," she said.
Dian will hold a fashion show in Papua to celebrate Kartini Day on April 21. She will collaborate with the Tourism Ministry to hold workshops for local youth communities there.
"Everything that I know about our cultural heritage – I want to pass it down to the younger generation," Dian said.