The Art of Batik: Preserving Indonesia's Cultural Heritage Amid The Pandemic

By Leo Galuh | 06, Aug, 2021
The Art of Batik: Preserving Indonesia's Cultural Heritage Amid The Pandemic

In the sunny day at Cikarang, Bekasi regency, West Java province, outskirt of Indonesia’s capital city Jakarta, Sri Sugiarti (48) opened her Batik shop Gerai Bunda Sugih. She has many Batik collections that introduce the unique motif originated from Bekasi regency. This motif is a combination of Sunda and Betawi culture. Sunda is a race that comes from West Java province and Banten province, while Betawi is the local race of Jakarta province.

“Batik Bekasi has bright and colorful colors,” Sugiarti told to HalalTrip recently. She invited HalalTrip to take a look around at her shop. “As you can see the motif there is a catfish, durian, cleaver, taman sehati, ondel ondel, and lute as well that represent both cultures,” she added.

Sugiarti was born in Kebumen Regency, Central Java province which has a solid Batik culture in Indonesia. She moved to Bekasi regency around 1997 and decided to dive deeply into Indonesia’s heritage Batik since 2007.

Batik Indonesia

Image Credit: Leo Galuh

She learned how to produce, promoting, marketing and even distribution. Sugiarti believes that Batik is a potential commodity that could trigger new Small-Medium and Enterprise (SME) players.

Her first piece of Batik is a fabric with a Bekasi-heritage cleaver motif. Sugiarti who is also chairwoman of the Bekasi Muslim SME association under the Indonesian Association of Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI), believes that Batik in Bekasi regency is a promising business to boost the local economy as there are not so many Batik makers in the regency.

“Bekasi regency is an industrial area where there are many people across the country who come here for working,” Sugiarti said. Moreover, there are lots of domestic and foreign companies or factories in the regency. She said that those people surely need to bring some souvenirs or gifts before return to their respective places.

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Women Empowerment
Batik Indonesia, Leo Galuh

Image Credit: Leo Galuh

As Sugiarti is an active Muslim businesswoman, she did not set aside the people surrounding her. She notices that there are many people living in poverty in the Bekasi regency. Most of the men in the regency work as laborers in factories, yet the women deal with household activities.

“I would like to encourage the women able to earn money at home by producing Batik fabric. I don’t want them just to rely on their husband for a living,” Sugiarti said passionately. She provides several training skills like producing Batik, snacks, or handicrafts for the women in the regency.

She champions the view that women too can stand on their own feet. Being self-sufficient and independent so that they can provide for their families rather than relying solely on a single breadwinner in the family and maybe even continue the responsibility as the breadwinner of the family if their husbands could continue to do so. In hopes for a better standard of living for their family.

Sugiarti said she collaborates with more than 700 women in Batik Regency. She allows the women to put their products at her Gerai Bunda Sugih to be displayed. Moreover, prior to the pandemic, this shop also becomes a hotbed for new innovative products, she added.

“I provide seminars and workshops to every SME player to create a new product and also how to improve its quality including the packaging itself,” Sugiarti said.


Pandemic Will Not Eliminate Batik
Batik Indonesia

Image Credit: Leo Galuh

However, the situation is very uncontrol since last year when the Covid-19 entered Indonesia around March 2020. Prior to the pandemic, Sugiarti was able to manage 12 staff to help her run the business. She had to make a tough decision when laid off 10 of her staff. Currently, there is only two staff left at Gerai Batik Sugih.

Sugiarti said that previously she operates two batik production sites. Yet, as the pandemic really hit her business, she had to shut down one of them.

“I lost 100% of my sales revenue from April 2020 to September 2020 due to the lockdown imposed by the government,” Sugiarti told HalalTrip. As people could not go outside due to the restriction, it gives a bad impact on the Batik industry.

Indonesian people always use Batik for several occasions like wedding parties, birthday parties, inauguration, or national events like Independence Day commemoration. Yet, there is no strong reason for someone to use Batik very often during Work From Home (WFH). People only need one or two pieces of Batik during their stay inside.

Moreover, Sugiarti also lost her opportunity to showcase its Batik product in many offline exhibitions. She pretty often introduces and markets her products in such events, including other women’s products.

She said in early 2021 the situation is getting better as the economic situation is increasing gradually. Yet, she added, in the mid-2021 the situation is worsening again.

Sugiarti did not give up that easily. She decided to sell some local snacks and chips at her Gerai Batik Sugih. Some women are still putting their products at Gerai Bunda Sugih. Yet, the numbers are not so pretty.

“I sell Akar Kelapa chips, Mangrove Dodol, Emping Melinjo chips, Onde Onde Ceplis, Rengginang Ikan Patin, and Dried Brownies,” Sugiarti promoted happily.

Indonesia Assortment Snacks

Image Credit: Syahdinar Hamid

However, she still keeps selling Batik as her core business. Moreover, this pandemic leads to an opportunity to create another Batik-related product. For example, hijab Batik, face mask Batik, or handicraft she added.

“I believe pandemic will not eliminate Batik as it is our culture for a long time,” Sugiarti shared her optimism. She believes people still need Batik whenever they go outside though it is very less chance. Batik is still considered as a tertiary product and people will not allocate more to this item amid the pandemic.

Furthermore, this uneasy time has pushed her to develop her community to be more tech-savvy. She expects the women community in Bekasi regency would be more familiar with digital marketing to introduce their homemade products. Some of Sugiarti’s products have been registered in the e-catalog of The Cooperatives and Small and Medium Enterprises Ministry.

Sugiarti said as a leader managing a business in this hard time is very challenging to hire more staff. However, she shared several tips to hire staff with some requirements like honesty, strong willingness, tenacity, craving to learn, and could adapt to any company’s situation.

She also said that a businesswoman needs to have a clear purpose to worship God. She runs a business that also empowers other people surrounding her particularly women.

“We should benefit the community by our business,” Sugiarti noted. She hopes the pandemic will end soon so that she could aim to export her Batik products abroad.


Cover Image Credit: Syahdinar Hamid

Freelance journalist. Currently aggregating economic news for analytical news service dedicated to competition law and regulatory developments around the world. Former reporter of tvOne (Indonesian television news channel) and NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation).

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