| creative women with a conscience | Stephanie Chandra founder + designer of eco luxury label 'RŪPAHAUS' interlacing tradition into stories

Photos by: Alvin Dahono + Cinescoop

What motivated or inspired you to start a fashion brand, more specifically why an ethical one?

Growing up I was always fascinated by textile and fabric and during my time in Germany I had the opportunity to work with one of Germany’s biggest named brands – and whilst I learnt so much from these experiences, it also made me realise how selfish the industry is. It personally didn’t really sit well with me  - I’ve always wanted to start my own thing, but I never really found the acceptance yet in my heart or the right time to execute this. So when I was working with this company it didn’t personally sit well with me to make fashion without even thinking about the impact, and what the industry does to the environment. I saw so much unused fabrics and the amount of waste in that one company it was just overwhelming. So I said if I’m going to do this, I’m going to choose to not participate in this at all and start a whole different approach to what everyone is doing.

I saw so much unused fabrics and the amount of waste in that one company it was just overwhelming. So I said if I’m going to do this, I’m going to choose to not participate in this at all and start a whole different approach to what everyone is doing.

When were you in Berlin, Germany?

2010-2017, and I only started working for this brand following the completion of my degree because I wanted to live the experience, but that’s when I realised it wasn’t really for me, and felt so strongly that I didn’t want anything to do with big-named fashion brands.

What did you study, Steph?

Fashion Design in Berlin.

I traced it back to where it first started and asked my self a very simple question like - how is a piece of textile even, actually made? The question sparks a lot of ideas and although I was really hesitant to get my project and ideas off the ground, I knew there was big chance that something big was going to happen from something small and you have to start somewhere. So it only made sense to start a brand that was different to what was already out there. A brand that not only preserves existing traditions, but also looks after the people behind it as well. It’s an eco system of the full supply chain – a lot of things are being neglected from what I’ve seen.

When you were studying fashion design, was there much teaching and education about sustainability and ethical design?

Germany is very sustainable in comparison to a lot of different countries; they’re very much ahead in the game when it comes to that. It’s a huge part of their beliefs, it’s the way they’ve been brought up, so its part of their mentality..

their living philosophy..

Exactly, so its kind of embedded in a lot of things you see and a lot of aspects of their lives, even including majors you see at universities. When I started fashion, I wasn’t really aware of what was going on with the ethics and the impacts – but when I went to Germany it was about this from the start and they shape you and teach you the ethical way. At first I was taken aback because I thought is this really fashion because it wasn’t something I knew. After two years I learnt more about the mentality of Germany and it became normal to me how things were there, and how they are meant to be globally.

In every single class we attended, it was all already apart of the curriculum.

You kind of touched on it before when you were talking about fashion as an eco system, but what made you decide ultimately to manufacture in Indonesia?

Firstly, I was born in Indonesia and I spent my early childhood there, so from a young age I was exposed to the multi facets of culture and tradition, which coexists in Indonesia because we have like 300 spoken dialects. We don’t all look alike because the country is so rich with culture. So I’ve always been attracted to the ethnic and traditional side of things, particularly textiles – the more I witness, the more special they become; I see how they make it, 

every piece of fabric is a reflection of the amount of time they spend in the making, and the endurance of the makers and the stories they tell. Even before they could write or carve their stories on stones, they told their stories through fabric.


Indonesia really has a lot to offer, but unfortunately the lack of appreciation when it comes to arts and crafts is why the makers lose hope and they stopped believing in the skills they inherited from their ancestors. Despite the lack of appreciation / acknowledgement – skills carry traditions over generations, they don’t get appreciated or the acknowledgment for what they do – this is exactly why I chose to manufacture in Indonesia.

I wasn’t some business woman who sat down with a proposal and knew what I was doing, my mum said you need to just go for it because you’ll be asking yourself the question (of whether I should do this) for the rest of your life..

In my experience, some of the best things that happen, you actually don’t have a business plan for..

She really encouraged me to just go over to Indonesia and take a risk, when I asked her how long do you think we’ll go for, she just said, "who knows, we’ll see". It was kind of like a back packing trip, we just went with the flow, we didn’t know anything. We had that 50/50 chance of thriving or failing. 

All of it is such an eye opening experience for me and I was so surprised to learn of how much Indonesia really has to offer, and this is why I chose to produce in Indonesia because I know the whole thing comes from there so why not centre it all there.

You were talking earlier about how some of the traditions of the craftsman’s work keep these skills alive because of the diversity and range in the cultures. Can you talk to me a little bit about what the artisanal skills your makers have, and what their specialties are? There are also certain types of machines that aren't available here, is this why you chose to produce in Indonesia?

With RŪPAHAUS we try to keep everything everything  hand made from the start to the beginning, so the only machines we actually have are sewing machines, but we work with hand loomed traditional wooden machines where they have to actually step on the paddles and simultaneously work the fabrics with their hands. Part of our home wares is using the backstrap loom technique, where the artisans use the tension between their backs and the bed of threads to weave the fabric. So the makers will either assemble the wooden machine themselves or no machine at all.

The artisanal skills are not only in the method of making and weaving, but the natural dyeing is such a skill as well, and not everyone can do it, it’s like another language you have to learn. This is something we really wanted to stand out with RŪPAHAUS and what we do, because of the colours you can actually produce with natural dyeing.

Would you say others can’t derive those kinds of natural colours?

I wouldn’t say so, I think people know how to develop natural dyes from their surroundings, but the thing is, Indonesia is so rich in itself already - they have the plants around them, around their house growing everywhere, that this is what they've actually learnt from their ancestors. Their ancestors didn’t know about chemicals, all they had was the red from this root and the blue from the indigo and that’s how they knew how to do these things. But not these days, this natural way is actually being practiced less than the use of chemicals because of the lower demand for natural ways. But we actually want to encourage going back to what you learnt from your ancestors; we‘re not teaching them (the artisans) anything new, we’re just encouraging them to dig deeper and remember what it is you learnt from your parents, or your grandparents’. This process is actually more honourable than chemicals. I can actually tell now when I see colours, which ones are derived naturally and which are chemicals. 

You can tell from the vibrancy, the saturation?...

Yep, even the hues are very different to what you can get from chemicals.  Education doesn’t come very easily for developing countries like Indonesia, it’s still considered a luxury particularly for those who live in remote areas – which is why Indonesians are very attached to their traditional practices, each tribe is proud of their heritage as they perceive it as a sacred knowledge.

Would you say that these traditions are embraced by younger generations as well?

It’s embraced, but not as much by the younger generation. The contrast is quite evident on all of my trips to Indonesia, and it’s something I actually really want to get into. For instance where we make the homewares collections in Sumba Island, only the women (no men at all!) who inherited the sacred skill can practice the indigo dyeing technique -  and it’s believed if a woman without the talent tries, then the indigo colour wouldn’t come out.  It’s very much about animism and spirituality. I should preface by saying that the country is very religious, but it’s really about spirituality and the beliefs of the  ancestors – and a lot of people see it as a very primitive way I would say, but its something I would say I enjoy and embrace this and I’m very proud of Indonesia and how our country is.

I think that’s so beautiful..

Yeah, it’s one story we really want to tell.

I think that’s such a beautiful thing to want to share, and something I never knew about it. But I’ve always felt that connection with your brand and have always loved your motto ‘interlacing tradition into stories” and I felt very connected to that straight away. And actually when you sent that RŪPAHAUS kimono to tommie, and I had the privilege of wearing and telling its own story, I felt like I was wearing something so magical. I could feel a connection to the people who made it, and the sacred land it was made on. I know it sounds so strange, but I really did feel like I was wearing a piece that was crafted with so much intention and spirituality.

This is exactly what I’m trying to cultivate, I’m trying to bring this culture, bring this tradition to you so you can have this personal connection!

As soon as I had the kimono on I felt so empowered, I felt so strong and it allowed me to be able to share my interpretation of the kimono in this seamless and effortless way.

Can you explain to me why its so important to tell stories through your pieces?

Our motto is ‘interlacing tradition into stories’ because we feel their (the artisans) voices need to be heard, so this is one of the roots RŪPAHAUS as well as our vision and mission. We are who we are because of the cultures and traditions we’ve been exposed to and the people before us. Without stories the world would just be a mundane pool of people with no journey. Especially in our very fast moving society, we often miss the opportunity to think and reflect, so you might have noticed with each kimono, each collection revolves around a specific theme. For example Kura Kura was specifically chosen to illustrate how our existence is influenced by the environment – kura kura is the tortoise and this is a very symbolic animal and is seen as being very sacred in the Indigenous and traditional textiles of Indonesia. A lot of turtles are being portrayed not only in the batiks but in the weaving too, this is to reflect the mother of earth in a symbolic way.

The team at Rupahaus the seamstress, the makers, the community our supply chain, create a whole eco system of change and we want to get our customers to raise their awareness on how they can contribute to this change through the stories.

I actually wanted to talk a little bit more about the younger generations in Indonesia, too because I don’t feel like I answered your question before...

You asked if the older generations see it at as a legacy and yes they do, but unfortunately the younger generations don’t. Despite all the hard work and effort to survive, their parents still struggle financially and they see this. Even with the younger artisans, they are artisans because they’ve learnt the skills from a young age, but they’re more interested in getting on the mass manufacturing bandwagon. Instead of utilising the significant skills learnt from their parents – and this is one of the reasons why the Indonesian tradition is slowly dying out.


So you’re saying that with the younger generation, their elders - parents and grandparents - have always engaged in these traditions and perhaps it hasn’t served them in terms of progress, that being financial or however it is we define ‘progress’ today in the modern world, and so they try to choose the faster pace life because that’s what they attribute success to or growth or leaving the community.

Exactly, they don't see that their artisanal skills are highly valuable and highly appreciated by everyone all around the world, and that’s such a shame.

What I’m hearing is that it would be so cool if someone like yourself went into these communities, and were able to positively influence these younger people to really appreciate the gift of their skill and the slower more thoughtful nature of this, because actually, the fast pace life that they so desire has caused so much damage, and they actually have the power to make a difference, to affect positive change.

And that’s exactly what we’re doing, these people have become like family, so every time I go there now, we sit down for dinner and we interact and talk about things and get to know each other. This is what we want to create at RŪPAHAUS, to create a medium for these artisans so their kids can actually see the results, and how their parents tell their stories and how they’re being credited for it and to educate the younger generations that growth is possible and we can create it in the local economy and preserve at the same time.

In terms of the production process have you had customers asking about transparency?

No one actually has asked those kinds of question, and I think that’s because we’ve been pretty transparent right from the get go. We provide so much information, so you really have all the answers. I can tell you that we partner with our artisans based on their skills and capabilities, their craftsmanship, willingness to work – that is to work outside of their comfort zone - because we need to experiment, evolve and innovate with the trends, or rather, to create something more modern. I always see it as a collaboration between the artisans though, I don’t see it as I’m the boss and they’re my workers, it’s a collaboration between us because without them, I can’t get anything either. It’s important for people to know that RŪPAHAUS is a collective platform where everyone comes together to create something that is optimal with their skills and my knowledge put together into one fabric and that’s what I want to portray. So before we settle on a collaboration, the team and I will personally visit the village to closely observe..

And how do you know which village to visit, which village to choose?

I don’t know, I just Google, or ask my mum, or ask my grandparents and people around me, but mostly I ask my mum (because she’s always very resourceful), ‘where do you think most batik are? And she’ll reply with a certain area and so I’d go there and just start-asking questions. It’s really playing it by ear, I’ll speak to my driver and he’ll say things like, oh yes, I remember taking a person here or there for those kinds of things. Indonesia is so behind with Google and providing information on stuff, so even when you Google it in Indonesia, nothing comes up.

That’s slow fashion right there, Steph!

{Laughing} I find the beauty in this though because you get to meet so many people there, and strangers who’d help you along the way. I can’t even begin to express my gratitude enough for the amount of people who have helped me along the way.

So when you find these artisans are they working for other brands as well or other communities within the country?

Not really, because most of them have no idea how to actually sell their stuff, so what they normally do is sell their product to a middleman and the middleman will bring it to the market. However what really happens in these cases is that these artisans get exploited a lot for their skills and labour, and I was really saddened by what I saw. These middlemen normally are either people from outside of the artisan village or in some cases, they even live within the same village amongst the artisan families. It really concerns me because there’s a huge disparity between the way the intermediaries live and the way the artisans live. The intermediaries are often own big fancy home with cars right next to the artisan’s huts. They’d put pressure on deadlines and push their prices down. Often, the artisans would only get paid once their produced textiles are sold. This is definitely one of the challenges that we face. Most middlemen don’t like me when I come into the equation, because I pay directly to the artisans with a fair price they pick.

How did you determine what you thought would be a fair price?

When I sit down with them I’d normally ask how much do they think their work is actually worth? And I’d tell them specifically too, that they need to include a little profit for themselves. I’d still bargain, but fairly – I try to approach them in a way they can understand fully what they’re getting involved in. In order for them to give me a fair price, it is crucial that they understand our operation and what we would like them to take part in this partnership, once we have established that understanding, it’s fairly simple to work together. If you’re asking whether we have any proper formulas of calculations for how things are supposed to be priced, I’m afraid we don’t because we are basing this on trust and I leave them to decide what they think they deserve – if we both agreed on a price that’s fair for all parties, then we proceed with no questions. As a result, this might be reflected in higher prices in some of our pieces in comparison to what’s out there in the market, because all of our materials are completely handmade, mostly still produced in their own homes – some harvest their own cotton crops and turn this into yarn – after all, they’re farmers, they’re makers, they’re everything.

Well this is an interesting point we’ve touched on, so if you we were to consider the whole process right from the beginning, would you know how long from beginning to end it would be for one particular Rupahaus piece to be made?

So with the locally grown cotton, it would normally take one year. However if you decided to do it with the artisans’ own cotton crops, it would take 2 years at least.

And would that be considered organic cotton?

I would say its organic because its gown on their own, normally they would have accreditations or certifications to help let us know if its organic, but Indonesia isn’t yet developed in that part, but we’re trying to do that right now, but its such a long process to go through the governmental bodies. 

So what I’m hearing is that instead of using the existing suppliers that have accreditations etc, you actually want to go in and empower other artisans, makers and communities who don’t have the means for the costly certifications and help provide them with work and income – which I think is pretty cool of you, because you could go to the established systems that would in turn give your brand the stamp of approval?

I want to see progress; I want to see change - a lot of people ask me that question about why I don’t use the already existing channels, this isn’t large scale progress for the country. The majority of artisans in Indonesia are very much struggling and I want to be apart of helping them move forward, instead of utilising the already existing channels and systems.

So basically RŪPAHAUS is a social enterprise..

Yes, definitely, one way or another.

 So can you talk to me a little bit more about some of the other challenges of starting RŪPAHAUS and I guess as a new brand and label, what does this mean in terms of profit and cash flow? How big is your team etc. I ask these questions because I feel like you’re doing a lot with minimal input.

We try to optimize everything I suppose. It’s not easy at all when it comes to financial support to do things like this because with all the survey trips etc, everything needs money.

Are you doing this full time? Do you have a side hustle?

I am doing this full time.

So, the RŪPA team itself consists of 3 people at the moment who all happen to be women. We try as much as possible to keep everything organic, especially with how fast technology is moving right now, and how fast everything evolves. We still do everything ourselves when it comes to marketing and producing so I wear a lot of hats – I’m the creative director, so that makes me the designer. On top of that, I am also the creative digital editor, the stylist as well as the head of production as I’m the one who walks along the artisans and the seamstresses from the beginning to the end. Nathascha does mainly the marketing to create awareness and to spread the word about our operation at RŪPAHAUS.

 Then we have the account person who is Addie  – Addie lives in Melbourne and she does the bookkeeping and financial side of things.

One of the biggest challenges we’ve encountered is probably the absence of our presence to be constantly in the field and guide them in anyway we can. Like I mentioned early on, my presence isn’t exactly welcomed when it comes to the middlemen because I’m actually trying to get these artisans paid for what they really deserve instead of taking advantage of them. They’re not happy that I’m developing my own relationships with the artisans without going through them. Fortunately, not all villages are like that, some are more vibrant and friendly than others.  

Another challenge would be to create the awareness about what we do – most consumers today are very much brand-minded. They find it really hard to invest in something that isn’t a big brand yet, despite the proven high quality of craftsmanship and quality behind every product. Don’t get me wrong, we are very grateful for the support and finding people like you who really appreciate what we do, but this fashion movement is still growing, and whilst we’re so excited to see the promising prospect of the future, there’s still a lot of work to gain trust as well as shifting the majority of consumers’ behavior in being conscious in what they buy and why they buy it. I guess that’s definitely one of the challenges. That’s why in our wearable range, we not only provide you ethically made pieces with sustainable materials – but also, we’re combining it with trends as well, so you get both worlds colliding into one.

Consumers are getting a little bit more educated, in the mass market, not just in this eco bubble. There is more mainstream coverage whether it’s about landfill, waste or fast fashion, so I think they are actually learning little bits of information. But what I’m finding in the retail space is that people are not spending, because they don’t know what the right move is –they think, do I not buy at all? I do think they’re a little confused at the moment because they’re asking things like, ‘do I need to just buy things that are approved by this app or this rating system?’ I think there’s a lot of differing perspectives as well in this space, so I think consumers are a little big stagnant at the moment with their shopping behaviour, because I don’t think they know what they really care about either. I think they’re navigating this space, trying to understand how best to participate in it. It’s a bit of a tricky space at the moment, but ethical and sustainable fashion is definitely getting more momentum.

I think people of all generations are actually actively shifting to more sustainable clothing. There are so many articles in the media with strong perspectives to share, rather than just to be another green washing approach or just another eco bubble or a preachy ‘save the earth’ activist. People are generally wanting to ask more questions, ‘why, how, where and what is this made of’? which gives us more assurance that we’re fighting for the right cause.

I think what we’re trying to do ultimately is to raise awareness, it’s not about pointing the finger and saying – no what you’re doing is wrong. This is a journey and if we can get a friend to think twice perhaps about the alternatives, then that’s what its about for us. It’s not something that changes from one day to the next, it’s a process. You want to try and do better every day and every one has their own pace.

If we’re talking about the business of fashion, how do you juggle the slow values of your business with profit? If we’re telling consumers that they need to buy less, where does that leave designers in terms of cash flow? Is it a situation that rather than getting your customers to buy more, you attract a larger demographic for more potential sales – or given you a social enterprise, is profit just not the brands’ main mission?

To be honest I actually don’t think about the money side of it – I really do focus on the other roles of the business - in saying that we always try to put some money aside from each collection or project to give back additionally to the artisans so we can add extras to their work room or build a new one for example. My point of view was never from the perspective of money when I started the brand. Yes, of course I’d like to make money from RŪPAHAUS – that would be an added bonus - but really I want to create awareness for these artisans, I want to grow the demand for Indonesia artisanal products and make money FOR THESE ARTISANS. Everything at the moment is so small scale, so we’re talking for example we make a maximum of one dozen for every style, which is only three pieces in each size. This way, we’re actually testing the market as well as try to grow with the market.

One of the things I’ve said right from the beginning of this journey is I never want RŪPAHAUS to be a mass produced company – I’d like to grow big in the sense that people want the artisanal pieces our artisans make, but it was never my aim to grow big in the sense that I have to start a factory down the track.

So do you think you’d always produce in small numbers?

In controllable numbers, keeping it personal at the same time, which is a fundamental part of our values

I don’t believe you can tell us a story when you make 10,000 of them. Like we were talking about with the kimono earlier on – it carries a very powerful story within it because each piece was made uniquely – we don’t have a carbon copy of it. Every single one is different to other, even though they do share similarities. 


Photo by resident photographer: Laura Marii

What a great sentiment, Steph because you’re coming from your values and your philosophy not from dollar signs.

I also think that the quality can be kept if you’re working personally with the product. I guess that’s one of my weaknesses as well, is that I can’t let things get done by anyone else but me, because I am such a perfectionist when it comes to my work and I haven’t found anyone who I can trust just yet. I listen to my gut feeling a lot, and most of my decisions are made basing on what my heart tells me. A personal connection is crucial to me when I meet with potential artisans/makers, only then I’d want to collaborate with them in a partnership. And that goes for the workshop of seamstresses we’re working with too – I still work personally with the owner.

So how many people would say you have now that you work with?

In total, under 50 I’d say. 

Men and women?

Yep, men and women, but mostly women because weaving is the women’s’ domain in Indonesia – the men tend to go farming and the women weave at home. When it comes to Batik and dyeing this is where the men come in. They’re very good with dyeing. They’re really good at knowing the proportion of how much dyes are needed in accordance with the water, for instance.

And would you say this is because it’s the men who are out there on the land who are farming?

I think so, even though the women can actually do it, it’s a way to divide the profession up in this way and the ethnic traditions between people. And at the end of the day, it is all about team work.

With the weaving that’s a very physical job, right?


Is it situation where you should only do it a certain amount of hours in the day, or is it so engrained in the culture that it doesn’t actually affect the artisans physically? 

It definitely does affect them, they say they have back pain when they do this, but this is exactly why all of our products take time to make.

We keep coming back to this idea of slow fashion, because in order to produce such beautifully handmade garments with detailed craftmanship, long durability and high quality materials, time is needed.

So for example I’d put in my orders now (April) for them to start producing in August. So that when I arrive in Indonesia for the production trip, they would have already started spinning the yarn and most of the dyeing process, so I’d arrive in time to assist them through the production process. It is very important for RŪPAHAUS customers to be aware of our slow fashion philosophy, that generally, authentic Batiks and woven fabric actually take 4-6 months time to make. So for this collection that’s coming up we actually started the production before Christmas.

I completely trust our artisans, especially given I already worked so closely with them when I went out to the field to survey.

And we have deliberately planned to only deliver a maximum of two collections per year because these artisans work with the seasons – we need to work with the sun for dyeing to dry and then they do the weaving in the rainy season so they can work indoors and this technique isn’t so much weather dependent. This is why I usually do one compulsory big production trip to Indonesia per year and smaller ones perhaps throughout the year while I’m visiting family in Indonesia.

I think that’s really great that you work with the seasons not against them. I know a lot of other designers usually have ideas and want to execute them straight away and it might not be the best time or the best use of resources. The way you conduct business means you eliminate so much potential waste, too.

Oh yes, the artisans are very quirky in their own way. They are just like artists in their own way – you can’t ask a painter to just whip out a painting on a whim, it’s a process. You need to understand the pace, the time they need.

And the rhythm of life, really.

Yes, we need to understand THEIR rhythm.

That’s why it really helped me to spend a little bit of time with them and live with them so I can see how they function.

 I can imagine that it must really help you realise, given we live in cities, how artificial things are and how much we actually exploit when it comes to resources. But when you work with the land and the resources you realise how scarce and precious things are, and that we shouldn’t be pushing these limits here in the western world for continuous output and production.

Every time I go it always has been a learning process for me, and a slap in the face (really!). It’s a wake up call to how I should be living. It’s definitely a very humbling, awakening experience. We tend to forget to sit back and be grateful for the sun, for the air, for the water – this time around, my photographer and my boyfriend came along and I asked them at the end of the trip whether they would want to come along next time and they said – yes, of course! I often find myself so caught up, worrying about trivial things especially when you’re living in the city, but their (artisan communities) kindness keeps me coming back, and that’s why I always look forward to my production trips! Their kindness is so genuine, and sometimes I have to pinch myself thinking ‘really is this actually happening?!’, because it’s so rare to come across this authenticity these days.

One of the other things I really wanted to talk to you about, is that in your imagery and in your branding, you portray ethnic diversity, and I do think your brand stands out because of that.

Is it a conscious decision for you to include a diverse range of women?

With so many advancements in our community right now, I still don’t believe ‘gender equality’ is being practiced fairly. I know we are moving towards a better place for women, but there is still this unbridgeable gap where women are treated like second-class citizens.  And I feel it in every regard; it’s very subtle, but it’s there. This gap is even bigger for women of culturally diverse backgrounds.


Photo by resident photographer: Laura Marii

As a brand, we want to advocate to our customers and to the younger generation of women, that we are all equal no matter where you come from. With overseas immigration rate being higher than ever, we are becoming a multi racial as a society, and we want to build a better world for our kids and generations to come. With regard to RŪPAHAUS, it’s always been my intention to showcase different facets of women, and it’s essential for us to keep portraying this image.

Thank goodness we are living in a period where the normal idea of women is no longer bound to a single type or body size.

Society is starting to realise that women shouldn’t be objectified and dissected. As much as we are moving forward to a better time, where women’s body standards aren’t defined, many aspects in our society are still attached to this stigma that women should be, behave and dress in certain ways - and there are unspeakable responses to women breaking the glass cultural ceiling. With a positive image portrayal of women we hope to further advocate for the movement towards a better society and to not forget to encourage the younger girls of our generation to own their body and be proud to be different, be proud to be individual. After all, diversity is part of the stories, they’re part of our stories.

As generations evolve new innovations will be discovered and innovations founded only on strong traditions and beliefs will more likely survive than something that has no foundation. So we try to utilise the old and combine it with the new to come up with better ways and ideas to look after our environment as well as the communities within it for the future.

I grew up with a very strong mother who said we can do and take anything on ourselves, that we should be independent and that we can fight for what we want, so thanks to women like my mum!

Is that common within your culture?

No, it’s not common at all.

Why do you think your mum had this mindset?

I would say it is because she was the oldest out of her eight siblings, and her dad, my grandpa, has always treated her like an equal. He never treated her any differently because she was a woman. So my mum has always treated us and raised us this way from the beginning.

So she’s also taught you a lot about community and connection too?

Yes, definitely. The western world has a lot of progress when it comes to equality, in comparison to developed countries like Indonesia.

Even when I go to public places in Indonesia with my friends, you can still see and feel a big gap.

In what way?

They see us differently in what we can and are allowed to do. For example when I tell  them what I’m doing with RŪPAHAUS, and how I’d go to visit and survey, they’d say oh my goodness, what a badass woman you are that no-one has to come with you. And most of them would say things like no one is going to want to date you if you are this fierce strong, independent woman.

So there’s this negative association if you are this fierce strong, independent woman..?!

Maybe not negative, but intimidating. They aren’t familiar with it, because it was never really present within the community.

Can you tell me how fashion can be a force for good to cultivate community and connection, because I think traditionally fashion systems don’t tend to do that in a very authentic way.

I think I can totally relate to you in that sense. Fashion can be very notorious for being superficial and plastic, but I think that was the era of when I was studying fashion – so we (the eco conscious) were the odd ones out and quite drastically so. But there are so many movements going on right now that are empowering consumers, as well as creating awareness. And there are also people who weren’t interested back then, who are now interested. We are stealing the majority mentality that mainstream fashion once was, being conscious about your environment used to be a niche and uncool, but in our society today a lot of people are moving towards more mindful, conscious fashion. And actually, you’re the odd one if you think fast fashion is normal.

 Although the intensity of this industry is pretty high, it still allows anyone, anywhere to use it as a platform to express their creative confidence, no matter where you come from. It’s a part of our expression. It opens doors to a lot of different people and especially for women too. The world in our eyes as women actually becomes narrower when we decide to become mothers, and we’d have less opportunity outside the maternal role (which I think isn’t necessarily a bad thing). However, as much as it is a very competitive industry, fashion is still a form of art and it has definitely emerged into something more flexible and fluid. One can always use fashion as vehicle to express who he/she is no matter what age what phase of life one’s in, so this automatically gives women more freedom.

We hope through fashion we are able to bring women together, where they’re able to find a sense of belonging, a common-ground, where they’re able to share their stories and experiences – by feeling supported by one another and the ability to build an inspiring network within the community.

I have experienced how close knit the community can be, but when we come together we can do powerful things, and as a community we will be empowered to direct the change for a better world for the next generation.

I think there’s a lot within fashion that can actually empower women and be a force for change and we’re slowly..

Moving towards a more positive direction, back then it was definitely more commercialised and superficial.

Now when we look at the substance behind fashion, there’s so much there.

One last thing, is there certain things you’ve learnt from your artisans personally that you’ve been able to instill in your everyday life? And are there any daily rituals or practices you have?

I learnt how to be patient and that everything has its own time. There’s no good in pushing things. Living abroad in Germany for 7 years, everything is very calculated and planned – so when the train says it comes at 10.15, you be there at 10.15 or you miss the train.  There’s no room for error. And then when you come to Australia there’s a different pace and then a different pace again in Indonesia - the artisans have taught me that even when you have deadlines, to not get caught up in the emotion of it all. I’ve learnt perseverance, patience and flexibility.

I take my dogs for laps every day in terms of daily rituals– anywhere in nature – to the lake, or to the woods, for an hour every day. And when I do this, I leave my gadgets at home and it gives me time to relax, plan ahead on how I want to go about my day or reflect on how my day went, and how I can do better tomorrow.

during these walks, I’d  think about everything, the good and bad things, and while I do laps with my dogs, I’d try to put things into perspective and find a solution to it. This normally helps me to go back home and continue my work with a more peaceful mind.

Photos by resident photographer: Laura Marii

Styling + featuring: Natalie Shehata