A few months ago Bluesville, one of the casual Indonesian clothing brands I’ve been keeping an eye on, released the Batik Kerang shirt. I was drawn to its design and wanted one for myself but not bad enough that I didn’t place an order. Fast forward to October when I visited Jakarta and revisited the idea of buying the shirt. I got in touch with Bluesville asking if they would be able to make a special run for me as it was out of stock in their online shop. Direz, one of the owners, replied back and told me that they could make me one but that I would have to wait a few days because the workshop had to make everything by hand. But before I could commit I needed to find my size. I visited one of their stockists to fit one of their shirts. I was an XL but wanted the length of the L. Having found my size I set up a lunch with Direz so we could chat a bit and give him my payment. Five days later Direz personally delivered the shirt to my hotel. The timing was perfect as it was a day before I was scheduled to fly back to the Philippines.
Three things set apart Bluesville from other casual Indonesian clothing brands: 1) use of natural dyes and traditional dyeing; 2) use of traditional hand-woven fabrics; and 3) traditional hand-painted batik. It is important to understand how all three come together so the process must be explained to appreciate the product. Bluesville does not make the traditional hand-woven cloth used in the shirt but they have sourced it from a workshop that has more than 40 years of experience in the field. The cloth is made of pure cotton but the traditional weaving techniques give it a slubby texture (akin to some kinds of specialty denim), loose weave and feels somewhat like heavy linen.
The next step is applying traditional hand-painted batik techniques. Before batik was mechanised artisans would hand-paint the cloth with a resist-dye material such as molten beeswax. Bluesville uses the same hundred-years-old technique and painstakingly hand-paints the design, in this case, flowers. After the painting is completed the next step is to dye the shirt. Bluesville only uses natural indigo dye and traditional dyeing techniques to give the shirt rich shades of indigo that simply cannot be achieved with synthetic indigo dye. After dyeing the hardened beeswax is washed off using hot water. When the cloth has dried it is cut and sewn into a shirt.
The result is an item of clothing that is beautiful and truly unique. It has many irregularities that is expected of a handmade product. The random slubs in the cloth, the strokes and distance of the flowers, and uneven dyeing lend it a charm that is rare in a world filled with mass-manufactured clothing. When I first wore the shirt it felt a little stiff but Direz tells me it will soften after a few washes. Initially, I had some concerns with the weight of the fabric but after wearing it to an open-air weekend market I found that it wears cool and will not give you the chills either when inside the mall.
Bluesville has created a magnificent product that honors traditional techniques. I am glad that such techniques are alive and well and that by buying their products I support the artisans whose hands created this piece of art. I am officially in love with the brand and look forward to owning more pieces from them.
Shorts by Dockers. Sandals by Birkenstock.