Indonesian designers discuss the rise of modest fashion at NYFW

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While NYFW attendees might be more used to seeing French or Italian fashion on the runway, the export value of Indonesian garment and textile products to the US has grown, reaching almost US$4 million in 2021, a 17 per cent increase over the previous year.

Following the show, Vivi Zubedi, who runs her own eponymous modest fashion range, and Pasoari Widiastuti, brand manager at Erigo X, joined Ben Parry, dean of fashion at Parsons School of Fashion, in a panel discussion about the rise of modest fashion and some of the unique characteristics of Indonesian design. Here are the highlights. 

The rise of modest fashion

According to Widiastuti, the rise of modest fashion is fast becoming a factor in the Western world as more people get to know the big designers and trends.

“When it comes to modest fashion, Indonesia is a really diverse country, with so many ethnicities and of course we have the largest Muslim population in the world. So modest fashion is very important in our circles,” she noted.

Zubedi chimed in to say that Indonesia is fast becoming the epicentre of modest fashion in the region, and it is playing a very important role in the overall growth of the fashion industry in the country.

“Modest fashion is now becoming more universal, and is not being limited to a specific religion or custom, so more people are embracing it,” she said.

Widiastuti noted that streetwear brand Erigo X manages to integrate modesty into its designs, while still keeping things sexy and appealing to its target market: Gen Z and Millennials.

Decoding fashion

As an educator at the Parsons School of Fashion, Parry has strong views on diversity, inclusivity and equity in fashion.

“One of the things that I  am committed to as a dean of fashion is to work towards decolonising our curriculum. We want to create an inclusive fashion syllabus and dramatically expand how we understand fashion as a whole,” he stressed.

He feels that so much of fashion has been taught from worldviews, histories and practices that have been based on continuing the legacy of colonialism and defining fashion in very narrow Eurocentric terms.

“It’s time to totally transcend what we view as modern fashion and traditional fashion. At Parsons, we want to expand our worldviews, honour the variety and plurality of the aesthetics of beauty, ideals and practices of fashion,” he added.

The wonder of batik

Indonesia has long been revered for its unique batik fabric, so it’s no surprise that modern designers still incorporate batik into their designs. 

For the uninitiated, batik is a technique of wax-resist dyeing that is applied to fabric. It originates from the island of Java in Indonesia, and is a mixture of native and foreign cultures. 

“Batik is essentially a piece of our national heritage, each fabric has a story to tell, and each design is unique in its own right. So we are integrating it into our designs as it’s a unique piece of our cultural identity and it reflects the Indonesian way of life,” Zubedi stated.

Apart from batik, Indonesian designers are also incorporating sophisticated weaving techniques into their designs. Most of these intricate textiles are hand-woven, yet they are versatile enough to feature in modest fashion offerings and edgy streetwear. 

Widiastuti added that Indonesia has the potential to be a world leader in the manufacturing of these fabrics, as its mills are very much integrated into the supply chain of the modest fashion space.

The role of education

Finally, Parry shared how he is working towards his ultimate goal of decolonising fashion through the development of a new set of guiding principles to drive inclusion, access and equity.

“We’ve launched a cluster of courses on indigenous fashion, we begin by honouring the original people on the land, and introduce students to appreciating the roots of fashion that have been around since time immemorial,” he said.

From Parry’s perspective, there has never been a more important time for educational institutions to step up to the plate and make a difference to the fashion industry as a whole.

“When I think of this conversation, maybe it’s time to have a collaborative course on Indonesian fashion that can be online and open to the public. These are the opportunities to learn, educate and bring the public together. This is where the future lies,” he explained.

He feels that the future of fashion lies in how everyone engages with it, to create a future of redistribution of power that allows people to feel valued.

“I think one of the issues that often comes up when engaging with fashion from other cultures, is making sure we don’t run afoul of spiritual or sacred practices in terms of our designs. This is where conversations on ethical design are crucial,” he concluded.

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