Page last updated at 10:39 GMT, Friday, 17 June 2011 11:39 UK

Globalisation threatens Indonesia's textile industry

Dewi Safitri
BBC Indonesian Service

The sleepy district of Majalaya in West Java was once known as 'dollar city' for its industrial might.

But now it has a less flattering nickname - 'dokar city', after a local variety of horse-drawn cart.

In its heyday, Majalaya was the major centre for Indonesian textile production. But now the industry is struggling to stay afloat.

Just getting to Majalaya is a challenge in itself. The poorly paved roads that lead there are littered with potholes, some as big as a car.

Horse-drawn 'dokar' cards in Majalaya , West Java
The dokar is a popular but primitive mode of transport

It is only an hour drive away from Bandung, a bustling city known for its fashion and fine food, but poor infrastructure means that Majalaya feels much further from its affluent neighbour.

Driving there, our car shares the road with dozens of dokar. The road is dotted with manure, dried by the scorching sun.

It wasn't always like this, I am told.

Textile boom

"It used to be vibrant [here]," says Epi Sopiyan, the owner of a weaving company.

Epi is the son of one of Majalaya's richest mill owners and has run the business since his father's death.

From the 1940s to the 1970s, business was booming. "We had orders from every corner of the country," as well as from Malaysia and Singapore, says Epi.

In this period the textile industry in Majalaya employed thousands of workers but now only a handful of businesses remain.

The Indonesia Textile Association says that that small to medium-sized firms with outdated machinery are the most at risk. They are threatened by China, whose machine-equipped sector has 20 times Indonesia's production capacity.

You know what Coco Chanel said: when your work is being imitated, it means it's appreciated.
Nancy Goh, Indonesian businesswoman

"We make what we can," says Cucu Juariyah who, like Epi Sopiyan, inherited her textile business from her father.

Production is still ticking along, she tells me, but the output is much smaller.

"Mostly now we take orders from places like Sumatra or Malaysia, and we still have some from the Middle East as well."

Her specialty is to weave golden thread to produce a fabric used in traditional Malay ceremonies.

"We got this order from a king in Malaysia," Cucu says, showing me a black silk woven through with intricate, shiny gold.

Luckily for Cucu Juariyah, the fabrics she produces are not produced in China - at least not yet. She makes about IDR 100 million in a month (USD $1,1700), but this is still far from what the company brought in during its heyday.

Quality sells

Not far from Majalaya, I visit a shoe workshop in Bandung. This time the mood is jubilant.

"We just got a call from Australia. They want hundreds of pairs and they're willing to pay in cash," says a beaming Agit Bambang Suswanto, the workshop owner and shoe designer.

Growing up, Agit had a penchant for fancy footwear he couldn't afford. He set up his business two years ago, making shoes from leather and lambskin.

"The shoes are quite rare in terms of quality," says Chris Kerrigan, the Business Development Manager of The Store Dept, an upscale shop in Jakarta that stocks Agit's products.

"The only complaint we have is that [they] can't produce fast enough to keep up with demand," he added.

Nancy Goh
Nancy Goh's bags have been carried by Paris Hilton and Zara Phillips

Quality is also the trump card for Nancy Go's premium Bagteria hand bags.

Made from lace and silk and accessorised with glass beads and sequins, Bagteria products became a hit when celebrities like Paris Hilton and Princess Zara Phillips have been seen carrying them.

In Indonesia, Nancy's bags are priced from IDR 1.5 million (USD $176) but can fetch up to double that in one of her overseas outlets.

Her success has triggered a wave of lesser-quality imitations, but none can match her intricate designs and craftsmanship, Nancy says.

"You know what Coco Chanel said: when your work is still being imitated, it means it's highly appreciated."

Creativity is key

These stories show that Indonesia can stand a chance against the industrial behemoth of China - but only if its businesses are creative.

TOP ENTREPRENEURIAL NATIONS
Indonesia
USA
Canada
India
Australia

A recent survey by the BBC World Service ranked Indonesia as the best country for innovation and entrepreneurship, ahead of top industrialised nations like the US and Canada.

"We just have to choose our battles. We will be crushed flat if we try to compete with [China] on mass production," said shoemaker Agit Bambang.

"Creativity is a main point. Use the best material. Craftsmanship must be sharp," added Nancy Go.

But China is not just a competitor - it is also the source of many of the materials and machinery required for production.

"Where do I get my silk cocoon from?" asks Epi Sopiyan rhetorically. "China. For what price? Whatever they say."

Epi claims the price of raw silk thread had almost doubled in a matter of months.

"I can barely keep up with the price. What if they decide to stop supplying at all?"

Harsh consequences

In Majalaya, I also meet Ika Martikah, a traditional weaver who has been practising her skills for decades. She has worked in Epi's workshop for five years, and worked for his father for 15.

A traditional weaver in West Java
Small firms with outdated machinery are most at risk says the Indonesia Textile Association

"This is the only work I know," said the 59-year-old Ika, smiling, her fingers moving robotically as they turn the wheel.

Iwan, a young man seated on a wooden stool nearby, says he has only been working here for two months.

"I used to work with an electric weaving machine. This is harder to manoeuvre," he tells me, the clack-clacking noise of his loom filling the room.

Aside from the rising price of raw materials, the fate of these traditional weavers also concerns Epi Sopiyan.

"Business is awfully hard - but if I stop who will they turn to?" he says.

It's a concern faced by all entrepreneurs in 'dokar city'. But as their peers elsewhere have proven, creative thinking can save even the most ailing business.



Print Sponsor


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific