Members of the Japanese Aikobo group show off their batik-style Obi traditional dress during a recent trip to Yogyakarta. (JP/Tarko Sudirano)
Tuesday, December 23, 2008 9:33 Indigo batik captures that natural lookTarko Sudiarno , The Jakarta Post , Yogyakarta
Japanese businessman Nakanishi from the Japan Blue fabric company mixes natural dyes used in batik making in Yogyakarta. (JP/Tarko Sudiarno)
The mixture of extract of indigofera leaves with water in a plastic bucket looked blue, with a big lump in the middle.
Nakanishi, a fabric businessman from the Japan Blue company stirred the mixture with his hands, with no gloves. After a while, it turned indigo blue.
He dipped his finger into the light blue mixture, licked it and said, "This is a good dye. It's not hazardous to health."
That particular afternoon, a group of Japanese from the Aikobo Group, and who love the indigo color, were surprised to see how Nakanishi used the indigofera leaves to make blue dye at the showroom of the Royal Silk Foundation in Yogyakarta.
For some people, the dye was revolting, but not to Nakanishi. He thought of it as a dish in a restaurant that he had to taste first to find out how good it was.
For him, making a dye from natural substances is nothing new. Every day in Kyoto, Japan, he does the mixing himself.
Although he comes from a rich family, making a dye is not a humdrum manual task he is embarrassed to do.
Not many people realize Nakanishi, whose fingernails are blue from exposure to indigofera every day, is a successful businessman.
The dyeing demonstration was one of the ways to impress Japanese lovers of indigo fabrics on the authenticity of the coloring process, when they visited Yogyakarta for two days.
Members of the Aikobo Group wanted to see the process for themselves, especially its application to batik making.
Yogyakarta-made batiks are gaining greater popularity in Japan, particularly the hand-made batiks in indigo colors.
"In Japan, people now like fabrics which use natural dyes," said Masato Kuroda, the advisor to the Royal Silk Foundation.
"Batiks in indigo colors are in great demand. Many Japanese women use Yogyakarta batiks for their Obi or traditional dress."
The back to nature concept, through using natural substances, applies not only to the dyeing process but also to the creation of the fabric, she said.
In Japan, batiks made of silk and cotton are in great demand, for health reasons.
"A silk dress will keep you warm when you wear it in winter. On the other hand, it will absorb your perspiration in summer," Kuroda said.
"People are averse to chemical coloring and prefer fabrics using natural coloring to keep their skin healthy. The use of indigofera leaves for dyeing also protects you from mosquitoes. Fabrics with indigo coloring are good for babies and children."
Yogyakarta batik makers are keen to seize upon increasing awareness in Japan of the need to go back to natural materials and natural coloring for clothing.
Currently, at least three companies in Yogyakarta are tapping into this market opportunity: Rumah Kapas, PT Yarsilk Gora Mahotama and Rumah Batik Nakula Sadewa.
"Our natural silk batiks, made from silkworms, can now be found in two major supermarkets in Japan and have enjoyed a good response from Japanese consumers," said Fitriani Kuroda of PT Yarsilk Gora Mahotama.
The company's products have even been given the Inacraft Award 2008 for best quality fabric and textiles.
To develop these natural silk-based products, Royal Silk Foundation and Garuda Indonesia are cultivating cashew nut trees in Imogiri, Bantul regency, Yogyakarta, to breed silkworms as part of the One Passenger One Tree program.
Every Japanese tourist visiting Yogyakarta on board a Garuda airplane must plant one tree in the Bukit Garuda area in Karangtengah village, Imogiri.
The ticket of every Japanese tourist visiting Yogya on board a Garuda 'plane includes the cost of one tree.
The indigo fabric lovers from the Aikibo Group also planted cashew nut trees there.
In between the cashew nut trees, indigofera trees have also been intercropped, to meet market demand.
These indigofiera trees, which grow as shrubs, are expected to meet the short-term economic needs of the farmers in Karangtengah before they can harvest the cocoons of the silkworms living on the cashew nut trees.
"We hope our strength in the Japanese market will impact favorably on the welfare of farmers in Imogiri," said Fitriani.