Empowering women artisans in rural Indonesia

SukkhaCitta, established by Denica Riadini-Flesch, is an eco-friendly brand that specialises in ready-to-wear cotton silk batik made by providing employment opportunities to women from rural villages. Her dedication to this cause has earned her the Rolex Awards for Enterprise

Driven by a deep-rooted commitment to catalyse positive change in rural Indonesia, Denica Riadini-Flesch is on a mission to empower textile artisans throughout the country to earn fair wages from their craft while preserving their rich cultural heritage. 

Her innovative One Village One Collection model, SukkhaCitta, stands as a beacon of social entrepreneurship, reimagining traditional Indonesian textiles to drive sustainable impact in rural communities.
Riadini-Flesch’s steadfast dedication to her cause has garnered her a multitude of accolades and honours, including the prestigious Rolex Awards for Enterprise. This recognition celebrates individuals who dedicate themselves to improving lives while safeguarding the planet for future generations. In harmony with Rolex’s Perpetual Planet Initiative, the Rolex Awards for Enterprise exemplify the company’s core values.

For generations, rural textile artisans in Indonesia have grappled with middlemen, but SukkhaCitta is changing that narrative. In a departure from past approaches, Riadini-Flesch is harnessing the power of market dynamics to instigate transformation within this industry. Through her innovative from-farm-to-closet model, she combines access to both knowledge and markets, pioneering a shift in the informal hand-worker economy. 

Using SukkhaCitta, she collaborates with rural craftswomen in Indonesia, equipping them with essential business skills, environmental awareness, and access to customers across 32 countries. The social enterprise also cultivates grassroots entrepreneurs who serve as catalysts for positive change, multiplying the impact within their communities. This approach empowers artisans throughout Indonesia to earn fair wages from their craft, fostering economic sustainability while preserving their cultural traditions.

See also: Resorts World Sentosa, NTU’s Earth Observatory of Singapore sign research collaboration MOU underwater

SukkhaCitta craftswoman Ibu Kasmini preparing cotton before spinning it into threads. SukkhaCitta prides itself on making ethically hand-crafted garments whilst ensuring their craftswomen are working in a safe environment and for fair wages

Empowering craftswomen
Riadini-Flesch’s path towards women empowerment is a captivating narrative that led her through a steep learning curve. Reflecting on her journey in an interview with Options, she acknowledges the initial missteps, such as the common mistake of approaching communities with the mindset of “we want to help you”. She believes this approach can inadvertently portray communities as helpless.

See also: Driving innovation and sustainability in Asean

She says: “Coming from development aid, that was really my biggest eye opening moment. They don’t need help, they have the skills and the determination to change their own lives; what they need is someone to believe in them. In the beginning, I lived with them, I went to their communities. I stayed in their houses and went to the field with them. 

“They felt that with all the messaging that they have received all their lives, people from the city are superior, and they are inferior. It was very difficult for them to even look me in the eye, because they felt like they were less than me. So I had to live with them, I had to ask them to teach me things so that we can start changing that perspective that they saw me not as an outsider, but as an equal.”
A pivotal moment occurs when the women accept her as an equal. Riadini-Flesch describes it as “when the magic happens”, signifying a profound connection. It’s at this juncture, she explains, that true dialogue emerges — when they feel heard, they begin to ask questions, bringing forth challenges that they collaboratively address and solve.

For the past eight years, she has been tackling these challenges head-on, seeking out problems and creating solutions. “We were specifically not looking for a production plan; we were looking for problems that we can solve. In each of our villages, we have a local leader, local champion. If I can find someone who is young and committed to really be a changemaker in their community and leads a co-operative from the ground up with me, only then can we go ahead.

“The interesting thing about SukkhaCitta is that because we work with villagers in our factories, we have decentralised production in a way that each of our villages is specialised in a particular craft that is always tied to the history of the village,” she explains.

For instance, there is a village in East Java that once thrived as a batik hub and nearly every woman in the village practised the artisan craft. However, as they struggled to sustain themselves financially, they were compelled, one by one, to abandon this tradition. When Riadini-Flesch first visited the village years ago, only three women artisans remained. These were the initial collaborators who joined her in her work and they were all around 60 years old at the time.

This narrative echoes across Indonesia, where younger women are not interested in carrying on the craft, as they grew up witnessing their mothers’ hardships. Recognising the intergenerational aspect of this cultural heritage, Riadini-Flesch realised that urgent action was needed. Without intervention, there was a risk of losing the cultural identity within two generations.

Riadini-Flesch says this is akin to witnessing a library of culture burning before our eyes; yet many remain oblivious to the flames. Today, artisans face the challenge of competing with printed fabrics that mimic their traditional motifs at a fraction of the cost. They are forced to vie against machines, making it increasingly difficult for them to sustain a livelihood through their craft.

For more lifestyle, arts and fashion trends, click here for Options Section

“To me, it’s incredibly disheartening,” she continues, “Craft isn’t just about creating beautiful objects; it’s also about our quest for meaning and connection. Think about the most meaningful piece in your closet — it’s likely something passed down from your mother or grandmother, or perhaps something you purchased directly from an artisan, knowing the story behind its creation. It’s more than just an object; it’s a narrative, a part of our heritage. Yet, today, we’ve become disconnected from these stories, unaware of the impact of our choices.”

This disconnection has led to a host of social and environmental issues. Not only do the women struggle to earn a living from their craft, but toxic dyes also continue to pollute the rivers. One of the most polluted rivers in the world is in Indonesia, with 340,000 tonnes of toxic dyes dumped into it every day.

Despite this, Riadini-Flesch still believes there is still a way to reclaim heritage and protect the environment. That is why she has embarked on a journey to rediscover the traditional dyeing methods of the older generations — how it was done before the era of chemical dyes. By reconnecting with these ancestral recipes and replanting the necessary plants, she wants to revive these forgotten practices.
Through simple choices, like the shirt you wear today, you can make a difference in the lives of women and contribute to a more sustainable future, she suggests.

Batik artisans like Ibu Srikanthi draw intricate patterns on textiles using wax, so that when the clothes are dyed, a stark imprint of the beautiful designs is left on the garment

Scaling greater heights with the support of Rolex
Riadini-Flesch’s innovation and determination has captured the attention of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, perfectly aligning with Rolex’s Perpetual Planet Initiative. With a rich tradition spanning a century of backing explorers and innovators dedicated to deepening our comprehension of the natural world, Rolex reaffirmed its commitment in 2019 with the introduction of the Perpetual Planet Initiative. This Initiative stands as a testament to Rolex’s dedication to supporting endeavours aimed at tackling environmental challenges and fostering the restoration of balance to ecosystems.

In contrast to numerous award programs, the Rolex Awards prioritise recognising new or ongoing projects rather than past achievements. Since its inception, the support extended by Rolex to award recipients has proven catalytic, sparking transformative changes in both individual lives and communities alike. These Awards have ignited fresh perspectives on addressing collective challenges, ranging from the creation of life-enhancing technologies to the preservation of endangered ecosystems, the protection of oceans, exploration of uncharted territories, and the advancement of science and healthcare.

How will the Rolex Awards for Enterprise help SukkhaCitta? Riadini-Flesch says: “It’s a game-changer for us. Because the support of Rolex will allow us to physically scale our schools that will allow us to reach more women. At the same time, it will also enable us to digitise our curriculums that we have perfected, in particular, the regenerative farming education training.”

With this support, Riadini-Flesch is able to extend her reach to the more remote communities in Indonesia, providing training in local languages and empowering trainers. This means it is no longer just her leading the training efforts but a network of individuals, amplifying the impact on a larger scale. SukkhaCitta has made significant strides — from starting with just three women who believed in this dream eight years ago to now impacting nearly 1500 lives. 

Batik is made by drawing patterns on textile in wax, using a spouted tool called a tjanting

“By 2030, our goal is to reach 10,000 lives and simultaneously regenerate 1000 hectares of degraded soil. With the support of Rolex, I am confident that we can achieve this. A crucial aspect of my current work is advocacy. For me, SukkhaCitta has never been just about a brand or clothing; it’s always been about transforming the way things are made, right from the farm. It’s about ensuring that each choice supports the livelihoods of those involved while also healing our planet.”

Over the past eight years, the enterprise has developed a blueprint that can be applied to any industry. She says: “Just think about the coffee you had this morning — what if we could change how it’s grown and ensure that everyone involved earns a living wage? This approach is universally applicable, from the food on your breakfast table to countless other practices. This universality is what drives me, and it’s why I’m passionate about being part of the Rolex Perpetual Planet Initiative. With Rolex’s support, I can amplify this model and advocate for its adoption across industries and countries.”

Riadini-Flesch’s enthusiasm to become part of the Rolex Awards community is evident, as she sees it as an opportunity to amplify this model of change. “For me, it’s an invitation to join a movement aimed at transforming how our modern economy operates — starting with regenerative agriculture and ending with reinvesting in indigenous communities,” she explains. “I truly believe that this is how we can collectively address and solve these challenges, by becoming part of the solution.” 


Source link