In this edition of Hello Honey, we celebrate Green Week by taking the opportunity to highlight SukkhaCitta, an inspiring local batik brand who puts sustainability over mass-production and trends.
As a trained economist turned champion of sustainable traditional textiles, Denica Flesch did not always imagine that her life would lead her to start her own ethical lifestyle brand. After some soul-searching done by traveling around India and Indonesia, Denica suddenly realized that she wanted to create a positive impact for the community that she lived in.
SukkhaCitta, her line of luxurious, eco-friendly cotton silk batik ready-to-wear, support rural artisans in Central Java as they preserve their ancient craft of batik tulis (hand-drawn batik) in the making of these traditional textiles. Opting for ethically sourced, small batch production, instead of mass-produced trend-driven pieces, SukkhaCitta stands out as a brand that cares not just about the product, but also the people who make them.
Hi Denica! Tell us about your background; how did you first start becoming passionate about creating a brand that produces “Products with purpose”? Were there any specific inspirations or turning points, and did you know from the start that you wanted to create a sustainable batik brand?
It is quite an interesting story really. My background is actually in Economics so if you would have told me then that I would be starting a lifestyle/fashion brand, I would think you were crazy, haha! After graduation, while I found it easy to achieve my ambitious goals, I felt that something was missing.
My interest fell on the handcrafted textile industry in Indonesia as I saw issues within the current system that threaten the sustainability of this tradition, and the livelihoods of the artisans. The lack of inclusion of the artisans’ needs: poor working conditions, minor access, and outdated technology deter the younger generation from continuing on the traditions of their elders.
At the same time, I noticed how especially in the fashion industry, everything was becoming more and more automated. As an economist, we were trained to seek efficiency and scale in production, yet it made me feel that that meant we were losing touch with the authenticity of the product itself. It was almost as if the people behind our products, their salaries and conditions did not matter. Often, they were not being fully supported.
SukkhaCitta was created as my exploration to address these issues and bring back these stories into our clothes. To encourage mindful consumption by creating timeless pieces that can be worn in many ways, for many years, and to preserve Indonesia’s rich textile heritage by bridging the gap between traditional craftsmanship and modern design.
How did you choose the name SukkhaCitta?
SukkhaCitta means happiness in Sanskrit, the root of the Indonesian word ‘sukacita’. The story of SukkhaCitta itself is so close to my own personal search of happiness. I chose this to signify the element of going back, of retracing our steps and defining what gives us meaning and ultimately happiness.
We live in a world that associates happiness with the achievement of milestones, and yet often even when these are achieved happiness remains elusive. For me personally, happiness comes from going back to things that matter most to you: pursuing what gives you meaning and human connection. This matters and this is exactly what I want SukkhaCitta to represent. That’s why we put so much care into the stories we share, the artisans we work with, and the environment.
Can you walk us through the process of crafting your beautiful scarves? What makes them different from more traditional methods or mass produced batik brands?
So we first start with the base cloth. We only work with natural fibres, and for the scarves we use a cotton/silk blend. They are cut into small squares to make sure there are no fabric off cuts/waste. Our KUPU (butterfly) pattern is then traced by hand with pencil on each cloth, before passed on to the artisans (all women) who hand-draw the hot wax with a tjanting (batik pen). Afterwards, they are hand-dyed using synthetic, non-azo dye and we let the sun, the wind and the humidity do its magic to create the shade.
Unlike mass-produced method, this intricate process yields different result each time. This is because the process itself depends on the people and even the weather. Our small batch approach means that each of the scarves is unique – we can never recreate exactly the same one. What is regarded as an industrial defect is something that we treasure as it highlights the interconnectedness that goes into each and every product. You see how humans, not machines, made this and that is what makes this so valuable.
Some people asked us why do we have insist on working with Indonesia’s ancient techniques, handcrafting each of our piece one by one instead of printing it with silk screen or digital. True, handcrafted textiles take MUCH more time and effort. But for us, we never wanted to be another fashion company. What matters to us is building a company that can sustainably support the humans behind it, building livelihoods and preserving tradition. This is why we started – and this we proudly stand for.
Tell us how you find the artisans you work with. Which areas of Indonesia do they come from?
We currently work with artisans in Central Java, Indonesia. I would go there and stay for days, collaborating with a rickshaw driver who would bike me around to meet artisans! Sometimes you don’t find anybody, sometimes you do. It takes me a whole lot of time to build a relationship with the artisans, understanding their process and how we can support that. As we work with Batik Tulis now (hand-drawn), our artisans are primarily women.
How does SukkhaCitta impact our local textile communities?
We champion rural artisanship because we want to provide access. What I found is that most of them are cut off from the market, both geographically and socially. This really lowers their bargaining power, often they are selling the cloths to a middleman at a loss! SukkhaCitta works with them to elevate the value of the cloths they produce so it fits modern consumers’ lifestyle, while at the same time providing the opportunity to increase their income potential.
What’s next for SukkhaCitta?
We are currently experimenting with natural dyes and finding innovation in the design process. It is very exciting! We are also talking to different people who share the same purpose and are looking forward to the collaborations that will ensue. Oh and we are launching our interview series, called the Humans of Change, where we share stories of remarkable individuals who became the chance they wish to see regardless of the challenges. Register yourself to our newsletter to stay in the loop!