Designer Toton Januar Heri Nugroho and co-founder Haryo Balitar are showing Indonesia to the world through the reinterpretation of textile and aesthetic traditions of their contemporary womenswear brand, Toton. By working with artisans in the region, Nugroho and Balitar have the luxury of being able to first create their own textiles, and then the final garments; a luxury usually only available to large fashion houses. “We are working with yarn to finished fabric, which is amazing because now we can implement a lot of Indonesian traditional techniques and craftsmanship, such as the hand-operated loom, and so the possibilities are endless, I feel like we are only at the beginning,” said Nugroho.
Growing up with a seamstress mother and leaving Indonesia to study at Parsons in New York, it seemed inevitable that Nugroho was going to launch a successful ready-to-wear line with Balitar. However, it was seeing their country with fresh eyes that served as the catalyst for Toton’s beginnings. “When we came back to Asia, we were overwhelmed by the nuances and depth in our own culture that we weren’t familiar with. That’s why we founded the label I guess; it’s ultimately an exploration of Indonesia through fashion,” Balitar said. “What sets us apart is who we are and where we come from, it’s important to acknowledge and embrace that because Toton isn’t just the work of me and Haryo, it’s not just an idea of a concept, it’s all the artisans that work with us, all the craftsmen and the passed-down heritage that we try to re-contextualise and translate over again into our collection. I think that is exclusively ours,” continued Nugroho.
As the first Indonesian brand to be included in the International Woolmark Prize, it was no mean feat for Toton to take home the regional win for Asia before going on to present their collection alongside five other womenswear designers from around the world at the international final for 2016/17 in Paris. The brand was relatively unknown until this point, and faced the obstacles that all emerging designers experience, though perhaps even more so due to the very geography that inspires Toton. “It’s not easy to convince the market internationally that you are a brand that is worth their money, it’s not easy because you aren’t showing at a fashion capital of the world, you’re not based in a major city in the world, you are basically from a third-world country, so to convince them that you have the quality, the craftsmanship, the point-of-view, you have what it takes to compete and sell among established international labels, it is difficult,” said Nugroho.
The exposure gained through The International Woolmark Prize, however, meant that Toton received much more attention and sales. Even after the regional win, buyers already showed more interest in the brand’s showroom and Balitar saw domestic sales grow by around 400%. Then, following the international final their global stockists grew, and now include one of the most important department stores in the world, Lane Crawford. “Personally, it feels like a validation for us, we can continue to stay true to ourselves and continue to do things in our own way and at our own pace,” said Balitar.
Toton is now available at Lane Crawford Hong Kong and Shanghai, and online.