Why Batik is a Slow Fashion Textile


Why Batik is a Slow Fashion Textile

By Kylie Francis on November 19th, 2020

Why Batik is a Slow Fashion Textile

by Kylie Francis on November 19th, 2020

For the eco-conscious consumer, batik is the epitome of a slow fashion textile because it is inherently difficult to mass-produce. My favorite story about the batik production process is told by Scottish illustrator Jessie M. King (1875- 1949) in “How Cinderella Was Able to Go To The Ball”. Cinderella’s fairy godmother returns from Java to find Cinderella in distress. When Cinderella explains that she does not have a ball gown to wear for the annual Midsummer’s Eve dance, her fairy godmother sends Cinderella out to find some beeswax and onions. She uses the beeswax to draw patterns of flowers found in their garden, on an old white silk frock, and paints the frock using dye made from onion skin. At the end, Cinderella has a beautiful, saffron yellow, batik dress to wear to the ball. 

The story describes the fundamental batik design and dyeing process. But while Cinderella’s fairy godmother makes it seem simple, the craft is a demanding one that requires precision and patience. 

Batik designs are created by carefully applying wax to portions of the cloth to prevent dye penetration. Brands such as Pink Jambu make batik shawls and clutches using the traditional method of tulis (meaning “writing”) by hand-drawing patterns with a pencil first before redrawing them with hot wax using canting, a pen-like instrument consisting of a small copper reservoir with a spout on a wooden handle. This technique requires a high degree of skill and the more sophisticated designs demand repetitions of the process. A complex, multicolored sarong could take craftsmen weeks, months, or even a whole year to make. This is what makes batik one of the great art forms of Asia, featured in an exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York in 1985 and designated by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2009.

Because traditional Javanese batik-making was very labor-intensive and, therefore, expensive to produce, European mills began to take on the work, automating the dyeing process to make the fabric more affordable. One such mill was Vlisco, a producer whose vibrantly colored and intricately patterned fabrics dominate West African markets today and are used by brands such as Dries van Noten and Jean Paul Gaultier. 

In response to Dutch colonial companies’ attempts to mechanically reproduce handmade Javanese batik cloth, textile merchants in Java looked for a way to speed up the time-consuming method of hand-drawing the design. Wooden block printing was adapted to batik with the invention of copper stamps (or tjaps as they are known) to apply hot wax. 

After drawing out the wax designs, dye is applied to the cloth. Just as Cinderella's fairy godmother used onion skin to produce that saffron yellow hue, Javanese batik was made from natural dyes. The most common color was blue, produced from the leaves of the Indigo plant. Yellow and brown dye was created from the bark of the Soga tree, while a dark red color was made from the leaves of the Morinda Citrifolia tree.

Today, contemporary batik brands such as Dona Plant Base still use natural dyes and organic materials. Meanwhile, designer brands such as FERN stay true to the ethos of sustainability from which batik was borne by utilizing all parts of the fabric when pattern-making and upcycling textile remnants to reduce waste.

 


About The Author

Kylie is Dia’s co-founder based in New York City. Hailing from a family of journalists and writers, Kylie grew up with a passion for stories and a curiosity about the world. This has led her to travel extensively across the globe and she has lived in Malaysia, Zimbabwe and the United States. Kylie graduated with a Bachelor’s in Government from Harvard University and an MBA from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

About The Author

Kylie is Dia’s co-founder based in New York City. Hailing from a family of journalists and writers, Kylie grew up with a passion for stories and a curiosity about the world. This has led her to travel extensively across the globe and she has lived in Malaysia, Zimbabwe and the United States. Kylie graduated with a Bachelor’s in Government from Harvard University and an MBA from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.