Batik is a textile art with two fundamental steps: A wax design is applied to cloth and then the cloth is dyed. The waxed areas resist the dye, retaining their original color, while the unwaxed areas absorb the dye color. In complex batiks, the process may be repeated multiple times, with overlapping wax patterns and dye colors.
Although the word “batik” has Javanese origins, the batik process is not unique to Indonesia. Beautiful batiks are produced in many parts of the world, including China, India, Malaysia, and Nigeria. And some of those fabrics find their way into Folk Totes.
Even so, Indonesian batiks are special. Indonesian dye masters – particularly on the islands of Bali and Java – are consummate masters of their art, steeped in centuries of tradition. In 2009, UNESCO designated Indonesian batik as a masterpiece of the “Intangible Heritage of Humanity,” underscoring the extent to which batik is intertwined with the islands’ cultural identity, both spiritually and artistically. For these reasons, at Folk Tote we favor batiks that are hand-printed in Indonesia. What's more, we specifically seek out batiks produced by Indonesian companies with records of respect for the environment and their employees.
On the island of Java, for example, Lunn Studios batiks are produced by the Robert Kaufman Company. There, fiber artists Debra Lunn and Michael Mrowka promote environmental responsibility in their "green" factory as well as support the well-being of their employees. For example, they protect their workers with masks and gloves for handling dyes and waxes. They also provide maternity leave for female employees and health care for all workers and their families. In addition, 10% of Lunn Fabrics' profit goes to support Ganesa Library in Central Java.
On the neighboring island of Bali, Hoffman Fabrics has an established record of caring for the environment. For the past 15 years, they have treated rinse water with a modern filtration system that removes residual dyes and wax and neutralizes pH. Owner Marty Hoffman explained that the quarter-million-dollar investment stemmed from their commitment to the health of the local village where their longtime employees reside. In Hoffman's words, the company took steps to protect the environment “because it was the right thing to do.”
At Island Batik, also in Bali, the philosophy has long been to ensure the "success and enrichment of the surrounding community." A case in point: the cardboard forms on which workers hand-roll the finished batiks were originally manufactured in Los Angeles and then shipped to Indonesia. The process was unsustainable both economically and environmentally. After including local community members in management discussions, a plan was devised to make completely recyclable bolt forms from local raw materials. Not only was the problem solved, but a new means of employment was generated for people in the village.