The Fabric of the Fashion Business
Multi-label Ara is proof that collective power is key in the business of fashion.
Ara, located at Kemang, is the passion project of four live-and-breathers of fashion: Jo Elaine, ex-fashion magazine editor, and three of Indonesia’s leading ready-to-wear designers, Peggy Hartanto, Toton Januar and Friederich Herman.
What makes Ara different from other artisanal boutiques out there is its careful curation of 14 local designers to house within its light-filled space. For some reason, despite the allure of having a retail front to call their own, these designers have trusted in the collective strength of Ara.
‘Ara’, which means ‘fig’ in Bahasa Indonesia, is a biblical reference to the fig leaves that God put together for Adam and Eve when they were driven out of the Garden of Eden, explains Toton. “It is a symbol of the first clothes of mankind. In some Indonesian cultures, the fig tree is also the gathering point for each village. We want Ara to embody the strengths of the tree,” he says.
It is clear why these designers were picked by Ara’s team. Each brand flaunts an exquisite style. In a corner, there are pantsuits with Peggy’s bold use of colour-blocking and shapes; then, there’s Bali-based Olenka’s luscious rack of swimwear; and on the table are Clarissa Kwok’s intricate, handmade jewellery.
Unified only by its quality workmanship and wearability, the styles are different but brought into artful harmony within the space — an inviting one designed to welcome natural light and evoke deliberate movement from rack to rack.
We speak to the owners on Indonesia’s ready-to-wear market and their motivations for Ara.
Millionaireasia Indonesia: Ready-to-wear pieces with a high-end, luxury-tagged price. Is there a market in Jakarta?
Jo Elaine (JE): A huge one, and so far, their needs have not been met. We keep thinking of Indonesian women as wearing those beautiful cocktail dresses and platform shoes. But that’s not the case at all. In our first few weeks, we had women with post-pregnancy bodies who want good quality separates. We were so happy to be proven right that there were women out there willing to spend on quality everyday clothing. To us, it’s as much about the fashion as it is for the women we get in touch with every day. We are interested to provide pieces that are comfortable and beautiful for them.
Toton Januar (TT): The women who shop at Ara are familiar with luxury. They buy luxury products not for the brand but the quality. They’re looking for the something special, whether it’s fabric, cut or shape. They’re not brand-minded.
JE: Which is why I’m always surprised when designers come to me and say, ‘Don’t worry, my pricing is cheap’. That’s quite tragic — they spend so much time, effort and energy, and they undercut themselves like that.
So, what do women want to wear?
JE: It’s really not that complicated. We just want to be able to walk, sit and stand properly! (Laughs)
TT: That’s the trickiest question, isn’t it? Women want something that can blend seamlessly into their wardrobe, something which makes them feel beautiful. For male designer like myself, I’d to learn how to let go of what we think is beautiful for women, to truly understanding what they love.
Friederich Herman (FH): Fit is most important for women. They care for that more than they care for the style. As a child, because I was quite tiny in size, I’ve always needed to custom-make my clothes. I was able to understand fit before I understood style. That was my guiding point when I started designing — I used to design adrogynous clothes so that I could wear what I designed!
The designers under Ara are all established in their own rights. Why stock with a multi-label boutique, and not have their own space?
FH: When I was in the fashion college, I’ve never learnt how to sell our style, only to build our aesthetics. This experience has really opened my mind to the business of fashion — we could learn from one another the production and costing process. Besides, as a singular, we may not have a critical mass of an audience, so it makes financial sense to band together.
TT: I like that we have Elaine to run it for us. She’s probably too modest to admit it, but she does have a certain instinct. She has the ability to know what would sell and what wouldn’t. She knows the customers, and of course, us, the designers and she’s able to put two-and-two together.
FH: She is able to give us direction — as in, what sort of styles and designs we should bring in to the racks. It’s a new point of view for designers.
Behind every successful brand is someone who is able to bridge the gap between the demand and supply.
JE: (Laughs) Yes, I guess I’m the bridge. But I am not a business-minded person. I just wanted to support my friends. I started out as a journalist, so I know how that fashion behind-the-scenes is completely different from what we think it is. The pieces that are raved about on magazines are not necessarily those that will move off the racks. The retailers are not personally invested in the designers, so they would just demand for as many pieces as possible; when it doesn’t sell, they would wonder why.
Isn’t it easier for local brands to work with the big players?
JE: Indonesia’s retail industry is still a distance away from world-class standards. Overseas retailers are equipped with customer database, analyses and they know what works and what doesn’t. The retailers here just accept everything without perceiving value. Actually, many department stores open their space up for local designers. But they don’t curate it like we do — they just put it on the floor and see what happens. That’s why we decided to do it outselves.
Has it been an easy journey: translating your fashion ideas and styles into marketable pieces for customers?
JE: Most of the time, I am the one who decides what is good for the customers in Ara, so they would take the direction from me.
TT: Before the start of every season, I would get Elaine to tell me what she thinks. I’ll get her to try the pieces for me. It’s a constant balance between aesthetics and marketability. But I’m doing it more effortlessly than before.
Ara is at Colony, Jl. Kemang Raya, Jakarta Selatan, Jakarta 12730 | arajakarta.com