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We had the pleasure of meeting Maria Cristina Guerrero (Crissy) over coffee in Singapore. Crissy is a one-woman powerhouse who is currently an Advisor to Borneo Chic, the marketing arm of a consortium of NGOs called Crafts Kalimantan that strives to protect the livelihood of the Dayak tribes in Kalimantan by integrating indigenous weaving techniques with contemporary couture.

The passion with which Crissy and her team embarks on their work really impressed us and we are really excited to bring you this feature on Borneo Chic. You can also shop their exquisite products here on Coopita.

The Borneo Chic Team 

How did Borneo Chic come about - what's the story behind your company?

Borneo Chic started as an initiative of 5 Indonesian non-government organizations (NGOs) that joined together to form Crafts Kalimantan in 2008. Crafts Kalimantan is a network of indigenous artisans of Kalimantan and their NGO support groups. Seeing the potential of organized, expanded work at the ground level, we came together to conduct training activities with Dayak artisans in the effort to build a sustained movement to promote authentic indigenous crafts and sustainable livelihoods in Kalimantan.

Borneo Chic was established as the marketing arm of Crafts Kalimantan in the belief that continued and increased sales of traditional craft would revive the Dayak weaving traditions across the island. Borneo Chic seeks to elevate traditional craft from Borneo, presenting important aspects of Indonesian heritage and nature to the urban sector. Thus Borneo Chic emerged as a collection of modern hand bags merging elements of indigenous weaving traditions with contemporary designs. Borneo Chic launched its shop in Kemang in 2011 and since then carries products in 6 stores around Indonesia. From a purely hand-bag line in 2011, it has since branched into apparel, accessories and beauty and health.

Please tell us more about the impact that Borneo Chic has on the lives of the artisans it works with.  

We feel that Borneo Chic has had most impact on the following:

1) increasing the income of Dayak artisans;

2) enhancing and ensuring the sustainability of the craft resource base and protection of the forests that house these resources; and

3) supporting the ongoing tradition of Dayak artisan weaving.

Income

Rattan resources, are the primary resource of many Borneo Chic products from East, West and Central Kalimantan. Unfortunately, with the depressed rattan farm gate prices due to the ban on the export of raw rattan resources, many rattan farmers in Kalimantan are abandoning their gardens. Many also migrate elsewhere to earn a living.

Dayak weaver making rattan strips

With increases in the volume of sales through Borneo Chic, and increases in the price of rattan baskets, more anjat weavers in particular are gaining income from the sale of rattan handicrafts. During the recent Asia Pacific Forestry Week (APFW) in Clark, Pampanga, Philippines, February 2016, anjat weaver, Ibu Esah from Eheng, East Kalimantan has said that with Borneo Chic purchases, prices have increased from Rp 70,000 per basket to Rp 120,000 per basket. This makes her very happy to continue her weaving tradition.

Ibu Esah weaving an anjat basket

Through our income and impact monitoring reports, we have been able to increase the cash income of participating Dayak artisans by 15-25% with Borneo Chic purchases.

Sustainability

Diverse rattan gardens are being abandoned or being converted to mono-culture oil palm plantations or mining areas. This affects the sustainability of forests where rattan grows. Rattan needs trees to climb and thrive. By increasing the value and volume of rattan basket purchases, we also, in effect, provide incentives for artisans and rattan farmers to keep their rattan gardens in these diverse agro-forestry systems and prevent their conversion into other land uses. By conserving forests, artisans and rattan farmers also conserve biodiversity within the area such as other flora and fauna (birds, wild deer,etc) that exist there.

Rattan also needs to be harvested in a sustainable manner by making sure immature shoots or seedlings are not disturbed and also by making sure that rattan vines have regenerated and thus future populations are secured. Borneo Chic NGO partner, NTFP-EP has established a participatory guarantee system to ensure sustainable practices are being followed.

Borneo Chic also sells ikat fabric, an intricate tie-dye method of weaving. Borneo Chic also supports the Sustainable Hand-woven Eco-textile project or SHWET which promotes the return and use of natural dyes in the textile industry, especially in hand-woven fabrics. Borneo Chic supports the marketing of such fabrics through differentiated pricing and specialized marketing. BC also supports the link with fashion designers to stimulate the use of these fabrics in mainstream, urban markets.

Tradition

Many Dayak tribesmen are moving to urban areas to find jobs and earn a living. Without the incentives of sales of their anjat baskets or their bemban mats or ikat fabrics, these traditions may also lose out to other professions. The bemban weavers of Tujuh Dara in Kapuas Hulu, West Kalimantan, for example, are under grave threat of losing their tradition of this water reed mat weaving as they are pulled into mono-culture plantations as laborers lured with the promise of regular wage. But they would much rather stay out of the hot sun doing heavy work, if work as artisans could also support their families.

What are some of the traditional techniques that you seek to preserve through your work? How long does it take for your artisans to complete a product on average?

Basketry

Two of the techniques we seek to preserve are anjat and korit basket weaving, using rattan fibre.

Further northeast to Sanggau district are the Dayak Iban of the Danau Sentarum national park, an internationally recognized wetland covering 123,000 hectares. Several years ago, seven young women started to focus seriously on their weaving tradition to find alternative income to labor wage in the border state of Sarawak, Malaysia. Disillusioned by the experience of their parents in the harsh circumstances of work in Malaysia, they formed the group Tujuh Dara meaning “seven maidens”. Today, Tujuh Dara is a testimony of the interest of the young indigenous woman who has pride in her culture and tradition. Tujuh Dara makes woven mats from water reeds. All woven mats have intricate motifs. All motifs have meanings. Some emerge from dreams that are passed on from generation to generation.

Tujuh Dara Weavers

 It may take artisans 1-2 days to weave a basket if they have the whole day to weave it. This is also if the materials have been harvested and refined. Typically the baskets are only woven during free time or in the evenings after working in the field, so it takes artisans 3-5 days to complete one basket.

Ikat Fabrics

North West Kalimantan is the home of the Dayak Desa. The Dayak weavers of Sintang have made intricate woven fabrics using natural dyes on cotton threads. There have been renewed efforts to draw awareness to the Sintang ikat-weaving through the establishment of a gallery and a museum, but more work is needed to develop the market for their craft. Previously ikat textiles were sold only in simple rolls and customers were oblivious to various uses of the fabric. Since then, the Dayak Desa weavers have formed a cooperative called Jasa Menenun Mandiri (JMM).

These ikat pieces, especially if dyed naturally, take 1-2 months to complete. This is because of the time required to collect and prepare natural dyes from the forests and gardens. The knotting process on the loom also takes time, and for intricate patterns with many colors and motifs, knotting, un-knotting and soaking in different colors also takes time, in addition to the loom weaving itself.

 Natural dyes 

Sintang weaving process 

Borneo Chic as of late is supporting the weavers of tenun doyo, a hand woven fabric created by the Dayak Benuaq of Tanjung Isuy and Mancong in Kutai Barat. Tenun doyo is made from the leaf of the doyo plant Curculigo latifolia. The Doyo leaves are harvested in a sustainable manner with only mature leaves of one meter in length being taken. Doyo fiber is produced through an intricate and lengthy process. The leaves are washed, shredded and connected making long strands of fiber then rolled into balls of yarn before they are then woven by means of a hand loom. The strands or woven cloths are dyed in different colors or designed with local motifs.

Doyo Weaver

Check out the fantastic products created by the Dayak Tribesmen on Borneo Chic’s Coopita store today!