When it comes to Asia’s streetwear and fashion scenes, the focus tends to fall on Japan and, increasingly, South Korea. But the diverse Southeast Asian archipelago of Indonesia is on the up, forging a name for itself as more than a home to paradise-like beaches and damn fine coffee. To gain insight into emerging brands and the culture in Jakarta and beyond, we spoke to people behind the boom: the four guys behind Paradise Youth Club, Maris Store co-founder and Sneakerpeak creative director Dimas Indro, founder of PLEASURE Michael Killian, Creative Director of Pot Meets Pop Denim Hendry Sasmitapura, and founder of Domestik, Ryan Ady.
What are your earliest memories of Indonesia’s streetwear culture? How much has changed from then to 2018?
Paradise Youth Club: I remember the local streetwear culture in Indonesia was rampant in the early-to-mid-2000s, but sadly fast fashion trends from large international companies have taken over the market. Only a handful of the [old Indonesian brands] still stand today. The rest had to face the reality of going bankrupt.
Before 2000, surf brands were a thing in Indonesia: Quiksilver, Billabong, Rip Curl etc. There was even a time when every kid wore Alien Workshop pants. We started looking at streetwear around the early 2000s, around the same time that skating and hip-hop culture became popular in Indonesia. Although we could only see streetwear stuff in magazines like Thrasher — brands such as FUCT, Freshjive, and Stüssy. In that era, we could only get bootlegged stuff, or if we got originals, we usually found them in local thrift stores.
It wasn’t until around 2005 that the game changed a little bit, as there were some good multi-brand stores that carried P.A.M, Sixpack, 10.Deep, Dissizit, Rockers NYC, Alakazam, Billionaire Boys Club, and some designer jeans brands such as Tsubi — now known as Ksubi — and Nudie etc. But as the import costs and custom taxes were so high, retail prices were very expensive. Sadly, these circumstances drove a lot of credit card fraud — people committed fraud just to their hands on this stuff. That made it harder for us to get streetwear products because now official stores get suspicious when they get orders from Indonesia.
Michael Killian: My earliest memories were around 13/14 years ago, when I was still in junior high school. Back in those days, the streetwear culture was already evolving and there were several events such as Sneakerpimps which brought Futura to Jakarta with around 5,000 attendees. The year after that, there was Medium Rare with their main focus in the local scene of Jakarta. The event captured the interests of 12,000 attendees. After Medium Rare, there were Footurama’s annual event called Footurama Swapmeet special event for sneaker collectors and selected streetwear fans to meet up and sell their products as well as buy from other collectors.
Dimas Indro: Back in 2003, Stüssy was huge in Indonesia. I saw teenagers wearing it to show they were following the scene, not trends. Especially OG skateboarding guys who rocked Chocolate, Nike SB etc. I was proud to be wearing Supreme back in 2010, but now all the kids are wearing it without knowing what Supreme really is. I sold it all. Now all I see is kids wearing OFF-WHITE who don’t know the streetwear scene at all.
PYC: Streetwear has undergone many changes, especially since OFF-WHITE and Supreme. It’s all about hype, no longer about youth culture. At least that’s what we see in Indonesia. In the past, we felt that streetwear customers and brands were part of one huge youth culture. Nowadays we kind of feel it’s all about making an impact in the digital world.
Hendry Sasmitapura: Back in late ’90s to early ’00s there was this first generation of independent clothing companies here in Indonesia. They came from several subcultures like punk, surf, skateboarding, gothic rock & other underground scenes. Then in mid ’00s there were few stores opening and importing international
brands, also there were local sneaker forums where Indonesians can discuss not only sneakers but also streetwear in general. These triggered the local creator to start their own streetwear brands.
In terms of the local streetwear movement, I think there’s a big difference now. Local brands push themselves to be accepted globally, not just locally. This has been going on since 2008, when Indonesian streetwear brands started to gain international media recognition. And since 2014, Instagram has helped elevate them further.
Ryan Ady: I actually can’t really understand how it came and started. The clothing industry just grew substantially in Bandung and Jakarta in early ’00s, along with the growth of skating and other subcultures.
Why do you think there’s a growing number of quality brands emerging out of Indonesia?
PYC: I think because these days the number of creative people is growing significantly and the internet and social media have made it easier for them to get global recognition. Back in the day, conservative parents would push their children to work for the government for a more guaranteed future. Working in the creative industries was never considered a real job back in the ’90s, but now younger generations have realized there are more options than a regular nine-to-five — so a lot of people create their own brands to survive!
Michael Killian: It’s mostly due to the high appreciation of the market here in Indonesia along with all the references from the local brands that are competitive enough compared to the international brands.
Furthermore, the market itself here in Indonesia is still not fully discovered, therefore with the right timing and momentum, there’s a motivation from local brands to compete with others and make the best possible goods, which is already happening.
Indro: There are so many good brands in Indo. They’ve really learned how to do marketing and all that. It’s good for us because some Indonesian brands are now stocked worldwide, compared with back in 2006 when local brands were stuck here.
PYC: We’re thrilled to see new brands appearing every month. The growth is extraordinary. There’s very healthy competition between the brands where we all support one another. And thanks to the internet, it’s now easier for the world to start looking into Indonesian youth lifestyles and culture. The current government also pushes the creative economy by offering more support and resources for new brands to prepare themselves globally.
Hendry Sasmitapura: First, Indonesia is rich of resources, we have fine materials & high skilled craftsmen all across the nation. Then there is the growth of online media, social media & e-commerce. So now gaining information & knowledge are no longer hard things to do. Those factors enable us to make better products, distribute our products abroad, and even collaborate with international brands.
Ryan Ady: I think this is due to the development of information flow in our current situation. We all can easily find something out anything at any time. Whatever is happening within the world’s fashion industry, can be quickly found out.
Which brands sell well in Indonesia? Explain the difference between local customers and international customers — do people want the same products?
PYC: Of course, brands with a low price point sell well here. And if it’s topped off with a Western-style graphic, the value really increases in the eyes of local customers. The brands that sell best here have a price point somewhere between $10 and $20 for a tee, and $20 and $30 for a hoodie. Imported streetwear brands cost double — or sometimes triple when in the hands of opportunistic resellers — their original RRP, so you can imagine how expensive that would be here.
Michael Killian: The interesting thing about Indonesia, perhaps like any other third-world country for that matter, is that people are highly influenced by trends that are happening in larger cities. These trends would then be adopted as a whole without being filtered by what would work and what wouldn’t work in our country. Although lately, this kind of behaviour has shifted, people are starting to become more conscious and selective in their choices and have based these on their interests, lifestyle choices, comfort and what they think suits them most.
In addition to this, I have also noticed that due to the fast paced era, brands that are popular and favoured here are more or less the same as those abroad. This could also be because we are all pointing to the similar references and sources. Another interesting thing about Indonesia is that because of the long-term influence we’ve had with the culture and trends from abroad, the market is “WOW-ed” by any local brands that make it internationally and can compete there. I think that this is something very positive for local designers and brands and can become a good motivation for them to go international and at the same time make it in the local scene.
Indro: People in Indonesia love to buy brands that have a strong background, story, or people behind it. Our international customers really care about product quality and what’s considered the best in town.
PYC: Not all products are suitable for local customers, as we’re a tropical country with only two seasons, so you won’t find winter jackets here. Tees, sweaters, hoodies, coach jackets, windbreakers, and accessories like hats are most common. Not all Indonesians are comfortable wearing brightly colored products, so our brightly colored products sell better among international customers.
Hendry Sasmitapura:Brands who always keep themselves relevant. Actually there is not much differences between local and international customers. The internet has appeared to unify the fashion taste of the people around the world these days.
Ryan Ady: For us, there’s not much difference between local and international customers. Personally, I never want to question it, I just do what I think is best and interesting to make.
In terms of sales, most local customers hesitate when buying through our webstore. Sometimes they’ll contact us via customer messaging platforms like [Japanese instant messenger] Line or Whatsapp when they want to buy something, which is quite weird and unique.
How would you describe Indonesian youth culture? How influenced is it by Western media and ideologies?
PYC: It’s so unpredictable. Most young people in Indonesia are influenced by Western culture, through movies, music, and now the internet and social media. Some local customers will even spend hundreds of dollars buying unreasonably expensive [imported] stuff through opportunistic resellers — and they’re proud of it. But over the past couple of years, support for local culture, streetwear brands, and music has been growing rapidly. Some local brands have produced sold-out products that combine with local, Indonesian culture. To understand youth culture here and how diverse and unique we are, people need to come and see for themselves. You’ll find a mixture of Western and Eastern culture and ideology.
Michael Killian: If I could define the youth culture here in Indonesia it would be full of curiosity and free spirit. The high appreciation and the curiosity for new things are what drives the youth culture as well. Obviously, there is an influence from both Western media and ideologies, as well the fast and instant flow of information nowadays. However due to the streetwear culture being here since the beginning, it could act as the guidelines for the youth culture to localize their own ideologies and create a unique identity for the streetwear scene here in Indonesia.
Indro: Youth culture here is random because we have young people who are knowledgeable because they hang out with the OGs, and then there are newcomers who only care about wearing expensive stuff. My friends and I try to educate them to learn first before they buy stuff, to spend their money on something they really know.
Hendry Sasmitapura: It’s a fast growing culture, they accept western influence well. Indonesian youth are having this dream of western lifestyle that reflects freedom, but at the same time they still live in the limitations of Eastern values.
Ryan Ady: Yes, it is influenced by Western media. However, there’s many positive things that we can take from it, be it fashion or even other subcultures. The worst thing that could happen is if they only adopt it (forcefully) without paying attention to where they are and who they are.