“I read a news story that by 2050 there could be more trash than fish in the sea because of single-use plastics. It felt like someone hit me with a hammer,” slow-fashion designer Chitra Subiyakto tells Liviani Putri.
Imagine a world in which the oceans contained more plastic waste than fish. Horrifying as that idea might be, it’s possibly not as far-fetched a scenario as we would care to think. Which is why, one Thursday afternoon in May, Prestige made its way to the devastating
“Laut Kita (Our Sea) Exhibition” (which started on Earth Day, April 22, and runs until June 16) at Level 2 of Plaza Indonesia to have a discussion about the sorry state of our seas with Chitra Subiyakto.
The founder and Creative Director of slow-fashion label Sejauh Mata Memandang (As Far As the Eye Can See) is the initiator of the exhibition, which pulls no punches in showing just how badly mankind is desecrating what God created on the third day. As cheerful and friendly a personality as she is, Chitra could not hide her deep distress as she explained what provoked her to set up the exhibit.
“I read a news report that by 2050 there could be more trash than fish in the sea because of single-use plastics – bags, bottles, straws and so on – that are so heavily in use by people around the world,” she said, her voice trembling. “It felt like someone had just hit me with a hammer. I was terrified and panicked because of the idea that plastic waste will fill up the seas and not decompose for hundreds of years. My heart told me I had to do something.
“I gathered my team together to discuss what we could do. We decided to create something special for Earth Day. I decided to talk to some more people and, luckily, Kaka ‘Slank’ from Pandu Laut, a sea protection community, was willing to help. This was followed by the involvement of Tiza Mafira, the initiator of Gerakan Indonesia Diet Kantong Plastik (GIDKP), a national organisation with a mission to eliminate plastic bags.”
Chitra also pulled in several celebrity environmentalists: photographers Davy Linggar and Jez O’Hare, actress Dian Sastrowardoyo, artistic director Jay Subiyakto (he’s Chitra’s brother), actors Nicholas Saputra and Hamish Daud, and singer Tulus. “Together, we created this exhibition to commemorate Earth Day and as a prayer for Mother Nature, as well as encourage everyone to protect marine biodiversity by avoiding single-use plastics,” says this dedicated promoter of batik and other Indonesian textiles.
Chitra invited us to take a little tour of the exhibit. “We began work on the project at the beginning of the year and it took three months to complete,” she told us. “At first we were worried about how we were going to get it all done in time. But everyone pulled together, working with all their hearts to do something positive for society.
“The concept for the exhibit was to create six rooms, plus a pop-up store. Felix Tjahyadi (of Mata Studio) as the exhibition conceptor helped us create the themes for each room. The Keindahan Alam Indonesia (Indonesia’s Nature Beauty) room is filled with photographs by O’Hare, Saputra and Jay Subiyakto. “They capture the natural beauty of Indonesia to show that this country is too beautiful to be destroyed by trash,” Chitra said. “Actually, several visitors were interested in buying the photographs and suggested we hold an auction for charity.”
A distinct plastic smell burst out when stepping into the Polusi Plastik (Plastic Pollution) room. From ceiling to the floor, it shows the data and statistics of how much waste goes into the seas, with informational graphics and a video narrated by Tulus.
Moving to a darker place, five tons of used PET pressed bottles are stacked in this room. They are only 0.3 percent of the total plastic waste that is produced daily in DKI Jakarta, yet this relatively small amount fills up the room to the ceiling. Then there is the imported trash, as calculated by Ecological Observation and Wetlands Conservation (Ecoton) in East Java. “Every day, Indonesia receives 300 container loads of waste from Australia, Britain, Canada, the United States and New Zealand,” said Chitra. “What an irony that we have become a wasteland for garbage from other countries.”
The tour continued to the Instalasi Bawah Laut (Underwater Installation) room. Chitra said: “I feel sad every time I visit this room.” It shows the sea full of plastic bottles, bags, straws and fish with the stomachs filled with plastics. “The bottles came from Diverse Clean Action and the fish we made from our used fabrics,” she added. “I wanted to make the underwater display as real as possible, to make people aware of what will happen in future if we don’t start to do something.”
For the Ruang Ajakan (Campaign Room), Linggar made video interviews with several distinguished figures pleading with viewers to stop using single-use plastics. Chitra showed us something that has gone viral on social media, an instant noodle package that was made to celebrate the 55th Independence Day. Nineteen years passed and it hasn’t decomposed. “Scary isn’t it?” she said. While in the Ruang Solusi (Solution Room) and Ruang Janji (Promise Room), visitors are invited to make wishes and to promise to start “plastic diets”.
For the exhibition, Sejauh Mata Memandang has launched its Laut Kita Collection. Chitra explained: “It’s to symbolise prayer and real action as a form of gratitude to the earth. The collection showcases sea floor floral motifs and ripples at the edges of the ocean in natural colours, such as indigo, pink pastel, red and white.”
Eco-friendly soaps and shampoos, bamboo straws, fabric shopping bags and many more items are sold at the pop-up store. Half of the sales are channelled to an educational programme of GIDKP for children.
Talking with Chitra is not complete without discussing her fashion label. Describing herself as a textile explorer, she said her passion for traditional fabrics began when she saw her mother’s materials.
“At that time, I wanted to wear them on a daily basis, but they seemed too ‘heavy’ and old school,” she said. “Then I started to made handmade textiles like batik tulis, batik cap and screen printing. The inspirations were coming from Indonesian nature and the small things around us.
“The designs themselves have to be timeless. We bases them on traditional clothes from South Sulawesi, Lombok, Java and many more areas. They are flexible, for wearing on a daily basis and for mixing and matching with modern clothes. The material itself has to be light and comfortable to make it easy for the wearer to move from one place to another using public transportation, and to be suitable from day to night. That’s why we use Tencel fibres made from wood pulp. They are versatile, soft and pleasant on the skin, and they are bio-degradable.”
“We are responsibly working with master artisans in Sumba, Bali and Java, where the textiles are made using age-old techniques, one piece at a time. We can proudly say that we are the slow-fashion label that promotes an eco-friendly lifestyle from the product to the packaging (made from cassava).”
“Laut Kita” is not Chitra’s first environmental project by any means. For example, she works with GIDKP and Pertemanan Sehat, a running group started by Dian Sastrowardoyo and her friends in a project called “Rampok Plastik (Plastic Robber)” every month on Sunday during Car Free Day.
“We approach people with plastic bags and offer to exchange them for fabric shopping bags,” she said. “We explain to them that plastic waste can’t be destroyed for hundreds of years and we ask them to join the ‘plastic diet movement’.” She also participates in Beach Cleanup Jakarta to pick up garbage from the north coast of Jakarta and Kepulauan Seribu (Thousand Islands).
“I never stop thinking about finding solutions to protect our earth,” Chitra towards the end of our conversation. “I hope all of us can start to contribute, from small things as simple as bringing your own shopping bags, drinking bottles and eating utensils. If we all do it together, it will create a bigger impact for Indonesia and future generations.”