Prestige catches up with fashion designer Toton Januar for a talk about the journey of TOTON as a brand and implementing sustainability for the future.
If you look closely, there is a sense of story and a somewhat poetic element in each of Toton Januar’s works. From the way it flows, the way it moves and holds one’s body so beautifully, you can see the thought process that goes into it, and you can help but admire the beautiful pieces. Toton celebrates Indonesia’s beauty and diverse culture through his eyes and comes up with new narratives and stories that is an extension of his personal statements and memories. Two years has passed since we last spoke to the Makassar-born designer, many things have happened in the world but Toton consistently launched its new collection for every season.
Hi Toton, great to have you with us. How are you these days?
I’m good, thank you. Most of the time I’m in survival mode, but aren’t we all? So, I am grateful for everything, despite the current situation.
What has changed since we last spoke to you in 2019?
A lot of things have changed. I think, as we are all aware, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down for almost two years now. We are at the turning point where the question is not whether we want to change or not, but how much we are willing to change because change is not only inevitable but also necessary.
We are no longer doing seasonal showrooms in Paris, for obvious reasons, but we are rethinking the whole idea of seasonal fashion. We’re also producing more mindfully, only doing what is necessary and focusing more on a personal approach to our audience and consumers.
How do you keep yourself motivated in uncertain times like now?
It is a continuous task for us to keep our spirits up and thriving. I have to admit, sometimes it is easier to just surrender and feel helpless. But what I always keep in mind is that I have responsibilities not only to myself but also to people that I work with: my team, artisans, and everyone involved in our operations. Although we see things from different perspectives, we are going through the same things. I think that I can find strength in knowing and letting them know that we are going to be there for each other … and I am thankful for that.
Speaking of TOTON, is there a continuation or narrative between collections?
I believe the collections we put out are the notes on our journey as a brand. They’re not only collections of styles and garments, but also personal statements on current situations where most of the inspiration for each collection started from.
How do you manage to incorporate Indonesian touches into every design and collection?
We don’t think too much about it these days. When you feel you are something or you love something in every sense, you would think, act, create, and want to learn more about the thing you love. It constantly fascinates you. That’s how I feel about Indonesia. And I think that is how it is incorporated into the collections. I especially love to learn about history, the way people were in a bygone era, and what becomes the roots, the foundation of what we know as Indonesian culture.
What goes into your mind before starting a new collection?
To be aware of the situation of the world I live in. Most of the time, the inspiration starts from an emotion or thought or a reaction to what is going on in the world. Or something more personal but in a way that can connect us as human beings.
What is your strongest suit?
I would like to think that I am a caring person. Sometimes,
I don’t want to admit it because I think it is a quality that everyone should possess, but unfortunately that is not the case in reality.
And what is TOTON’s strongest suit?
Authenticity. I believe that we have an honest voice, that we come from a place of inspiration and we like to offer what we have to the world without being what we’re not.
“A lot of times being relevant is misinterpreted as being ‘in the now’ or ‘on trend,’ which is not what I’m aiming for the brand”
How do you find the balance between the classics and modern reinterpretations in every design?
I think we constantly challenge and ask ourselves the question of what it means to be modern. For me, it always comes down to practicality and sustainability. But I also appreciate tradition, symbols, and language we use in culture by the tools of decorative arts. I think we try to combine those aspects in every design, to make it practical but also meaningful.
How do you imagine the typical TOTON woman who you design for?
I would like to think that she’s an independent thinker, an open-minded person. Someone who appreciates differences and has great respect for culture yet is brave to think forward and embrace change.
Tell us about your latest collection, TOTON Fall/Winter 2021. We learned that it was produced entirely from materials that are available in the studio…
Yes, that is true. For most people in fashion, using materials already used in previous collections is often considered taboo, especially in an industry that supposedly offers newness every 10 seconds. But the pandemic and current global situation have forced us to rethink a lot of things and find different contexts and perspectives. Can we still offer something fresh and exciting with leftover materials? I’d like to believe we can. This is where creativity is pushed. I think we create better when we are faced with limitations.
And what is the theme for the Fall/Winter 2021 collection?
The initial idea came from this emotion of missing home. I am a transplant in Jakarta and since the pandemic hit, I haven’t had the chance to visit my hometown, Makassar. The thought of home, a safe place to be with people you love, made me want to explore the meaning of “home” when we’re away from home. So, the decorative aspect incorporated in this collection