Designer Toton Januar shares some insight into his journey of rediscovering a love of Indonesia and his passion for fashion with Claudia Rindiantika.
Toton Januar started his eponymous label in 2012 together with his long-time partner Haryo Balitar. “I was trying to manifest how I appreciate Indonesia. At the time, I decided that if I were to make a label, it should be a label that can translate Indonesian beauty into contemporary works,” he recalls. Long before that, however, he already knew that he has a passion for fashion.
At first, he followed his family’s aspirations and studied civil engineering in his hometown of Makassar. That only lasted for a year, though, as his heart was simply not there. He switched his studies to broadcasting at the University of Indonesia as a compromise with is mother. “Thankfully, I could finish that one,” Toton laughs. “But I still believed that my passion is fashion. While in university, I was also working in fashion, as a model and as a designer assistant. I worked for Taruna Kusmayadi, one of the most prominent designers in Indonesia. I learned a lot from that experience and it made me realise that what I really wanted to do is fashion.
“I think one of the reasons why I’m so attracted to fashion is because my mom was into it was well. She worked as a seamstress; she was into the latest fashion; she was very well-versed in technical terms. So, I learned a lot from her early on.”
There was, of course, also his modelling career. “That was when I moved to Jakarta in 1998 after I dropped out of civil engineering,” Toton begins. “At the time, I went into modelling to support myself. It started with a competition I won … that was how I got into modelling. I also learned a lot about the industry early on and it opened a lot of doors.”
Although those experiences helped Toton better understand the fashion industry, he was not satisfied. “I still felt that I had to go through some kind of proper education, so I decided to go to New York and studied at Parsons New School of Design,” he elaborates. “I majored in fashion studies and learned technique, background and everything in between. My teachers at Parsons were the people who worked behind the scenes. They worked in the studios of big brands and famous designers. So, I learned a lot from them.”
For Toton, living in New York was life-changing. “It opened my eyes to and gave me a different perspective, especially about myself and where I came from,” he says. “While living in Indonesia, I was always thinking that abroad was better—Europe was better, America was better, Japan was better. But when I went to New York and people started asking me where I came from, how my country was, it brought out a sense of pride.
“What I have in Indonesia is unique, it’s special, it’s something that other countries don’t have. And it falls on us—the people—to appreciate it, to make the most out of it and to basically represent it to the world. I think that’s the most important part that I discovered when I lived in New York.”
While Toton initially wanted to stay in New York and continue his work over there, at the same time that he finished his studies, his mother fell ill. “I had to go back to Indonesia and take care of her,” he continues. “Unfortunately, she didn’t make it.” The tragedy made him rethink about his family, friends and people that are close to his heart. Ultimately, he moved back, and eventually came to the part where he created his label.
TOTON, as in the label, specializes in developing design talent by using local fabrics, since Toton the designer felt that textile is one of the strongest parts of Indonesian culture. “We have an abundance of textiles from all across Indonesia,” he explains. “Every part of Indonesia has its own traditional weaving technique, textile processing terms and whatnot. Everyone should be able to be proud and work with Indonesian textiles.”
This pride for local textile won him a nomination at the Asia finals at the International Woolmark Prize, which he won. “Winning the International Woolmark Prize in 2016 was great. It was the first time Indonesia was invited to participate,” Toton points out. “We were grateful that Jakarta Fashion Week included us for nomination. That chance led us to victory in the Asia region, which was beyond what we imagined.
“At first, I just thought about doing whatever we could, without any burdens and simply do our best,” he continues, “so when our name was called out during the Asia finals, we couldn’t believe it at first. Winning meant a lot—especially in the sense that it brought our brand to a whole new level. What I’m really proud of is how our brand can now inspire younger designers to do even better, to create and to
Back to Toton’s label, it was described during Jakarta Fashion Week as a retelling of Indonesia’s inherent stories through fresh eyes and with a new vision. Toton elaborates: “When we started in 2012, I discovered that there were no brands like what I wanted to make. At the time, when we think about Indonesia, we think about ethnic costumes, we think about outfits for special occasions, specific textiles and how it can be worn. What I wanted to create was a contemporary take on Indonesia as a whole. The craftsmanship, the sources of inspiration, the textiles—we wanted to translate all of that into something that people would feel as being cool and current.” In short, Toton wanted something that everybody could wear every day.
This year, TOTON will showcase its spring/summer 2020 collection in its showroom in Paris at the end of September, which will be followed by a show during Jakarta Fashion Week in October.
As for what lies ahead of that, Toton seeks to grow as a label, a person and also as a designer. “Hopefully, we can be more than just a successful brand, but also one that inspires other Indonesian designers,” he goes on. “One of my dreams is to have a creative force for Indonesian fashion. During my travels to and from Paris, we always saw these emerging talents from all over the world. For example, from China, there are a lot of designers that have become a creative movement, just like what happened in Japan and Antwerp. So, I really hope that Indonesia can do it too. Because we have everything: the resources, the talents, the inspiration. We just have to actually do it.”
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