Just before the world went into stay-at-home mode, we had the wonderful chance to visit Threadapeutic founder Nagawati Surya and her team at their creative workspace in Indonesia’s capital city Jakarta. The brand has perfectly instilled the approach of designing for circularity by using a very unique technique to transform even the smallest pieces of textile waste into crafty, innovative and beautifully textured fabrics for bags and tapestry.
What was your intention to start one of the first upcycling brands in Indonesia?
It was back in 2015, when I first assigned a souvenir-making project for Jakarta fashion week using only fabric scraps and old event banners, that I realized how much waste the local fashion industry is producing. And that was only from the circle of fashion designers that were participating in the event. Back then, upcycled products made of fashion waste were rare.
The response to my first products was positive. I learned about what upcycling meant through online research, but found mostly information about old junk turned useful again, nothing much about upcycling fashion waste.
My knowledge about textile only came from my mother who had a small custom sewing home business and my own personal hobby. I simply love textile in any form, may it be for fashion or interior. To see leftover textiles piled up in storage rooms, moth eaten or covered with dirt feels troubling. I came across a fabric manipulation technique from a cousin who is a designer and fashion producer.
I realized that higher volume of offcuts can be upcycled by using this technique and the result is highly aesthetic. By creating customer awareness about fashion waste and the aesthetic aspect of our upcycling products, I discovered there is a potential market for them.
Fashion waste could be a source of income and reduce fashion waste at the same time, as in killing two birds with one stone. But this does not mean I condone wastefulness in fashion or overconsumption that resulted from fast fashion.
Threadapeutic is using a very unique process of fabric manipulation to create a sort of Faux Chenille material for your bags and interior products. How is the upcycling process differing compared to a conventional design process?
Each Threadapeutic product has its own journey. Once we receive leftover textiles from garment makers and event organisers, we explore how best to celebrate the properties of each remnant. Our raw materials form the heart of our craft.
Through rigorous experimentation and careful composition, we constantly push the aesthetic and functional properties of our textiles. Nothing is mass produced. This gives each of our products its own distinct character. We use a fabric manipulation technique called Faux Chenille.
Once we receive the offcuts, we wash and prep it for use. The downstream process involves colour and fabric matching, layering of the fabric pieces, hand & machine stitching.
Our artisans then carefully make incisions on the surface and brush it till the textile reaches its aesthetic chenille-like texture. We also have to be conscious of the kind of fabric as well as the thickness as the process will differ for varying thickness and nature of the fabric.
When we first started, we spent a long time on defining prices to arrive at a price that accurately reflected the effort that we put into our products. In general, when talking about upcycling ‘waste’ materials, the expectation is for the product to be cheap.
But through consistent awareness creation, through talks and discussions about our sustainability and artisanal focus, we have slowly gaining momentum. Our customers are our most ardent advocates. We know that climate change is real. The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluting industries and thus it is vital for fashion design schools to have sustainability as its main subject.
Upcycling demands longer product developing and production times and is often challenged by limited access to stable fabric supply. Would you say, the concept of upcycling is scalable? And from an economic perspective, does it have to be scalable at all?
We believe that upcycling is scalable to a certain extent, but it entirely depends on the method of upcycling. In our case, upcycling is combined with artisanal work. Each piece that we produce is carefully made by a number of our artisans.
Therefore, the only way to scale this is to hire and train more artisans. Which means, in the traditional sense of a Start-up, we aren’t inherently scalable and that is by design. This gives us more control over the quality of each product which we create.
Our current prices take into account the man-hours put into each single product, as well as our human-centered business model.
Firstly, it reflects our emphasis on quality rather than quantity, with each product being carefully produced and inspected to provide customers with one-of-a-kind masterpieces.
Secondly, our business model aims to train and empower artisans from diverse backgrounds, whose stories get woven into the very fabric of Threadapeutic as a brand.