In Indonesia, traditional cloth is more than just a piece of fabric to make clothes with. It tells a story of the weavers' daily routine, their hopes and dreams, and even incorporates the culture and history specific to a particular region.
"The women in Lombok [in West Nusa Tenggara] have to present a cloth that they've woven to their future grooms and their families on the day that they propose," said Okke Hatta Rajasa, wife of Hatta Rajasa, the coordinating minister for economic affairs. "It shows their true worth."
Some traditional cloth also tells the history of great kingdoms.
"During the reign of the Sriwijaya kingdom [between 7 and 14 AD] in the archipelago, merchants traveled to China and India and traded spices for gold and silver threads," Okke said.
"These precious threads were then woven into silk to create songket [handwoven textile from South Sumatra]."
Okke and her friends have made it their mission to preserve these traditional symbols. "It turns out that we're all very concerned with Indonesia's handwoven textiles. It's our heritage," she said.
"Of course, people already know about these textiles. But they're mostly used for traditional clothes worn during formal occasions only. If this continues, what will happen to the artisans? Soon, they'll leave the traditional arts behind and our heritage will be lost."
With the aim of keeping tradition alive and improving the welfare of weavers at the same time, Okke, along with Trade Minister Mari Elka Pangestu, Meuthia Hatta, a former state minister for women's empowerment, and 19 other women, established the Cita Tenun Indonesia (Indonesia's Handwoven Textile) community in Jakarta in 2008.
CTI has collaborated with some of the country's top fashion designers — including Sebastian Gunawan, Oscar Lawalata and Priyo Octaviano — to develop textiles from Bali, South Sumatra, Southeast Sulawesi, Kalimantan and the Baduy in Banten.
"We come to their villages and live with the weavers for between 15 and 20 days a year," Okke said. "We teach them how to improve and market their products."
Through CTI, the products of local artisans have been showcased in various world expos, including in Washington, Milan, The Hague and Paris in 2009. In 2010, CTI began a collaboration with 14 interior designers in Indonesia.
These designers incorporate the textiles into upholstery, padded walls, photo albums and picture frames, among other products.
"I think it's a breakthrough," Okke said. "In their hands, these traditional textiles become something new and extraordinary."
"It's a like a new toy for us," said Ary Juwono, one of the interior designers. "Here's a local material that's very beautiful visually, as well as technically applicable [for home products]."
Samples of these products will be displayed during CTI's second anniversary exhibition, which will be held at the Ritz-Carlton, Pacific Place, on Aug. 27-29.
"We will be showcasing the works of our organization to the public," said Sari Hartanto Wibowo, chairwoman of the upcoming exhibition.
With the theme "Pesta Tenun" ("Party of Handwoven Textiles"), the anniversary will feature handwoven textiles from various parts of Indonesia, fashion shows and talk shows. A coffee-table book, "Tenun Handwoven Textiles of Indonesia," about CTI's previous projects, will also be launched during the event.
"There will be 50 booths of local artisan groups showcasing their products during the exhibition," Sari said.
Ary said: "For the exhibition, the ballrooms will be decorated to resemble a house, complete with the foyer, living room, study room, bedrooms and bathrooms. Each room will be designed by an interior designer using traditional handwoven fabrics."
For the fashion show, the catwalk will be designed with a replica of Jembatan Sungai Musi (the Musi River Bridge in South Sumatra) in the background.
"There will also be [replicas] of traditional houses wrapped in bright and colorful songket in the background," said Andy Lim, one of the fashion designers who is collaborating with CTI.
Okke said she was optimistic the exhibition would be a success. "We will see a lot of Indonesia's rich cultural heritage at Pesta Tenun. Hopefully, our efforts will inspire the public to love and appreciate what we have, and create a market for our traditional handwoven textiles."