Tell us the journey of RŪPAHAUS.
RŪPAHAUS began as a concept in 2015, with objectives to create sustainable practices whilst integrating heritage into the modern society. Our Creative Director and Founder, Stephanie, was born in Indonesia, spent her formative years in Australia and lived in Germany to further her studies in fashion, before returning to her home in Australia. Throughout her journey, she witnessed how cultures become disintegrated and almost-forgotten, and the ultimate impact it has on the modern world. Out of the three cultures she’s been exposed to, she felt extremely drawn to the richness of Indonesian textile heritage which is slowly losing its identity.
Stephanie’s take on RŪPAHAUS: As I learn more about the culture, I discovered how traditional processes are replaced with machineries; transforming what used to be organic into something very harmful to the environment. Many artisans gave up their skills and joined the manufacturing bandwagon merely to survive. This along with the lack of preservation, recognition and exposure the heritage deserves, are the primary drivers of RŪPAHAUS existence.
/ru·pa/ is form in Sanskrit; [haʊs] is a house in German.
The name RŪPAHAUS fundamentally reflects the selection and utilisation of natural resources in all aspects of our products – from the raw materials to the finishing touches. Through the application of different traditional techniques, we create textured surfaces and turn them into beautiful pieces, which can be appreciated through our senses. Most importantly, the name represents the medium which supports a collaborative environment to build products that complements our cultures and traditions.
Similar to the essence behind our name, we operate by the notion of connecting back to our roots. Our products are created through combining a touch of modernism and the continuous evolution of the traditional fabric-making methods. Because each product showcases the artisans’ stories and craftsmanship, we have a symbiosis relationship with our artisans - and this is what makes us different.
How would you describe your brand in 3 words?
Timeless, personal and playful
Tell us the story behind each piece. How did you come to work so closely with Indonesian artisans?
I’ve always been drawn to ethnic and traditional textiles. The more I witness, the more special they become. Every piece worths so much more than just a piece of fabric - as they are a true reflection of the amount of time spent in the making, the endurance of the makers, the untold story. I was going to write my thesis on the subject but was unable to complete the objectives within the limited time provided. So RŪPAHAUS is very much like a dream come true.
The lack of appreciation when it comes to arts & crafts made the makers lose hope and stop believing in the skills they’ve inherited from their ancestors, and I personally wasn’t ready to see what Indonesia has to offer goes to waste. I stumbled upon my artisans when I decided to make my dream into reality. I was never ready but I had to put it into motion to feed my curiosity. Next thing I know, I randomly bought a ticket to a city in Central Java. After inquiring the locals, tracing the sound of traditional machines being operated and knocking on the houses, I found and visited 5 neighbouring cities with around 10 weaving villages within 10 days. The trip allowed me to meet some of the most humbled artisans, whom we now proudly call our own. Each of them has amazing abilities and skills, competence that varies from one another in making beautiful textiles with essence, by interlacing their story and effort onto every hanging thread. our stripes, Lurik, are sourced from a family of weavers, Ibu Sukinah and her daughter, Ratmi. Mastering in natural dyes for over 30 years, Ibu Sukinah passes her knowledge down slowly to her daughter so they can preserve the making fabrics tradition. Whilst domestically weaving in their households, they started a community of women weavers in their village, encouraging them to weave again in the hope of sustaining the tradition. Our products help them going, our fabrics gave them the reason to continue weaving and earn a living for themselves.
The batik kimonos are hand-painted by our batik Maestro, Mas Ta, in his atelier. As an environmentalist and a painter, he aspires to illustrate important messages which can be seen through his work. Taking a contemporary twist in traditional wax-resist techniques of batik whilst portraying his interesting point of view, Mas Ta is preserving heritage by letting it evolve with time. Through the adaptation of plant dyes and his strong belief of a living culture illustrated in his work, he continues to raise environmental awareness to the people around him. Calling the rugged, undulating savannah and low limestone hills their home, our homeware collection, Lūm, were made by a community of ikat weavers in the Sumba Island. Led by one of the best natural dyes masters in East Sumba, we experimented with new plants as dyes as well as unknown raw materials (mud, seashells, morinda fruits, pineapple fibres) derived from his surroundings. The East Sumbanese weavers are very proud of their heritage and believe it as a sacred legacy from their ancestors; and this is definitely reflected in the methods which govern their practices.
Describe the RŪPAHAUS women.
From the conception of RŪPAHAUS, it’s always been my intention to showcase the different facets of women and it is very important to us to keep portraying this image. We believe that RŪPA women are proud of and comfortable in their body types and skin colours. We hope to further advocate for the movement towards a better society with the positive image portrayal of women. Not to forget, to also encourage the younger girls of our generation to own their body and be proud to be different.
Afterall, diversity is part of the stories; as generation evolves, new innovations would be discovered. Innovation founded on strong tradition/belief is more likely to survive. We utilise the old and combine it with the new to come up with even better ways to look after our earth.
What/who do you look to for style cues and why?
The Japanese and Scandinavian takes on design!
They share a strong similarity in illustrating clean cuts and silhouettes when it comes to shapes and textures. Conversely, when playing with colours, they play a lot with fluidity and organic flows. I am big fan of Wabi-Sabi: a japanese aesthetic concept in appreciating the beauty of imperfection in all aspects of life. This concept aligns well with the idea behind handmade and artisan work. As such, each product made has its own signature and uniquely stands from one another. The contrasting force is something that I naturally always present in my creative work. I love to create a strong contrasts between two poles, colliding two different standards in order to produce end products that represent both worlds.
Where do you go for inspiration?
You can never get enough from nature. I like to wander and be inspired by my surrounding; and it doesn’t necessarily have to be far and abroad. It can simply mean going to the woods or just a change in scenery to get my creative brain all sparks up.
What does slow fashion mean to you and how do you engage in this movement?
We deliberately choose to apply the slow-fashion philosophy in our operation. Whilst setting trends and creating fashion, we also ethically and responsibly manage our supply chain, to ensure transparency of our processes. We deliver products that are well-made out of high-quality selections of raw materials and natural dyeing agents found locally in Indonesia, combined with handmade production techniques. We also ensure that the materials are harmless to the environment!
Sustainability is a journey. As a developing country, the awareness of sustainability and ethical practices in Indonesia is still considered very poor. Since we are already preserving the traditional heritage, why not retain its authenticity and evolve it into a sustainable process?
What is unique about the fashion industry in Australia?
Australia is known for its laid-back attitude which in my opinion is also reflected in the fashion amongst us. We are completely different due to our geographical location from everywhere else around the world, and it actually works in our advantages since we know no boundaries in exploring designs and there’s no such thing as one representation of australian design, so our playground is limitless! The way I see it, the collision between simple and trendy without leaving the comfort aspect makes Australian fashion industry unique from everywhere else.
What does being an ethical brand mean to you?
It definitely means so much more than just being transparent about our supply chain. We make sure that we know how each product is made; from the start to finish by carefully walking through each process in the production with our makers. This has proven efficient in keeping our transparency chain system going. Not only because we want RŪPA consumers to understand and know where and how their clothes are made, but also because we want to be able to give them a personal connection with the makers and a commitment that they money spent is actually going back into these communities to help them progress.
Your hopes for the future of sustainable fashion?
Fashion industry is one of the biggest polluter in the world and the process involved is generally complex due to the long, varied supply chain just to get the end product. We’ve seen the magnitude of the damage and yet we haven’t done all we could to prevent the detrimental impacts.
We know when there is demand, supply will follow suit. Under this notion, we believe that if every fashion companies join the movement, we believe that we can alter the highly excessive demand into something that is more purposeful than just being in trends and make it accessible to all and still serving its purpose as clothing without compromising the environment. If everyone operates sustainably and ethically, eventually the industry objectives can still be satisfied but with a BONUS of a healthy ecosystem. After all, the environment is built by the humans and living beings, and for the humans as well as the living beings. So if we don’t make a change, who would?
We have witnessed such a growth in the society, with people from different generations actively shifting towards more sustainable clothing options and supporting slow-fashion movement. More people have started to ask questions about how and where their clothes were made. This actually assured us that we are fighting for the right cause! We hope that RŪPAHAUS, as part of the bigger movement, continues to transforms the consumers’ behaviour, so that they would be more conscious in thinking about what they buy and why they buy.
Photographer: Carmen Rose. www.carmenrose.com.au @carmenrosephotographer
Stylist: Marni Gia @styledbymarni_
Make up and Hair: Amy Kenny @amykennymakeup
Make up and Hair Assistant: Raffaella Tomaiuolo @raffaella.t
Models: Maeve @ Viviens @maevemorts
Elsa @ Chadswicks Models @elsa_bryant