Stephanie, founder and designer of RŪPAHAUS wearing her own naturally dyed dress.

Stephanie, the designer behind RŪPAHAUS has quite literally scoured rural Indonesia for the best traditional artisans the islands have to offer. She then works directly with these artisans to design, hand-weave, hand-dye, and hand-make each and every piece. Each small collection is different due to the variations in the natural dyeing techniques, and what the weather is like at the time of dyeing! The brand effortlessly blends traditional, cultural stripes and colours with modern, minimalist design. The final product is a high quality, eco-luxe piece of wearable Indonesian culture that can be worn for years to come. We met Stephanie in Fremantle, Western Australia and asked her some curious questions.

natural dye rupahaus

RŪPAHAUS is an Australian Brand that works with traditional local artisans in rural Indonesia. What’s your connection to Indonesia?

I was born in Indonesia, spent my formative years in Australia and lived in Germany to further my studies in fashion, before returning to my home in Australia. Throughout my journey, I witnessed how cultures become disintegrated and almost-forgotten, and the ultimate impact it has on the modern world. Out of the three cultures I’ve been exposed to, I felt extremely drawn to the richness of Indonesian textile heritage that’s slowly losing its identity.

Even at a young age, I was exposed to the multi-facets of cultures and traditions which co-exist in Indonesia (which was pretty intense!). With 300 spoken dialects and uncountable tribes spreading across the archipelago, the country is rich in what we now call diversity! I’ve always been drawn to ethnic and traditional textiles. The more I witness, the more special they become. Every piece worth 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. Indonesia has so much to offer, but unfortunately 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. The skills which have carried traditions over generations.

ruphaus ethical fashion label australia

Initially, I was only going to write my thesis on the topic, but due to the limited time, it wasn’t possible to execute what I wanted to achieve within the 6 weeks provided. So RŪPAHAUS is very much like a dream come true. If it wasn’t for my bad-ass mom, who encouraged me to take control and put everything in motion, RŪPAHAUS wouldn’t have come to reality. Looking back always makes me laugh – because I remember how frazzled and unplanned everything was. It wasn’t perfect – we went with the flow, went on a survey trip knowing that we only have 50-50 chance of thriving. All the hard work paid off – what I had to do was see it for myself, and I was surprised by how much Indonesia really has to offer.

Naturally dyed and painted cotton kimono. Photos by RŪPAHAUS.

What are the requirements for an artisan to collaborate with RŪPAHAUS? And how does RŪPAHAUS choose the artisans they collaborate with?

We handpick our partner artisans based on their capabilities (skills) and craftsmanship. As we need to experiment with processes, i.e. evolve and innovate, we also assess their willingness to work outside their comfort zone.

Before we settle on a collaboration, the team and I would personally visit the village to survey the area and closely observe/experience the artisan community. We use this opportunity to do knowledge exchange, about how they work, their pace, their attention to details. When everything aligns, we would then brainstorm possible designs through innovative processes whilst retaining the traditional fabric-making methods – creating samples as well as experimenting for new colours using natural dyes.

rupahaus natural dye
Natural Dyeing by Indonesian Artists.

As part of RŪPAHAUS values it is stated that aside of preserving the heritage of Indonesia „…we will strive to reduce our environmental footprint through constant process refinement…“. Is it possible to achieve that without impairing how traditional native crafts are made?

Definitely! Indonesia as a whole offers an abundant natural resources; let it be oil, natural resources, craftsmanship and many others. These natural resources, through the inherent traditional processes, have been turned into native crafts by many generations; mostly as their survival means and thus interlacing into their traditions.

Since our artisans mostly comes from rural areas, the tribal knowledge is ingrained within their communities. But other than to fend for themselves, not many of these artisans feel encouraged or confident enough to use their traditions as a capital to grow. So when the opportunity to earn regular wage from the manufacturing companies arose, it was an opportunity they couldn’t just pass on. Unfortunately, as a repercussion of fast fashion, their community and environment are also heavily impacted.

indonesian artisan natural dyeing
Natural dyeing and painting by Indonesian Artisans. Photos by RŪPAHAUS.

We are very lucky to have stumbled upon artisans, who are more aware of the resulting impacts than others. Most of them have suffered from the impacts, and these are the ones who desperately want to preserve their environment and community. This experience has motivated them to do something different, and make a change. Through our collaborations with these artisans, we draw upon the community’s tribal knowledge, provide a platform for traditional processes to be revived and use this as our foundation for our innovation.

RŪPAHAUS campaign photos.

In which way are your natively crafted pieces made to be contemporary?

Our products are created through combining a touch of modernism and the continuous evolution of the traditional fabric-making methods. Through the manipulation of motifs and experimentation with different mixture of dyes – we try to create new and innovative methods without sacrificing the meaningful tradition and heritage behind it.

As we introduce Indonesian’ beautiful heritage of textile making to the world, we add a touch of contemporary through different patterns and designs. Our batik artisans, for example, who created one of our greatest pieces – GALA KIMONO KURATA and KIRATA, use the traditional Javanese batik technique with the combination of paintbrush-like strokes, creating a wearable art. Conventional batik is typically recognized through repetition of patterns and clean lines. Under the supervision of our Batik Master, Mas Ta, these artisans chose to revolutionised the conventional image of batik – giving a taste of contemporary art in between traditions.

rupahaus weaving
Weaving by Indonesian Artisans. Photos by RŪPAHAUS.

Apart from Mas Ta, the master dyer for our TENUN collection is renowned to be one of the best artisans in East Sumba. He’s known for pushing boundaries with innovative derivation of natural dyes sourced from plants and raw materials he discovered in his surroundings (e.g. Mud, Seashells, Morinda fruits).

Last but not least, our family of weavers in Central Java is responsible for all the geometrical patterns found in our collections. These motifs belong to their tribes and without compromising the meaning behind each pattern, we work together in developing new patterns as well as new colours to create new hues in all of our stripes collections.

rupahaus woven caftan

How will money be reinvested back into the community? Are there actual projects planned?

We want our consumers to know and understand that the money spent on our products don’t just go straight back into our business. For us, a transparent supply chain means that we are committed to ethically and responsibly compensate our artisans for their hard work. Every artisan is given the liberty to decide the appropriate cost for their own labour and their resources. On top of that, we commit a percentage from every transaction made to the artisans’ community – in short, we want our customers to know that they are making direct contribution to these communities and their development.

Given that the artisans rely on their surrounding for raw materials, we want to further enable them to innovate within their environment. By donating new seedlings to be planted in the different regions where our artisans are located, we hope to not only preserve but also expand their vocation whilst reducing the CO2 emission. As for planned projects, we are currently working on something really exciting! Although we can’t share much about it yet, but do expect something big from us in the upcoming months.

Indonesian nature
Indonesian nature. Photo by RŪPAHAUS.

Teaser text written by Rachael Hamann. Photos: MOCHNI