Mielka Raputra Bardin is no fashion newbie. He has spent the past 14 years building a fashion label in Bandung specialising in graphic-designed T-shirts, sweatshirts, bags and accessories. But now he was ready to launch his own independent label.
The 37-year-old fashion entrepreneur lives and works in the city once famed as the Paris of Java. Bandung happens to be Indonesia’s third largest city with a growing fashion industry and a burgeoning reputation as the Capital of Cool. This is where Bardin went to university and co-founded the successful fashion brand Wellborn, where he remains a partner.
Still, Bardin had always dreamt of designing his own creations and collections, emulating the avant-garde style of the designers he idolized – the Japanese icon Yohji Yamamoto and Belgian designer Raf Simons.
About a year ago, he began planning to launch his own brand of trendy streetwear. He envisioned that his Super Sentimental Secret Theory, or SSST, would use a business model like that of Wellborn, where he would work with physical stores on a consignment arrangement, and have an office and warehouse. But the pandemic hit, stores shuttered and the fashion business nosedived. As domestic consumption plummeted, and exports slid, Indonesia’s textile-apparel sector contracted by more than 8 per cent in the second quarter of 2020.
Lockdown and stay-at-home measures pushed shoppers to prioritise buying essentials such as food, and personal care and hygiene products. Runway chic lost out to comfortable homewear.
“Fashion definitely took a back seat. It was the last thing on everyone’s mind,” Bardin said. “Many people thought I was crazy to try to launch a new fashion brand at the height of the pandemic when demand for fashion brands was at its lowest. But I said it’s now or never. With all the hard work we have been putting in, the only way is to keep moving forward, and to adapt.”
Adapting means pivoting his business a hundred percent online, and making eCommerce one of his core strategies. He jettisoned the consignment plan, gave up on the idea of having an office and found a warehouse that could be monitored remotely via video conferencing. Using social media, he built an online presence for SSST, creating posts that showcased models wearing “the total look” (that is, with matching pieces, shoes and other accessories) rather than just individual pieces of clothing. His resilience paid off. To his surprise, he started making sales after a month, despite the pandemic’s impact on the fashion industry.
November, Bardin and his team hit the fashion jackpot when they were invited to showcase their collection in Jakarta Fashion Week, via a Lazada partnership with Indonesia’s annual premier fashion event. They were one of only five local brands selected by Lazada’s Show of Hearts initiative, chosen for their unique, novel styles as well as their designer’s passion for creativity and their compelling backstory.
“This has been an exceptionally difficult year for the fashion industry,” said Jacopo, executive vice president of the fashion category at Lazada Indonesia. “But we meet local Indonesian designers like Mielka, and we are inspired by their stories of resilience, passion and drive. Show of Hearts, as part of this year’s Jakarta Fashion Week, is a tribute to their can-do spirit of persevering against all odds and never giving up. We want to provide them all the support that we can to empower them to follow their hearts.”
The Show of Hearts designers’ collections are featured on Lazada’s curated fashion channel, Style Space. During the fashion week, the Style Space runway shows were also streamed on LazLive, Lazada’s in-app livestreaming technology. “Our one-of-a kind ‘See Now Buy Now’ feature makes it easy for users to immediately click and buy what they like during the livestream show, effectively turning our platform into a sales channel for the designers,” said Monika Rudijono, Lazada Indonesia’s chief marketing officer. “With our Shoppertainment technology and long-term partnership with Jakarta Fashion Week, we hope to continue helping more designers like Bardin. It’s a manifestation of Lazada’s commitment to support local creative talents and the fashion industry in Indonesia.”
SSST was the only new brand among the five selected this year by The Show of Hearts. The other four were 3Mongkis, HAM! Jeansku, Nadjani and Warning Clothing. It is extremely rare for new brands to be invited to participate in Jakarta Fashion Week, since it was inaugurated in 2008.
Seizing the opportunity to be part of the country’s biggest annual fashion week, which had to also pivot digitally this year, Bardin and his team worked on an exclusive collection to showcase during the virtual runway shows. They were broadcast via Jakarta Fashion Week newly created channels – JFW.tv, JFW Youtube and JFW Tiktok – as well as on LazLive, where nine of the 16 shows for Jakarta Fashion Week were livestreamed. Over three days from Nov 27 to Nov 29, LazLive’s sessions garnered over 460,000 views.
This was Bardin’s very first virtual fashion show.
“Technology has been instrumental for us in growing SSST,” he said. “We are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with Lazada for this year’s Jakarta Fashion Week. The collaboration has helped us build our brand’s existence in the fashion industry and we got really great exposure from the show.” to support local creative talents and the fashion industry in Indonesia.”
Jessica Vilda Horsan is a senior manager in Lazada Indonesia’s public relations team.
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