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TORAJAMELO is working on systemic change towards preventing outward migration of rural Indonesian women by creating an alternative and regenerative rural economy centered around weavers. Not only is TORAJAMELO empowering the women weavers as a collective power within the market, but they are also working towards creating a fair supply of sustainable fibers that serve as raw material for weaving yarn, and developing an economic supply chain for the weaving practice, as well as changing policies to promote local and traditional woven dress. The knowledge and skills are then passed on to other women and future generations to create a cultural revival and restoration in communities that are on verge of losing their indigenous knowledge.
40% of Indonesia’s population is vulnerable to extreme poverty and the majority of that are women living in rural and remote areas. Women play an important role in supporting their households despite the lack of infrastructure, economic opportunities, education, self-development, and maternal healthcare. They are also limited by gender roles and patriarchy which prevents them from improving their living conditions. Outward labor migration has been happening since the 1990s. 83% of these are women and more than 90% of female migrant workers work in the informal sector as house helps in various countries. Some are also forced to be sex workers. Many came back either abused, with unwanted pregnancies, or in coffins.
In parallel to that, the indigenous culture of weaving exclusively done by women was dying across the archipelago. The locals or the tourists found hand-woven textiles to be unattractive and the overall demand decreased significantly. More than 300 Indonesian ethnic groups can weave, especially in the poorest and most remote areas. In such areas, there aren't many alternative income opportunities and hence the dying weaving culture deeply impacted the economic situation of rural women.
TORAJAMELO is empowering such women who are economically and socially vulnerable by providing a range of support such as market access for indigenous weaving, fashion created from hand-woven textiles, and leadership training for them to be able to leverage themselves into economically independent women who are able to support their families from home. By providing market exposure, support, and training to women who were earlier prone to migrating abroad to seek employment, TORAJAMELO has helped these women to have sustainable income within their own communities.
TORAJAMELO chooses their partners according to the following criteria: (1) Rural and remote communities in Indonesia where women tend to migrate to make ends meet; (2) areas and/or communities that have never received help from the government or other NGOs; (3) areas that have weaving heritage and capacity. At the moment they have partnered up with communities in Toraja, Mamasa, Larantuka, Lembata, and Adonara where they have provided training to the communities on product development, market trends, color schemes for the women artisans to be able to create weavings that are viable for the market. These trainings are conducted to modernize and innovate the weavings without neglecting the indigenous patterns and motifs. TORAJAMELO in its journey towards sustainable fashion also supplies cotton yarns to these women artisans as opposed to using synthetic yarns. The artisans are not treated as workers, but as equal partners, where they are free to sell their hand-woven textiles to other buyers and markets and are not exclusively bonded with TORAJAMELO.
In 2014, TORAJAMELO partnered up with PEKKA (Organisation of Women Head of Households). PEKKA takes the lead in organizing the community into empowered cooperatives so that the members can become leaders in their community and get involved in advocacy for positive change. In conjunction, TORAJAMELO helps enhance their business acumen by making them aware of evolving market trends, color palettes, and basics of business that involve having SOPs (Standard Operating Processes on pricing, quality, adherence to promised deadlines).
Currently, in its journey to create sustainable supply chains that minimize the negative impact on the environment and support the decentralized rural economy, under its “Community Collaboration” pillar, TORAJAMELO has started to work with its weaving communities to grow natural fibers within their community, and hence use them for weaving and move towards natural dyes, both of which were historically part of the process but the advent of cheaper imported plastic-based yarns sounded the death knell on them in the 1990s. Community-based tourism where curated travel experiences allow weavers to share their life, cuisine, and cultural practices, is another way the extended community is able to have an alternative source of income.
A woman in East Nusa Tenggara doing the traditional weaving within her community.
"I want to share my experiences and lessons learned with the youth", said Dinny Jusuf, the Founder of TORAJAMELO. Dinny who calls herself a mother, a wife, and a dreamer has been working on women empowerment since the 1990s where she established "Rumah Ibu" or "A Mother's Home" which was the first safe house in Indonesia for domestic violence women victims in Jakarta, along with her sister Nina Jusuf. After witnessing the violence experienced by Indonesian Chinese women in Jakarta (1998), she began a movement called Suara Ibu Peduli (The Voice of Concerned Mothers) with her peers, and later she was appointed as the Secretary-General for the National Commission on Violence Against Women in Indonesia. She was so burned out to learn about the violence that women all over Indonesia experience on a daily basis be it domestic, religious, or state-driven. The experience drained her and she resigned from her role at the National Commission on Violence Against Women and decided to go back to Toraja, South Sulawesi in 2008 to reflect and write. This is where TORAJAMELO was born as during her break in Toraja, Dinny observed a number of children and infants who had oriental features. After inquiring about the same, she came to know that these were children born out of wedlock or via rape, to local Torajanese women, while being employed as domestic workers outside of Indonesia.
Dinny also realized that many Indonesians lacked appreciation of the culture and diversity that Indonesia possesses, and heritage weaving that used to be practiced from Sabang to Merauke was slowly being forgotten. "So I put two and two together, to find a way for Torajanese women to stay at home and earn a living from indigenous weaving", said Dinny. In 2008, she started establishing the seeds of TORAJAMELO which were then legalized in 2010, with the goal of stopping the outward migration of poor rural women of Indonesia so they can have a choice to make money as weavers, as well as to preserve and rejuvenate the almost forgotten indigenous weaving.
"When you see a problem, just do something about it, in however small ways. Don't let anybody kill your dreams, whatever your dreams are", said Dinny at the end of the interview.
The innovation done by TORAJAMELO is the process of revival and rejuvenation of indigenous weaving culture, preventing outward migration and breakdown of rural communities as well as, providing economic independence
Through TORAJAMELO, the women in the partner areas are able to increase their income and live a sustainable livelihood. The organization has also helped counter generational incest which used to happen when mothers were away working abroad, and grandfathers would rape their granddaughters. With the mother now being able to earn an income within her home, the family stays intact, family values are retained and so are their dignity and their economic independence.
Weaving spaces also serve as a safe house for women to share and care for each other especially in violent communities like Adonara where domestic violence is very common. In designated weaving spaces, men are not allowed to enter.
By doing this innovation, TORAJAMELO is able to increase its branding value. When people buy its products, they know where they get their products from as they provide transparency within their supply chain so buyers can trace where the yarn came from and who made it as a sign of fair trade. Through the training conducted by the TORAJAMELO team, the weavers are able to create high-quality and relevant weaves, which in turn makes their fashion end-product to be more viable for the market. Community-based tourism initiated by TORAJAMELO is also increasing its branding value even more, as travelers are able to witness and partake in the lives of weavers in a rural setting and gain a deeper understanding of their culture. By sharing about its end-to-end supply chain, TORAJAMELO is able to convey stories of rural women weavers who create these textiles, and buyers are able to support these women by buying TORAJAMELO lifestyle products. Buyers know where the items they have bought come from, who made them, and where their money is going.
Utami Giles, the Commercial Director of TORAJAMELO shared that by encouraging local sourcing they are working towards creating long-term sustainable supply chains so dependence on imported yarn and materials is reduced.
TORAJAMELO alleviates systemic poverty by creating a sustainable ecosystem for women artisans. By rejuvenating the culture of weaving, TORAJAMELO supports the sustainable livelihood of underserved women, preventing migration and human trafficking as well as supporting the rural de-centralized economy to thrive.
Through exhibitions and engagement programs with the youth where issues Indonesian women are facing are shared, millennials and Gen Z are becoming more aware of challenges and problems faced in rural areas and are in turn motivated to get involved and contribute.
As part of its impact measurement and mapping exercise, TORAJAMELO has shown that in Toraja where it first started the business, over the period of past years, female migrant workers have returned and are now earning an average income of Rp 3-5 million/month as weavers.
TORAJAMELO works with more than 1100+ weavers in Toraja and Mamasa in Sulawesi, as well as Adonara, Larantuka and Lembata in East Nusa Tenggara, encouraging economic growth within the women in the areas.
Community-based tourism has provided additional income to the weavers and villagers through homestay rentals, curated tours that offer culinary and cultural experience, and guide services. All of these have created “agency” or power, especially economic power and dignity amongst the women weavers and the extended community.
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Dinny Jusuf, Founder
Utami Giles, Commercial Director
TORAJAMELO is an ethical slow-fashion lifestyle brand that creates a sustainable ecosystem for underserved rural women through hand-woven textiles. Collaborating with women-led weaving communities, TORAJAMELO works towards a sustainable ecosystem around rural economies via its 3 pillars: Commerce, Community collaboration, and Consultancy. TORAJAMELO connects weavers to the world market, encourages entrepreneurship, and has helped women in rural areas regain their dignity and their voice, by offering independence via sustainable livelihood. Values underpinning TORAJAMELO’s impact business model are - collaborate with the community, uphold quality, practice integrity, take actions with a purpose, and believe in compassion.