Fair Trade Brand of the Month: Toko-Toko
Toko-Toko is an Indonesian term which means ‘shops’. Indonesian is a fun language; for example for plurals, you say the word twice. So for instance, instead of ‘bananas’ we say ‘banana-banana’. How fun is that? When I first started Toko-Toko in August 2015, my dream was to bring and introduce upcoming and hip Indonesian clothing and fashion accessories to Los Angeles. I wanted to offer a place for people to find Indonesian brands within one boutique, carrying items that are unique and affordable.
The idea from day one had always been to give back to communities in Indonesia, to lift up others in need. For our first campaign "Water is Life” we set aside fund from our profit to help a village in East Java called Ngimbang with clean water access for the homes and schools in the area.
Two years in the business, something really bugged me. I felt that we haven’t done enough for the people in Indonesia. I started looking into artisans and what they make per-day. To my shock, I realized that most artisans in Indonesia make less than $1 a day. There’s no sustainability in their jobs, they are under appreciated and there are so many middle men in the fashion industry in Indonesia. These men/women bargain and place such low prices for the artisans of their skills and products that most artisans cannot get out of poverty race. Moreover, the younger generation is no longer interested in being an artisan, preferring to work at local factories which pay them more.
At this point, I felt that this is no longer just business as usual for me. I truly believe that it is now my mission to extend the work by bringing kindness and love back into fashion, especially for the artisans and their families. I met with vegan influencer Agnes Muljadi, went to have a 2.5 hour dinner with her where I learned the concepts of Fair Trade, Sustainable and Vegan Fashion. I went home and did more research, read books, watched documentaries and became vegan. I packed my bag and my daughter’s to spend a month in Indonesia to search for and work with artisans in Kulon Progo village, Central Java.
While in Jogjakarta, I met a young couple who have been working to uplift their communities in East Nusa Tenggara islands. Through this young couple, I got connected to a group of weavers in Larantuka village in East Nusa Tenggara island. They make handmade ikat (weaving) cloth and we quickly incorporated the purses and clutches made by artisans in Kulon Progo with straps created by artisans in Larantuka.
So do you think this is a typical successful business story? Far from it. The first few months of our new business model, our business partners and clients left us. We were the new kid on the block in the Ethical Fashion world, no body knew us. But we kept going and working because this isn’t just a job, it’s a mission! We lost old friends but quickly acquired new ones who supported us as if we were old friends. Within 8 months, we were able to send back profit to assist with animal rescue in Jakarta, education fund in Larantuka and on our way to provide free dental care for Kulon Progo next year.
These days you’ll find me working hard to uplift the life of artisans by applying the ethos of Fair Trade, Sustainable and Vegan fashion in our work. Toko-Toko requires the brands we work with to also follow the same ethos. I write, blog, do interviews with medias in Los Angeles and Jakarta in my attempt to share the importance of Fair Trade fashion with my communities.
There are still so many work to do. My brand is tiny but this tiny team believe in making a difference one day and one project at a time. I hope to meet and see you all at the Fair Trade Fashion Show Fundraising on November 11th in Los Angeles. If you see me, come say hello, I’m a bit shy in person but always welcome discussions of how we can uplift communities in the world through Fair Trade fashion.
Founder of Toko-Toko