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How Lim Masulin Makes (Sustainable) Weaving Miracles

Lim Masulin is an entrepreneur, inventor and champion of the Indonesian creative economy. His Wonders of Weaving collaborative platform brought together top local architects and designers to craft products that presented Indonesia to the world at shows such as Manila Fame and the World Expo Milan. He’s also been invited to the ASEAN Master Craft Design Festival to curate and represent Indonesia, as well as to mentor artisans and designer from other ASEAN nations. Meanwhile, Lim’s BYO Living project has pushed back frontiers, using traditional Indonesian weaving techniques and motifs in new ways. He’s excited when he talks about weaving as an example of new techniques that can make a city more environmentally friendly.

Photos by BYO Living doc

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“Visionary property developers envision how people will live in the city. Some are content to sell slow, as long as what [architects and designers] do is proper,” Lim says. He cites the example of a development that sorts out organic waste and uses it as compost for fruit cultivated nearby to be served at a restaurant in the development. “Suddenly,” Lim says, “we have a whole new building.” In this interview, which has been edited for length and clarity, Lim discusses the role of artisanal weaving has in solving the nation’s architectural, environmental and social problems.

Tell us about some of your innovative works, like woven batik building facades.

What we developed was a visionary weaving technique allowing multidisciplinary functionality. The challenge was more in the development stage and the refining process, to take the time and have the patience in working together with master craftsmen. For projects at a batik-manufacturing facility and a high-end hotel; a hundreds-of-square-metres facade would take six to eight weeks for completion. We constantly develop new weaving patterns, such as batik parang and batik peranakan. Many clients are interested in the patterns. [Aurasia Design principal architect] Iklim Tanumihardja is designing a building with a fabric-like facade using our batik parang weave. Another architect, Airmas Asri, is working on a 5-star hotel in Semarang with batik peranakan weave for the interior. For the local headquarters of Dunkin Donuts [in West Jakarta], the client wanted us to replace the old facade with a trendsetting solution. The 400-sqm woven facade acts as a cooling and breathable layer–and is recyclable. They chose us because of our expertise. It’s all about the technique–specialized weather-proofing, metal framing and a deep-skill know-how with architectural weaving. It has to stay for a long time, especially for a commercial project.

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Why the focus on green technology?

Life is short, and we don’t want to waste our time on something that is not meaningful. I want to create an impact for the next generation, so green becomes a lifestyle, not an activity.

How did you first get involved in the field?

Because I believe weaving should become a multidisciplinary solution with a social and environmental impact. Working together with architects and interior design friends allows Indonesia to go to the next level in terms of maximizing space functionality and improving our quality of life. I’ve been designing since 2008. I got to know architecture in a later stage of life. Understanding more about architecture has helped me to appreciate more about buildings, glass-box creativity, the character behind the architects and its larger impacts. I’m not an architect, although I fell in love with architecture.

Why launch BYO Living?

From a restlessness in knowing that weaving was underdeveloped back in 2006. Weaving is a piece of craftsmanship and heritage that can be traced to the time of the Sriwijawa kingdom in 650 AD, when the walls of houses were made of woven panels. It is a master-craft technique worthy to be preserved. In terms of contemporary art, architecture, design and fashion; we keep discovering new aesthetics, applications and functionalities. Since it’s all hand-made, we can imagine how many craftsmen can make a living through these breakthroughs. It’s one way of making the income gap narrower–not only through the profession, but from the quality of life produced from the results. We are even working on economical rumah susun and rumah sederhana [housing developmlents] with weaving applications.

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What’s the challenge in “modernizing” traditional Indonesian techniques, like weaving?

It’s almost like getting used to new friends: It takes time to get used to ground-breaking ideas. One book, “Crossing the Chasm”, mentions the five stages of new technology. The first stage is adaptation. At present our top clients are “early adopters”–visionaries who believe in a better society with more efficient creativity. Some clients are more focused on looking at different kind of aesthetics expressed through weaving, and there are also those who are looking for better bargains through weaving.

What’s the challenge when you’re curating the work of Indonesians?

The unofficial answer is that the Indonesian model of creative economy is character based. If I want to improve it, I choose role models to share. They have to have a good track record–making the client happy, making their staff happy. They have to be more ethical. Second is how impactful your vision is when executed: The quantity of orders, the quality of craftsmanship. So they will use even more craftsmen.

What about when curating overseas artisans? Why are these regional collaborations important?

It’s not about whose culture is better; it’s about who is raising up the culture. I don’t want to say we are better. We coexist. ASEAN is 650 million people and is a force. We could be trend setting. Producers could agree on themes, like environmentally friendly, and then make products that reflect the theme, making a regional identity.

Who are your design inspirations?

Gaudi is inspirational to me through his impact on the civilization of Spain, even until now. Good friends who were involved in Wonders of Weaving Paris are also inspirational to me, including Andra Matin, Budi Pradono, Heru M Prasetyo & Yanto Effendi. Personal character and design are two sides of the same coin–I learn from them how to live a life of impactful design.

What defines good design for you?

Timeless artisanal work with classic architectural lines and high durability. Check out the Acalpuco Chair; Fritz Hansen’s Ant Chair; Renzo Piano’s Whitney Bag; and Issey Miyake’s origami fashion, including his Bao Bao accessories. All of them constitute an organic harmony of line, shape and form. I would like to see Indonesia supersede them with deep skill, craftsmanship and advanced environmentally friendly know how.

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What do you want to change about Jakarta through your work?

To increase the quality of life in Jakarta with weaving by reengineering as much as plastic waste possible–whether through new energy saving techniques, cooler buildings, catering to the latest fashion trends, mingling indoor and outdoor space, making large-scale art installations or better lighting solutions, and more.

What inspires you to create?

A cleaner earth, closing the gap between the poor and the rich–and the polluted and the carbon/waste free. Also, an ever-expanding and empowered creative community.

How to spend your ‘stuck in traffic time’ in Jakarta?

Taking a quick nap.

If you weren’t doing what you do know, what would you do?

I would be a chef or a social entrepreneur. It’s more about the traits passed down by my ancestors.

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