Weaving Culture and Religion


The traditional wrap known as a sarong is ubiquitous throughout Indonesia, where it is also worn by Muslim men as part of their traditional attire. For more than 40 years, Pismatex has kept this piece of heritage alive with its Gajah Duduk brand of sarongs.

Photo by Bagus Tri Laksono and Pismatex Doc.

Pekalongan, known for its coastal batik, is also famous as a centre for textile production. the city, located in Central Java, played an important role in the introduction of Islam in indonesia. Currently, it is the home to many pesantren, or Islamic boarding schools. The Muslim influence is so strong that some local firms take off on Fridays instead of Sundays. Muslim wear is also in fashion, as the sarong, typically worn for daily prayers, is considered proper for everyday wear.

Local people on the haj pilgrimage to Mecca also sport the garment, showing that a sarong is a piece of cultural, as well as religious, heritage. The Gajah Duduk brand of sarong was launched in 1972 by Pismatex, whose founder, Ghozi Salim, followed a then-common practice of naming firms after fruits to ensure success.

Pismatex is a portmanteau of pisang, or banana, and manggis, or mangosteen–both of which are harvested in Indonesia throughout the year. Perhaps reflecting the fecundity of the fruits, Pismatex, which started as a home industry, has since become the nation’s leading maker of sarongs.

Under Ghozi Salim’s son Jamal, Pismatex’s current president director, sarongs are made using high-tech machines that meet the highest international standards of production.

Pismatex also has its own factory, Pisma Putra Textile, to make thread. Enough is manufactured to fulfill the firm’s own needs three times over, so Pismatex also books brisk business selling the surplus in the overseas market.

Sarung Gajah Duduk offers products that have been entirely made in Indonesia. Thread from its factory is 65 percent polyester and 35 percent rayon. It is also made from locally sourced material. Threads come in about 60 different colours that can be combined into a single sarong.

Besides the 525 machines in its 10,000- qm factory in Pekalongan, Pismatex has been collaborating with local home factories, which offer an additional 613 machines, to make more than 1.4 million sarongs every month.

Despite mechanisation, there is still room for a human touch, as the sarongs still boast some hand sowing by tailors, who are mostly women. Quality control and labelling also are done by the workers.

Aside from the high technology air jet loom machines, Pismatex’s factories are equipped with high-speed rapier looms with electronic Jacquard machines as well as rapier looms with Dobbys. This is something that allows the firm to explore more variations in patterns, including 3D effects.

“The best-known sarong is the plaid [kotak-kotak] pattern,” says Gajah Duduk vice president Lukas Prawoto. “However, since we have to evolve with today’s fashions, we also design sarong with various patterns.”

Among the brand’s offerings are a series of ethnically inspired designs intended for daily use, all of which feature unique packaging.

While people in Indonesia follow contemporary trends in fashion and lifestyles, use of the sarong as everyday wear remains common throughout Indonesia, from the highlands of Sumatra, where the textiles are favoured by farmers, to the nation’s east, where sailors don sarongs as scarves by day and blankets by night.

The timeless designs of Gajah Duduk’s sarongs form an intangible part of the nation’s heritage, while also reflecting the piety of the wearers. The sarongs combine not only thread, but part of Indonesia’s rich culture, into their weave. Gajah Duduk makes sarongs that are a reflection of the nation’s heritage at its finest.

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Barbara Hahijary
Barbara earned her bachelor's degree in architecture from the Interior Architecture Program of the University of Indonesia in 2013. Historical or heritage buildings, as well as utilitarian design, fascinates her as it is the interaction between people and architecture that remains her favourite topic to explore. Besides architecture, her interests include design, handcrafts, literature and social issues.

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