For centuries, craftspeople from Southeast Asia to West Africa have used wax resist dyeing to create textile designs of stunning complexity and rich, durable color. To this day, traditional batik artists use hand-applied block prints and freehand drawing techniques that have been passed down over generations and yet allow for painterly flair and creativity, making every piece unique.
In batik’s spiritual home of Indonesia, many designs have royal and aristocratic origins, and the fabrics continue to play a special role in ceremonial and national dress. But renewed interest in vintage and modern batik stretches far beyond, from collectors and aesthetes to a new generation of designers bringing the craft to a wider audience.
One collector, Shelly Nugroho, came to batik from interior design. “I was always looking around for paintings to bring in a splash of color to a room,” he tells Robb Report. “At one point, I was experimenting with hanging batik as an alternative. It didn’t only bring interest in a room, it brought soul and life. Since then, I’ve been in love with the artform, especially vintage batiks.” Styles vary from the sober designs of central Java to colorful northern coastal forms, but Nugroho’s greatest interest is in the restrained Sogan style, developed in the royal palace of Surakarta.
For Lorenz Saputra, batik should be enjoyed beyond formal occasions. He founded menswear brand Pasais last year to make refined yet easy-going garments. The brand’s trademark offering is the Aleph shirt, a camp collar shirt with a square hem. Such resort shirts may be ubiquitous in many menswear collections, but Pasais’s fabrics are entirely novel: handmade block prints in deep olive, complex florals drawn freehand in indigo or in shimmering pastels, complemented by a range of richly textured handwoven cottons.
“We prefer natural colored batik with humble patterns,” Saputra tells us. “One of our current favorites is hand block print patterns made from everyday materials like chopsticks, leaves, burlaps and ropes.” Unlike traditional copper blocks, these natural prints create organic, imperfect shapes. “We also love vintage batiks made from the 1930s to the 1980s that have historical values in terms of technique and color preservation.”
It’s not easy working with traditional batik fabrics, both in terms of sourcing and making (they come in narrower bolts than conventional tailoring cloths). But it’s worth it to give the wealth of Indonesian craft its due, Saputra explains. Creating casual clothing with the same careful finishing and top-tier fabrics as formalwear makes batik wearable far beyond its original context. This casual craft ethos goes beyond shirting; right now, the brand offers a minimalist leisure trouser in delicate handwoven cotton, perfectly suited to downtime in warm climates, and there are plans to experiment with summer suits.
Another brand bringing batik back is Lagos-based knitwear specialist Bloke, the brainchild of designer and creative director Faith Oluwajimi. Founded in 2016, Bloke has found an international audience for its hand-dyed cardigans, tunics, and shirts. The designs are playful, the colors arresting, yet the production processes are thoroughly traditional. “Batik is one of the few antique techniques of fabric making that has a rich history and origin from Africa,” Oluwajimi tells Robb Report. “We practice this technique as an intentional way of sustaining and also exploring ways to keep the technique an interesting form of craftsmanship while it’s been shared with the world at large.”
Meanwhile, in New York, Muur has launched a capsule collection of indigo batik. The brand was founded in 2018 by Muriel Salimin, a fashion industry insider with Surinamese and Indonesian family roots. Alongside Indonesian-made leather goods and travel accessories, the brand’s batik offering encompasses cotton and silk scarves, bandanas and pocket squares. Thanks to the deep indigo dye, these pieces fit effortlessly with workwear staples from tees to denim. The designs are at once dense and delicate, from block-printed stripes to hand-drawn patterns. Best of all might be the swirl scarf, meticulously hand-painted with thousands of dots, like the clearest night sky.
“Our pieces have stories, they are connected to both people and places. We partner directly with artisans, family-run businesses that put their heart and soul into their craft. In turn, we offer fair compensation and an exceptional product,” Salimin says. “Working with artisans in Indonesia feels like going back home.”