As you read this, some of you may be sporting a pair of fresh Nike kicks, tapping away on your Apple laptop, or consuming countless calories via Starbucks’ latest flavored frozen coffee drink. Rarely do we stop and think about where these things come from or how they are produced. In our hyper-consumer world, it is easy to assume that machines mass-manufacture the things we use on a daily basis. While this may hold true for the cereal you ate for breakfast or the bus you rode to work, the story is a bit different in the developing world.
Throughout Solo, Indonesia, countless cottage industries cluster in distinctive neighborhoods to share resources and techniques. Because the city lacks the accessible natural resources on which many mid-sized Indonesian cities subsist (let’s save a discussion on palm oil production in Kalimantan for another day), small-scale production is integral to Solo’s local economy. The city has taken measures to ensure support for this scale of industry by actively limiting the development of malls and chain retailers and upgrading the traditional markets where these goods are sold.
Unlike the mega-factories of mass produced goods, places of production for hand-made goods also happen to be people’s homes. On an afternoon stroll (known colloquially as jalan jalan), you can stumble through the borough of birdcage makers, the blangkon quarter, and the stomping grounds of the shuttlecock crafters. Of key civic importance are the batik neighborhoods, which historically supplied the royal family with the highest quality of traditional Indonesian cloth.
The Solo Kota Kita (SKK) team recently visited several of these neighborhoods and met the people who make these products by hand. We learned quickly that the friendliness of Solo’s citizenry is surpassed only by their adeptness, ingenuity, and skill. Below are a few ‘portraits of production’ in Solo.
Above: This couple represents one of many families who live within several blocks of Solo where shuttlecocks are handmade. Each house produces, by hand, an astounding 3,600 shuttlecocks per week.
Above: Batik cloth production at Kanjaeng Suwarno’s batik workshop and in Laweyan, Solo’s 500-year-old batik neighborhood. At Pak Suwarno’s workshop, each classic design takes 2-3 months to hand draw and color through a series of wax-resist dying phases. This meticulous process results in batik of the highest quality.
Above: Slicing blocks of tempe for frying at our neighborhood warung. This woman is one of the most jovial people around and proudly proclaims a sing-song ‘terima kasih!’ every day after our lunch.