“This patchwork tote bag is made of fabric scraps from the garment industry in Pekalongan. Sokokembang is a hamlet in Pekalongan located right next to forests that are home to the Javan Gibbon. Some residents there sew at home for a living or work at a textile factory. SwaraOwa are currently helping several residents in Sokokembang to transform leftover fabrics and discarded materials from the garment industry into useful recycled products. Not only does this contribute to their livelihoods, it also reduces plastic waste and promotes the conservation of the Javan Gibbon.”
The garment industry is one of the foremost drivers of the local economy in Pekalongan. From the city, the textile supply chain stretches all the way to even the most remote villages near the forest. It all starts with cutting fabrics, sewing, attaching buttons and zips, then moves on to screen printing and colouring, sometimes using traditional batik-producing techniques that have been passed down through the generations.
In Sokokembang, one of the hamlets closest to the gibbon forests in the area, activities powering the garment economy are very much present, and have been at least since we first visited in 2006. Such activities form the main source of livelihood for 45% of families here, who contribute to the apparel supply chain by sewing parts of clothing. Other villagers grow various crops or rear livestock in their gardens and the forest. From when we started our projects in Sokokembang up until 2014, villagers engaged in sewing did not do this work at home, instead using the sewing machines and materials at their employer’s place. They worked most days, only having Fridays off.
Garment workers are crucial to the local economy, sustaining those who live around the forest. However, because of the nature of their work, they are generally not as intimately familiar with forest trees and animals as those villagers who enter the forest more frequently. They sometimes even describe Javan Gibbons as having tails! Gibbons, after all, are rarely seen. What these workers do know well is how gibbon calls sound, because these can be heard loud and clear every morning.
Noticing this, the Indonesian wildgibbon team braved the pandemic and tried to find ways of connecting gibbons to garment manufacturing, the sector that provides much of the jobs in Pekalongan. Seeing leftover scraps of fabric everywhere, mostly wasted, the team tried to bring Sokokembang hamlet a solution to this problem.
The solution came in the form of cloth bags. Making them involves villagers who already sew for a living. They form patterns using unwanted fabric scraps and connect them into a highly practical multi-purpose bag. This process is relatively uncomplicated and can be done on the sidelines of everyday sewing. To get the younger generation involved in Sokokembang, they were briefly trained by residents who were already proficient in sewing. After being given the finishing touches by the wildgibbon team, the bags look as illustrated, bearing the logos of Owa Coffee and Sokokembang.
At SwaraOwa, we firmly believe that conservation projects cannot succeed without being made to benefit local communities. Although not without its challenges, this project is just such an attempt to marry conservation activities with fostering an entrepreneurial spirit among locals — all proceeds will go towards supporting forests and livelihoods. By closely collaborating with the locals, we aim to make protecting nature and boosting the local economy one and the same cause, and hope that making conservation pay will encourage further conservation activities in the region and beyond.
written by : Elna Novitasari Br.Ginting dan Arif Setiawan, translated by TT Chan