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How one fashion designer is using her skills to help fight COVID-19

I first met Indonesian designer Iffah M Dewi almost two years ago. I was immediately struck by her warm, easy manner. Her design talent is also well-known - her brand Sogan Batik is popular and highly coveted in Indonesia, with a strong following on social media, including more than 127,000 followers on Instagram.

She is not your typical fashion designer. Whilst she earned a degree in Economics and Management, she is a social entrepreneur, who has always passionately believed in contributing to society. As well as creating unique batik designs that use bold colours, thus marking a departure from more traditional colour palettes, Iffah is also the President of a grassroots network of “Muslimahpreneurs”, a combination of the two words “Muslimah” (Muslim woman) and “Entrepreneur”. Without doubt, Iffah has worked tirelessly over the years to promote women’s economic empowerment, and the activation of Indonesia’s cultural and creative industries, particularly in Yogyakarta.

Her most recent initiative has been the mass production of face masks, selling them cheaply to Indonesians, thus helping to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. This all within a country where citizens have criticised the central Indonesian government for being too slow to act, and therefore endangering people’s lives. There was great controversy surrounding the acute shortage of face masks and PPE in the country, with doctors even using raincoats as flimsy protection.

So, what did a designer like Iffah choose to do? Sit down and complain? To the contrary! Iffah and her team took quick action to utilise their own skills and resources to produce facemasks, and make them widely available, especially in a country where approximately 25 million Indonesians still live below the poverty line[1]. That is the equivalent of Australia’s entire population[2].

Sogan Batik is a brand that is known for its high quality, using organic textiles and hand-stamping techniques. Her facemasks reflect the same quality and craftsmanship.

As the founder of Modest Fashion Australia (MFA), my own start up social enterprise, I feel privileged to work in partnership with such leaders, who live with heart, and strongly focus on community. Her brand’s values have resonated with me from the very beginning, which is why I continue to support her efforts, including retailing her designs through the Secret Sky website (MFA’s retail website), ensuring that her brand continues to have a presence in Australia.

I also wanted to highlight the innovative role that fashion designers can play all around the world in times of crises. After all, clothing, along with shelter, food, health, access to education and safety are universal rights that become ever more important during uncertain times like the coronavirus pandemic.

 

[1] https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/indonesia/overview

[2] https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/australia-population/Pile of masks in Indonesian batik designs in plastic packaging

Above: A pile of Sogan Batik face masks to fight COVID-19.

Iffah and her staff at her workshop premises in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Above: Sogan Batik's headquarters in Yogyakarta. Twenty-five percent of Iffah's employees also identify as having a disability.

Designer Iffah Dewi wearing one of her masks

Above: Designer Iffah M Dewi wearing one of her Sogan Batik face masks.

Above: Women wearing Sogan Batik masks in the supermarket.

Above: Two men exchanging a bag of face masks. Face masks were either donated or sold for very cheap (e.g. $1).