AND.M: Socially-responsible fashion handmade in Java

Matilda Morgan grew up in rural Victoria, surrounded by the bright colours and bold patterns of Southeast Asian textiles. Her well-travelled grandmother – an expert in Cambodian ceramics – would return from her adventures laden with beautiful fabrics, which she would then sew into curtains and pillows. Said Matilda (Tillie for short), “Since I was young I’ve had a special fondness for the colours, textures and stories found in traditional fabrics from cultures across the world. So it was always at the back of my mind that I would love to do something with fashion and design, and use these bright colours which, in Australia, you don’t see very often.”

For the last year Tillie has been working non-stop to get her socially-responsible fashion label AND.M off the ground and into the wardrobes of those who favour ethical fashion, bright colours and unique prints, and particularly those with a penchant for batik. AND.M stands for ‘Antara Negara Design’ (Between Countries Design). “AND.M refers to our core mission,” explained Tillie, “which is collaboration between countries and working with people who want to do things fairly and creatively.”

Photo: Matilda Morgan

She decided to start her label after five years of studying International Politics at Melbourne Uni and then International Business and Supply Chain Management at RMIT left her feeling uninspired. At the time her parents were living and working on the island of Nias, West Sumatera, and often travelling around Indonesia. “I was at the stage where I hated uni and I had no idea what I wanted to do even if I did finish it, so I just thought, why don’t I just do this? Why not start something where I can work with the local community and source directly from artists on a collaborative basis? I was on the phone to Mum and Dad one night and I said, ‘I want to start my own company and work in Indonesia!’, and they said, ‘That’s a really good idea!’”

One month later Tillie was in Jogjakarta studying at the Indonesian language centre Wisma Bahasa for three months. She returned to Jogja the following March to find artists, develop supply chains, work with seamstresses, and, as she explained, “very slowly get my ahead around how the local industry works. In the beginning I focused specifically on finding artists making the fabric, because it’s all about the fabric.

It’s all about the fabric. Photo: Matilda Morgan

“I was trying to see what’s actually out there, and thinking about the kind of clothes that Westerners would like to wear. I was lucky – I’ve got family in Sydney who own an art gallery and they’d been exhibiting an artist from Jogja, Jumaadi, and so they put us in contact with him and he put us in contact with his friends and family. I was introduced to a lot of different batik artists, I met some of the biggest batik artists in the world who work with European fashion houses. To Westerners Jogja still remains this hidden place, or they might know a tiny little bit about it. But it’s now officially the International City of Batik! There are hundreds and hundreds of producers throughout Central Java. So that was the first step – finding the artists and getting to know them, and finding out what they would be happy to do from a logistical sense. From the get-go it was always supposed to be a very slow process – getting to know the people from the ground up and going from there.”

Photo: Matilda Morgan

The eventual goal for AND.M is to have the clothing produced in the same location as it is sourced – as Tillie wants to ensure “the local supply and production structure is as local as possible.” Currently most of the fabric is sourced from the Bantul regency of southern Jogja and from Cirebon, which is renowned for its magnificent cloud-like motif megamendung. “The grand plan is, if I source the fabric from Central Java, the items will be produced in Central Java. If I source it from Sumatera, the clothing will be sewn in Sumatera. I’ve also been looking into weaving so I want to go to Lombok and look at the weaving to be used in hats. It’s going to take a lot longer to get to that stage, but I’m determined to do it!”

As her business is still in its early stages, currently all AND.M items are produced in Jogjakarta, by two different seamstress businesses. “There’s one which is run by a teacher and works with students who are all girls, while the other owner is one of those cool old Ibus who really knows the ropes. She’s a trained lawyer, has travelled a lot, and gets items produced in Jogja and in Solo. She’s very cool.”

There are two ranges of the label, AND.M and AND.M Tulis. The former is the more affordable cap (printed batik) range, while the latter is made from the coveted hand-drawn batik. “One thing we’ve found is Westerners aren’t doing anything with this kind of fabric, and many have no idea what batik is anyway. Also, this level of production is rare. You either go in and do a multi-million dollar order with a big factory, or you get one or two things made at the local seamstresses’ around the corner. There’s nothing in-between.” Until now.

Photo: Matilda Morgan

Tillie, who will be completing a Diploma of Dressmaking in Jakarta this year, designs all the items herself. “A lot of it is a take on classic designs that I like. I’ve developed all the designs as a baseline, because a lot of them are quite different to what the seamstresses normally make – so they’re more tailored to fit Western bodies. It’s been a lot of work to get it to a standard of understanding about the sizes and the different fit. Even just the hip placements, and you know, we have shoulders! So this is my baseline that can be built on in the future. I also didn’t want to make them too busy because it’s all about the fabric anyway.”

Continued Tillie, “They’re all unique products – it’s a real sample of what kind of fabrics are out there. There’s only a very limited number of each print. You can feel really special because no one else is going to have that skirt! One thing with the supply chain is, you can’t just ask one person to make another 100 pieces of this fabric because it would take three years! Everything I’ve gone for is quality – from the fabric to developing the relationships – so I understand the product and its entire process. It’s been a very interesting journey for the last year.

Photo: Matilda Morgan

“Once I began my travels in Indonesia, Tillie enthused, “I was stunned by the beauty, complexity and depth of batik and other handmade textiles found throughout the archipelago.

“I am constantly inspired by the artists and the motifs they produce through their innate sense of creativity and views of the world around them.

“AND.M is my way of showing my appreciation of this art form and taking it to an audience that otherwise may not be introduced to it.”

Introduce yourself to AND.M and its kaleidoscopic colour, dizzying diversity and stunning fashion statements at the website, and follow on Facebook here. Instagram: @and.mdesign.