Sat, 03 May 2003

Goyor sarongs lose their appeal

Kartika Bagus C., Contributor, Surakarta, Central Java

Indonesians are quite familiar with sarongs that are both easy to use and find, as well popular after having been transformed by modern, contemporary designs.

Previously, sarongs were only worn to keep one warm on cold nights or during prayer at mosques. But in the hands of creative designers, sarongs have been turned into stunning skirts, gowns, blouses and fashion accessories.

Unfortunately, not all types of sarong, which come from many parts of the country, have enjoyed the same good fortune. Traditional Goyor sarongs from the Central Java town of Surakarta, for instance, are started to lose their past fame and could even slide into oblivion unless efforts are made to conserve them.

The extensive use of weaving machines in large-scale textile plants is one of the reasons blamed for the decline in the production of Goyor sarongs.

Moreover, most of the weavers are now older people, while the younger generation is reluctant to produce the sarongs the old- fashioned way using the delicate, traditional weaving instruments. The young people prefer the quick printing process instead.

Goyor sarongs like many other conventionally made woven textiles, need plenty of time and patience in the making. They enjoyed their heyday before the country's independence in 1945. At that time, the sarongs gained popularity not only because they were cheap, but also due to their interesting motifs. In no time at all, many companies invested their money to produce the sarongs.

These days, the industry is in a sad state as there are only about 10 to 15 weaving businesses still producing the sarongs. These companies only have a handful of workers while their production is small.

One of the sarong makers, Said Oemar Soengkar of the Semanggi company, said it was hard to get younger people involved in the business although many people were still interested in wearing Goyor sarongs as they were made of fine cloth and felt comfortable to wear. Printed sarongs, on the other hand, were made of synthetic materials which left the body feeling uncomfortable.

"Goyor sarongs are different from batik. In the production process, if a mistake is made in a sarong, we cannot do much about it," explained Said, whose products are sold under the brand names of Ringgit Mas, Srikandi and Juara Putri.

One of the workers in Said's firm, Agus, said the company could only produce about 144 sarongs a day to meet the demand from buyers coming from Surabaya or cities in West Java.

The sarongs are sold at various prices according to their quality, but average prices range from Rp 60,000 to Rp 150,000 each.

With a limited number of weavers, which is considered the most pressing problem, and the low number of sarongs produced, it is difficult to see how the industry will be able to recover its former glory.

"I leave it to fate now. There is no help forthcoming from the government either. I have no idea how much longer the Goyor sarong tradition can survive. It pretty much depends on the current weavers. I'm afraid that when they can no longer do their job, nobody will replace them and this type of sarong will disappear for good," said Said, the only person in his family that is still in the business.

According to Adji Isworo, a lecturer at the Surakarta-based Sebelas Maret University's School of Arts textile engineering department, consumers were not really interested in Goyor sarongs.

"These sarongs do not have an attractive look. Moreover, they unravel easily. Consumers are more interested in the ordinary, or pelikat (sarong with plaid pattern), sarongs that you can easily find in the market," said Isworo, a textiles graduate from the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB).

Government assistance could not be relied upon as the government did not have the means to support all small-scale businesses across the country. In order to survive, Adji advised the Goyor sarong makers to be more creative in attempting to transform their sarongs into customer favorites.