Local crafts attract foreign buyers
By Heru Prasetyo
YOGYAKARTA (JP): In 1979, Tarmudi still worked as a carpenter and helped with hoeing on his neighbor's farm. Now, he has 70 employees and provides a livelihood for hundreds of other workers through the production of place mats and other plaited items.
"My capital in starting this business was zero," the junior high school graduate recalled at his home in Kedungprahu village in Minggur district, Sleman regency, some 20 kilometers west of Yogyakarta.
Previously, the 51-year-old had a hard and uncertain life, doing whatever he could to earn a living for his new family. He got married after graduating from school at the age of 15, without any job. His wife was also unemployed.
His big break came in 1979 when he started producing various ceramic items, such as vases and statues. The ceramic business kept him busy as he was involved in most aspects of the production process -- from creating the design to adding the finishing touches.
At the same time, Tarmudi also started producing mats made out of mendong, a kind of grass. However, he felt that the mat-making work would not be capable of supporting himself and his family since many other people in his village also earned their living by producing similar mats -- a skill that has been passed down from generation to generation.
It was not until 1984 that Tarmudi and his wife started developing mendong mats into more attractive pieces, such as place mats.
"I received a direct order from the United States for the place mats," said Tarmudi proudly.
Starting with the place mats, Tarmudi now produces around 25 kinds of plaited items made not only from mendong, but also from five other materials, such as rami (jute) and pandanus leaf.
For instance, he currently produces waste baskets, lamp shades, flower vases, bags, tables, chairs, room partitions and many more.
And his new business is flourishing with demand increasing all the time. Tarmudi decided to wind up his ceramic business in 1990. Although there was still demand for the ceramic products he produced, he decided instead to focus on the plaited works.
Prices for his products vary. Simple place mats made out of mendong range from Rp 2,500 to Rp 8,000 each, while a four-seat dining table set is offered at Rp 1 million.
Room partitions measuring 180 centimeters in height and 50 centimeters in width made out of akar wangi (perfumed grass) are sold for Rp 50,000 each. Frames for the partitions can be made from bamboo or timber, depending on the order. The use of high quality wood for a partition might boost the price to Rp 500,000.
"Now, I'm making room partitions from gading (ivory colored bamboo) that I get specially from Tasikmalaya in West Java," said Tarmudi.
The raw materials for producing the craft works also vary in price. A kilogram of jute, for instance, is bought for Rp 17,000 per kilogram, while mendong is purchased at the cheaper price of Rp 14,000 per kilogram. Dried akar wangi costs Rp 15,000 per kilogram.
"Apart from bamboo, all the raw materials are bought from people in my neighborhood," Tarmudi said.
So far, he has had no problems in obtaining the raw materials for his business. "Anytime I need it, I just buy it. That simple," said Tarmudi, who needs between 500 kilograms and a ton of jute per week.
Besides marketing his products domestically, Tarmudi also receives orders for his work from abroad, such as from Germany, Japan, Malaysia and the United States.
For instance, he just sent various products worth around Rp 34 million to Malaysia in March. He has also completed ten units of room partitions on foot of an order from Japan.
Moreover, through his broker in Bali, he sends 200 place mats to the United States every week.
Tarmudi said he would be overwhelmed by the growing demand if he only relied on his own employees. Therefore, he has set up a collaboration deal with some partners in Tasikmalaya in West Java and also in Sleman, Kulonprogro and Bantul in Yogyakarta. Each partner has dozens of employees.
Despite the success of his business, Tarmudi still runs it in a simple fashion. For instance, he does not keep business records, such as for his monthly raw materials' requirements. He also does not keep track of his assets.
All he can say is that he has 48 manual weaving devices worth Rp 400,000 per unit and spends between Rp 2 million and Rp 4 million to pay his workers every week.
"I buy the materials if I need them, and I meet the demand if it's there," he explained.