A model poses for a photograph, displaying a dress and an umbrella made by the Royal Silk Gallery. (JP/Triwik Kurniasari)
One person's junk may just indeed turn out to be another person's treasure.
More than 14 years ago, wild silk cocoons had no value to people in this country, including Yogyakarta. People only thought of silkworms as very itchy, regarding them useless insects.
That was until the Yogyakarta royal family discovered a use for the cocoons created by the silkworms.
The royal family spotted many of them in trees surrounding the Prambanan temple in 1995 when they were taking Dr. Akai, from Japan, on a sightseeing tour.
Dr. Akai told them the cocoons yielded silk that could be used for fabric.
In a series of studies supported by Japanese researchers, the royal family, under the Royal Silk Foundation, started to develop a number of possibilities for the wild silk cocoons
They later established the Royal Silk Gallery, where designers turn the cocoons into beautiful clothes, shawls, corsages, bags, shoes, umbrellas and even lampshades.
The color of each cocoon depends on the host plants consumed by the silkworms.
A diet of sour sop leaves results in silver cocoon threads, while a diet of mahogany leaves leads to deep brown. The kedondong plant and cashews gives rise to gold tones, avocados produce brown, while teak results in black.
"We process the cocoons into thread and then traditionally spin and weave them. The most important thing is that we don't kill the caterpillars during the process, even though in common silk processing, people must kill the mulberry silkworms," Fitriyani, the chairwoman of the foundation, told The Jakarta Post.
This project has totally changed people's perception of this type of silkworms and now many people enjoy the beauty and advantage of wild silk.
The foundation's wild silkworm breeding center in Karangtengah, Bantul, is helping to support low-income farmers and maintain ecological balance in the area.
Works and fabrics at Royal Silk Gallery features traditional Javanese touches, like batik and ikat. And one reason the gallery uses the wild silk worm is because it is environmentally friendly.
"While other people are only now starting to promote green campaign designs following the global warming effect, we started doing that about 14 years ago by utilizing wild silk cocoons," Fitri said.
Fabric made from wild silk is different from the fabric created using the silk from mulberry silkworms.
"The wild silk absorbs sweat and is cooling in hot weather, while it has a warming effect in cold weather. So, it feels comfortable. It also has a 97-percent UV light protection capability so it shields our skin from the bad effects of sunlight," she said.
The Royal Silk Gallery collaborates with prominent local designer Tuty Cholid to design products for Indonesian consumers.
In March, Tuty staged a fashion show in Jakarta titled "Romantic Autumn in Omote Sando", which was inspired by the styles worn in autumn by Japanese socialite's at the Omote Sando shopping arcade in Tokyo.
"I added embroidery and an Indonesian touch to the collection. I also maintained the natural colors from the cocoons," Tuty said.
Besides local designers, the gallery also collaborates with Japanese designers.
For many Japanese silk creators, the unique gloss and gold colored tones of the wild silk cocoons makes for extremely attractive materials.
The Royal Silk Gallery, Fitri said, first created Japanese clothes like the obi and kimono, instead of Javanese traditional clothes.
"Japanese people really appreciate the wild silk products because the silk is environmentally friendly and is easily combined with any other kinds of natural fibers. We also hold an annual fashion show in Tokyo to promote our products," she said.
The gallery's products have even been sold in well-known Japanese department store Takashimaya and some other outlets in Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka and Tokyo.
"We always follow trends and design wardrobes suitable for every climate. Japanese people, for example, like wearing colorful clothes in the spring and summer, while they prefer to wear soil-colored clothes in autumn or winter," said Fitri.
"They also adore our batik and ikat. We combine Japanese traditional obi with batik designs and wild silk fabric," she said. The gallery does not lean toward Western trends.
"This is not about mass production. The fabrics in our garments are hand woven. We can produce about 15 to 20 cloths per month," Fitri said. The foundation has about 30 weaving machines.
Bags and umbrellas, made from wild silk sheets, are also well liked. Indonesians now like big bags, while Japanese women prefer tiny bags that match their kimonos, she said.
"The umbrella is the much-hyped product in Japan right now. It is unique, natural and effectively protects the skin from UV light. Japanese women often use umbrellas in spring or summer," she said.
Fitri hopes the wild silk products will enter the European and American markets.
"People from the United States and Europe often have not heard about wild silk. They only know about silk products from China made out of mulberry silk," she said. (trw)