The story of Inten (pseudonym), the color specialist, in conversation with Steffie Christiaens
Collaborations are key to the CHRSTNS brand, both for the exchange of knowledge, and for the appreciation of cultural heritage, spirit, and art. The journey into exploring the best-fitted partnerships has been intense, and is still an ongoing. Working hand-in-hand with collaborators is, for Steffie, of the utmost importance. It is for this reason that she is delighted to have been able to spend a week with Inten, in Lombok, Indonesia.
Inten gave up a long period of his life locked away because of a love story. A story, which in certain countries, would have been deemed beautiful, was in his country seen as a transgression with a penalty of 10 years’ incarceration.
When Steffie met Inten for the first time in the prisons’ batik workshop, he had given her the impression that he was a passionate craftsman with a strong connection to art. He was very motivated and enthusiastic about the craft. Batik is a traditional technique for decorating cloth where each piece of fabric is hand-painted. In recent years, there has been a declining interest in batik, and the craft risks becoming a lost art particularly where Inten currently resides, in Lombok. Today, there is only one batik workshop left in the city.
CHRSTNS is financially and emotionally supporting Inten to build a fully-equipped Batik workshop, so that he can develop a self-sufficient life. When Steffie was in Lombok, Inten created his first batik pieces for CHRSTNS. This was a moment for celebration, and a moment to share their collaboration story.
Steffie: Would you like to briefly describe how we met?
Inten: Once upon a time, I happened to work in a prison batik workshop. One day, the Empress of the Malaysian Kingdom visited our workshop, and on the same day, I saw the figure of another person who was so kind and interesting. She was a designer by profession, and an art lover who was so special. It was Steffie, and that was our first encounter. The second time we met was just before my release. We talked about how to continue my life; she gave me the motivation not to give up.
Steffie: What did batik mean to you when you started to work with the medium?
Inten: Batik, for me, is an art of self-therapy. The art cannot be separated from the soul who loves it. All the feelings and ambitions that cannot be expressed in words about the beauty of art in the soul that is sometime turbulent, I will express them in the form of color and the beauty of batik. I will try to get satisfaction through the colors and patterns.
Steffie: How did you become a color specialist? Can you describe more about what the creation of colors means to you?
Inten: When I began the work in the art of batik, I realized that color is one of the most important aspects that must be explored, from which I continue and continuously do research on how to produce various new colors. I’m careful every day. For me, color is something that is very influential to one’s point of view and thought process about everything. The beauty of art cannot happen without color. Everything that we can see with our eyes is heavily influenced by color. Color can also affect one’s outlook and emotions on the world, and I like to express my feeling through color. In prison, colors helped me to obtain a certain freedom. When I find a new color I feel strong, and that gives me confidence. Finding a new color is also like secret, and I feel special to have been able to reach to this moment.
Steffie: I know you like to focus on the future, and there you have my support. As you said: “where there is a will, there is a way”. You have gone through an extremely difficult moment, one where your life stood still. What are the most important aspects for reintegration into your “new” life?
Inten: I will try to restore my enthusiasm and learn from every mistake in the past. I’m sure to be able to reach my future even more so with the support that I get from you. I’m sure I will fight really, really hard for all of it.
Steffie: What are the most important values in your life?
Inten: Sincerity, and sincerity in everything, including respecting the soul of the art that is in us. Love and expressing art in the soul as we love our loved ones with sincerity.
Steffie: How does it feel to create batik pieces in your own studio space, in your batik workshop (currently under-construction)?
Inten: Really it feels so amazing. I feel free to work, and I’m more conscientious because we’re doing it for ourselves. It’s very extraordinary.
Steffie: What is your dream for the future?
Inten: I want to develop this art, especially the batik art, to a high level. I dream that this workshop will be great, famous, and useful for others. I want to prove that art is not only something to be understood, but also can be applied in our daily lives. “Thanks to Steffie….”
Why the brand CHRSTNS is relaunching.
Recently, Steffie’s personal approach to fashion changed a great deal. To her, it no longer made sense to depend on a fast-changing, mass-produced, unethical business model. Instead, the value of a unique, long-lasting product, and the human empowerment that fashion has the potential to support in the supply chain, became the most important tenants of the industry. For Steffie, the goal is to reach sustainability through the use of exclusively upcycled raw-materials.
To be able to embed complex theories and concepts into shapes, colors, textures and lines is a gift that Steffie herself has been fortunate enough to receive, and continues to explore.
The interaction of shape with anatomy and movement of the human body was and continues to be very intriguing to her — and is, in fact, her inspiration for delving into the world of fashion design, fifteen years ago. From 2004 to 2008, Steffie studied Fashion Design at the Art Academy ArtEZ in the Netherlands, and in 2009 she received her Master’s degree in Fashion Design from the Institute Français de la Mode. Fashion was what brought her to Paris, and provided her inroads to the houses of Maison Martin Margiela, Louis Vuitton, and Balenciaga.
Coming from a little village in The Netherlands, where people regularly greet each other in the street and are much more down to earth, it was hard, at first, to fully understand this particular fashion language.
Steffie was absorbed by the impact of fashion as a communication tool to express politics, culture, and the goings on of the world at large—as well as by the force of the luxury industry. The journey, the craft, the know-how, the ‘artistic bond’ between people, the pressure, and the adrenaline, all contributed so much energy to reaching the common goal of finishing a collection.
After spending two years running her own label, there was one day in particular that changed her definition of a high-end luxury garment: the day that her design of a special dress that consisted of more than 75 layers of synthetic filaments, and over 500 hours of work, became fully realized, thanks to a collaboration with Christine Overbeck and Nikomanufakt.
Nikomanufakt is a factory in Europe where brushes are produced by blind artisans, and one of the last where brushes are still being produced by hand. Steffie and her team had the opportunity to repurpose the company’s left over raw materials. Ultimately, the final garment was presented to the blind factory workers, who were delighted to discover the piece with their hands. Though the artisans are satisfied with their everyday work, it can be very repetitive. The creation of this dress had a positive impact on their lives, allowing them to discover something altogether new.
After this experience, it occurred to Steffie that fashion could be treated in a completely different manner. However, she would need to set up a new business plan, with new partners, and with an emphasis on social impact. The only way she could achieve this would be to build something new and from scratch; so her label was put on hold.
It was time for Steffie to step aside from her fashion world, and move forward in pursuit of a MBA with a global focus. Though it doesn’t sound fashionable, it was the rational choice. In this moment, everything began to fall into place for her. The people she met in the program continue to hold a very special place in her life, and in the relaunch of her brand. Clémence Petit-Velasco, a social-entrepreneur, had an important role creating the brand’s social impact strategy. Though they could not fight all environmental and social issues at the same time, step by step, they were able to build towards the ideal foundation for the company, constructing a sustainable business that would have a positive impact over the long term. At this stage, , one by one, to become self-sustaining in their work, consistently reinvesting the company’s earnings into human empowerment.
To maintain this impact, Steffie continues to travel and work with their collaborators in Asia.
While working with artisans in prison on a massive piece of 4 meter long hand-painted fabric, Steffie nearly wept for joy when the prisoners began to slowly open up and communicate about their lives. The batik creation process functioned almost as art therapy, helping the men to understand and be understood. Because the art process is free and never forced, the creation process began to feel like a safe space.
The link between humans and art, and art as a method for making a real difference in someone’s life, has become the inspiration for Steffie’s life, and thus, the inspiration for the brand.