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Has Garuda Lost the Thread on Heritage Conservation?

Editorial: Garuda's Decision to Use 'Fake' Batik for New Uniforms is a Disservice to Indonesia's Rich Cultural Heritage.

Bali News: Garuda, Uniforms, Emrisyah Satar, Batik, Editorial, Heritage
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Garuda Indonesia is on a roll. The national carrier has returned to Europe with flights to Amsterdam; new aircraft are on order to make their already young fleet even younger; plans are in hand for more new routes, including resuming service to America's West Coast; the airline has re-established its safety certification with IATA and the EU; and, most importantly, the airline is turning a profit.

Clearly, in a world-wide aviation industry where such success stories are as rare as leg room in the economy section, Garuda's growing success must earn full marks for the excellent leadership of the airline's CEO, Emirsyah Satar.

But this record of success and enormity of Garuda Indonesia mission also impose on Emirsyah special responsibilities as the man-in-charge of the state-owned carrier carrying the Indonesia flag to the far corners of the world. In this regard, it appears that someone at the airline dropped the ball with the recent launch of new uniforms for Garuda's cabin crew. [See: Sky-High Fashions]

The Garuda Experience: What Were They Thinking?

In its commitment to improve in-flight service, Garuda made a significant misstep in the execution of new uniforms for its 1,600 flight crew. As reported by, the airline hired a team of seasoned professionals to conceptualize and design stewardesses uniforms based on Indonesia's fabled sarong kebaya. Central to the "new look" are batik-styled sarongs incorporating an eye-catching traditional lereng motif.

So far, so good. Plaudits all round for Garuda's decision to both upgrade passenger service and create uniforms highlighting batik - the cherished textile tradition that is both an art form and a massive handicraft industry in Central Java and other parts of the Republic.

However, citing expediency as an excuse, national press reports say that instead of using original hand-made batik to costume their crew, the new uniforms would be made from printed batik-like materials churned out in a modern textile factory.

Such a loose commitment to a national handicraft treasure is unfathomable, particularly by our National Carrier serving the same Country that took umbrage and even began to rattle its sabres when it was recently perceived that neighboring Malaysia was using traditional Balinese dances to promote their tourism product. Sadly, an equally ferocious commitment to culture was sorely lacking when someone at Garuda signed the order book for the new Garuda uniforms.

A Bad Marriage: Efficiency and Heritage

Generally speaking, efficiency is anathema to cultural preservation. Safeguarding a precious heritage is never expeditious; keeping time-honored traditions viable in a modern world demands tireless efforts that will oftentimes prove inconvenient.

Garuda's decision to forsake true batik in favor of ersatz batik in creating their new crew uniforms is regrettable on a number of levels. Gone is the chance to gainfully employ a small female army of traditional batik producers to begin the labor-intensive process to produce the thousands of hand-made cloths that could have been worn by the Country's stewardesses as they traveled the globe. Gone, also, is the opportunity to allow the million of passengers flying Garuda to admire outstanding genuine examples of Indonesia's centuries-old textile tradition each time a they are served by a cabin stewardess.

And while we're on the subject of preserving and promoting batik, isn't it high time for the Minister of Culture and Tourism, or a well-meaning legislator, to introduce legislation outlawing the production of batik designs in Indonesia by anything other than time-honored traditional methods? Such a regulation would do much to give batik it's due place, protect the "brand" and ensure that a label proudly proclaiming "made in Indonesia" on a piece of batik represented an absolute assurance that the product was genuine.

A Call to Action

It is not too late for Garuda to reaffirm its commitment to Indonesian culture by taking steps to re-swathe their stewardesses in genuine Indonesian batik and assign the fake version to the their rightful place on a nearby bonfire.

While we patiently wait for clearer minds to prevail, we can only pray that Garuda'a commitment to improved service is more genuine than their new wardrobe.

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