Inside SUKU's Transparent Supply Chain With Designer Christine Lafian

by: Rosie Dalton | 2 months ago | Features

Image: SUKU designer Chistine Lafian.

SUKU is the home and lifestyle brand behind some of our favourite bed linen, pyjamas and clothing; all of which is made in collaboration with a group of Balinese artisans. Growing up in Indonesia, the brand's founder Christine Lafian says that she is still very much influenced by the traditional approach to textile making there. So celebrating the work of local artisans there is something that just comes naturally to her. But SUKU doesn’t just draw upon age-old production methods to bring its pieces to life; instead Lafian explains that she is also very influenced by the modern fashion context of her new home Melbourne.

It is here that Lafian now lives and also runs the SUKU store, but that doesn’t mean she is any less committed to getting to know the artisans in her Balinese studio. “It’s crucial for us at SUKU to have a real connection with the makers of our products.” With this in mind, the label is all about radical transparency and a long-term commitment to producing their clothing and homewares sustainably. Come to think of it, we couldn’t think of any better way to decorate our homes than that.  

Rosie Dalton: Can you run us through how you first came to launch SUKU?
Christine Lafian:
 The beginning of SUKU was the result of everything manifesting for me just at the right time. I had an idea in my mind for a while; it actually came to me when I moved house and needed some new bedding but I couldn't find anything I liked – nothing spoke to me. I wanted to dress my room just like how I dress myself! SUKU became more than an idea once I started meeting people at the right moment, when I felt ready to make this real. Then, the concept organically grew from bedding into loungewear, from an online store to a physical one – and it continues to grow.

Rosie: How would you describe the brand and what is your overall mission as a designer?
: SUKU is about comfort and balance in our busy everyday lives. My vision and mission as the designer of SUKU is to support my community of Balinese artisans, to create beautiful homewares that don't compromise on sustainability and that support a nourished lifestyle. It is also important for me to design and develop something that represents the Balinese artisans, too. It’s not just about what I think is cool; as a designer, I take into consideration the makers and wearers equally.

Image: Savannah Anand-Sobti from Ladies of Leisure wears the Paraiso Tee in Fairy Floss.

Rosie: You grew up in Indonesia, is that right? Can you tell me a bit about the influence that this culture has had on what you do today?
: Yes, Indonesia is where my roots lay and it is who I am. As a designer, this is very important resource for me to have, and I am constantly reminded with all that I’m rich in, culturally – and that is what SUKU is about. I’m very passionate about the traditional Indonesian Batik technique and craftsmanship, and I’ve really enjoyed merging this heritage into a modern fashion context. Melbourne is also a great influence on me, and I try my best to marry the two cultures.

Rosie: It is heartbreaking to see so many traditional crafts fading and being increasingly replaced by machines. Why do you believe it is now more important than ever to celebrate handcrafted design?
: We could discuss this topic forever, but to make it simple, it's like appreciating a meal, really. Would you rather have an instant noodle soup, or a hearty home cooked meal? This is about the value of the product and not just about the aesthetic. There is real love and joy poured into the making of SUKU. By celebrating handcrafted design I am celebrating creativity, tradition, and sustainability.

Image: the SUKU store at Melbourne's No Order Market.

Rosie: How does SUKU embody this idea as a brand?
: You can see it in everything that we do – human connection is at the core of our brand, and we aim to be transparent with every step of the journey. It’s crucial for us at SUKU to have a real connection with the makers of our products, and I make a personal effort to know each artisan in our studio; to know their story, skills, and inspiration. Even as we expand, the tight-knit small production will always remain.

Rosie: Can you tell us a little bit about some of the people behind SUKU?
: I am very lucky to have attracted people into my life who understand my vision, and, as a entrepreneur, this is vital for my business. I have two angels who work with me at the Melbourne SUKU concept store. Besides helping me with running the store, Maxine crafts our messages and stories, and Kiara applies her eye for detail and mind for organisation to making our space at No Order Market one that is enjoyable and efficient. In Bali, we have a small team of people who create the garments and bedding. There are three batik artisans, a pattern maker, and five seamstresses. I bring my ideas to them and they help me to develop them into something real. Last year, we made a short video with our studio team, which is very sweet.

Image: Savannah Anand-Sobti from Ladies of Leisure wears the Paraiso Tee in Fairy Floss.

Rosie: Why is transparency such an integral part of your approach as a whole?
: Transparency nourishes the soil from which trust can grow and, at the end of the day, this what I want to have with our customers. I love being real with our audience, and I believe it’s the stories that unfold along the way of our journey that bring true meaning to a pair of pyjamas or a quilt cover. I like that someone can wear one of our robes and share in another world.

Rosie: Finally, what does sustainability mean to you personally and how does this extend to your brand?
: For me, sustainable clothing is all about functionality, from the intention behind the product, to production, and then its actual use. I’ll always ask myself, ‘how can these be worn, is this a piece that can just be worn once and sit in my wardrobe more than it's being used? How durable is it?' Even if it's handmade, it's got to be durable and good quality. It makes my heart jump when I see people wear their SUKU pyjamas travelling on the plane, on the beach, in the house, in the city. For me, that ticks off a major box; to make people buy and wear sensibly.

You can shop all SUKU products over here.

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