At a high-end Jakarta mall, the price tag hanging off of a gorgeous jacket reads US$3,000, and a few digits more in rupiah. It features panels of fabrics printed solidly on the inside, and it comes without lining.
The jacket is but one item occupying a luxurious space. Add to that the visual feast of mannequins adorning beautiful in-season floral dresses that most humans in the city can never afford, as well as the relaxing scent of dyptique candles, and you know you’re in a world that welcomes only the privileged few.
Just from one store alone, it’s hard to dismiss the abundance of glamor closely associated with high-end fashion, so much so that people get used to overlooking the little details — and people — that make up this industry.
Eva had an fruitful career in the fashion industry. Her stints include working for Singaporean brand Red Liquid and Graha Lifestyle in Jakarta, a company representing luxury fashion brands such as Kate Spade New York, Diane von Furstenberg, and Etro.
Eva is aware of the preconceived notion from outsiders that the high-end fashion industry is draped in luxury inside and out. Yet she is all too aware, from her own experience and those around her, that even her industry has its worker ants — and she was one of them.
Even when Eva scored a cushy and coveted job at luxury brands like Club 21, she felt she was underpaid. As a merchandising manager, she had to put on other hats at work, taking up the role of managing the stores, being responsible for the visual merchandising aspect of the store, and getting involved in the finance, accounting, and even paralegal sides of the business.
What the industry projects to the outside world does not necessarily reflect the true value of the goods sold, Eva said, with high-budget marketing campaigns dictating the exorbitant price of merchandise on display at the stores. This disparity between the glamor of the face of the industry and the disregard it shows to the cog that keeps the machine turning was one of the reasons why she switched careers in 2017.
Fighting for their place
Others, despite having it even worse than Eva, have remained due to their passion for fashion.
Rindu Pradnyasmita has spent all 15 years of her professional career working for Iwan Tirta Private Collection. In the initial years, she said she was underpaid to the point that she was unable to afford to buy work clothes — as in, she couldn’t even Sears it the way Anne Hathaway did as she fumbled around working for Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada.
Thankfully, Rindu had her mother for financial support and more, who provided her with the wardrobe, make-up, and jewelry she needed to stand out — or at least be equal among her peers — in the biz.
As the head of marketing for Iwan Tirta, Rindu’s responsibilities range from planning the brand’s annual strategic marketing and communications to collaborating with the sales department to improve sales for the company; effectively commercializing the artistic direction of one of Indonesia’s most renowned designer batik brands.
“To tell you the truth, as a quiet and introverted worker, I am a little bit uncomfortable going to socialite events, because I’m not a glamorous person,” Rindu said, referring to the expectations that come with her role.
“However, I stood strong throughout the years, and took delight in what I do. I tried to think creatively on how I can do my job well. So instead of focusing on my personal concerns of not quite fitting in with the glamorous crowd of the job, which the career requires, I focus on strategically thinking of what’s profitable for the company as a whole.”
Rindu doesn’t see herself leaving Iwan Tirta anytime soon. Though she does not feel like the job has made her glamorous in any way, she wants to stay on because it’s what she knows, and she needs to pay her rent and bills.
Koko Namara, a freelance fashion stylist, touches models up for a living but for him, the glamor does not extend to behind the scenes.
Koko worked as a stylist for a renowned fashion magazine, during which time he found it difficult to even survive. Being the backbone of his family, his pay went toward his parents and siblings’ living expenses, car payments, and not to mention medical bills. By the middle of each month, he would have little to nothing for himself in expensive Jakarta as he awaits his next paycheck.
But Koko stuck by it and his hard work eventually paid off. After five years, he branched out and started freelancing for the likes of Shonet Magazine and Monsieur Jewelry in Bali.
“I feel that working as a fashion stylist really made me keen on doing the work itself to better myself as a person,” Koko said.
It’s clear glamorous world of high-end fashion stands on the shoulders of less glamorous people, from the Evas and the Kokos to the lower rungs of the supply ladder, many of whom are subject to even greater exploitation.
But the phrase “passion for fashion” is not just thrown around due to its rhythmic quality by people who have dedicated their lives to the industry. There’s low pay, sleepless nights, and the constant pressure to look good at all times. Yet out of the love of their professions, and armed with courage and perseverance, a select few do survive and thrive amid the glamor.
This article, Behind the Glamor: The lows of Jakarta’s high-end fashion industry, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia’s leading alternative media company.