Story by Barbara Hahijary | Photos by Natlovers Bag
Anita Yan, the founder of Natlovers, takes her work of art to another level as her company’s product line also counts for her heartfelt passion for the handmade bags and others. The company which makes outstanding handcrafts items is comprised of dozens of difable craftsmen.
Handcrafts have been an essential part of Anita Yan’s life. Back in her childhood period, Anita, who came from a modest family, adored her grandmother knit works. She daydreamed about being a designer, taking a needle, thread and a bag of leftover fabric from a tailor. When she was in elementary school, Anita started to make doll clothes, small purses and rag dolls. As she got older, she also enjoyed making small figurines by utilizing polymer clay, a small change in her hobby, even though in the world of handcrafts, she kept learning to knit and stitch.
Anita was working in a Jakarta-based manufacturing company when she set her eyes on woven bags in one of the shops in the metropolis. “The seller claimed it was imported from Thailand, but deep down, I was sure that it’s made in Indonesia,” Anita recalled her past experience. Then, she shared her thoughts to her late father when she went back to her hometown in Yogyakarta. To prove that what she thought was right, she and her late father went to nearby villages to see it straight in the hands of the bag makers. Following their visit to the bag makers, Anita decided to leave Jakarta because she was committed to empower these craftsmen right in the middle of the 1998 Asian financial crisis, which led to the birth of Natlovers that focuses on handmade bags and purses.
Anita’s creation is well known for its detailed decorative surfaces to complement the durable and yet smooth weaving. The bag is mainly made of natural fiber, harvested locally in Yogyakarta and Central Java. Weeds which are considered useless and mostly thrown away were also utilized as a material for the bags. Its craftsmanship covers weaving, embroidery, manual hand stitching, patchwork and hand applique.
Design-wise, Natlovers bag framed a slice of life into the artworks such as birds perching on leaves, flowers, fluffy animals, architectural and cultural works. Her signature Simbok, depicts Javanese mothers wearing kebaya (Indonesian traditional blouse), sarong and headpieces. Anita said, “Customers love Natlovers’ items for their cute and colourful designs. True that I make the natural fiber as the blank canvas and come with many colourful design options. This wide array of designs is inspired by the diversities and different tastes of our customers.”
The durability of the Natlovers bag is also supported with carefully- made handles. Anita pointed out, “I am beyond blessed for having a skillful husband, Rodi Zeng, who makes the leather straps from cutting to painting and stitching process.” She recalled that they met when both were studying at Informatics Engineering Faculty of Universitas Kristen Duta Wacana Yogyakarta. “We do not only share knowledge and like craftsmanship, but are also driven by a desire to empower those in needs. Rodi has been training a difable, who now has become an assistant,” she said, adding, “We have been sharing the same values now that we celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary this year. We hope that our sons Phanuel Ebenezer (16) and Paul Elioenai (13) can continue the good will in the future.”
Aside from the bags, they also make rag dolls, necklaces, bracelets, pouches, interior accessories such as cushion covers and table runners. “It has been 25 years since I switched to creating handmade products that are well-appreciated by the customers, whilst helping our local craftswomen and their craftsmanship to sustain,” Anita said. She added that with her production team mostly women, Natlovers can make such beautiful artworks, which call for patience and delicacy. Some of them have been staying in the enterprise for more than 15 years. She said that seven years ago, she longed to provide the difable with opportunities and “now we witness how eight persons, who are mute and deaf, and short-legged due to polio, can help us to achieve our level of aesthetics. Moreover, we are happy and proud to enable them to be independent and confident of what they can achieve,” Anita said.
Anita acknowledges that only by God grace, Natlovers could survive the crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic and even keep growing. No worker was left behind and everyone consistently received the wages they deserved. This also partly thanks to the growth of digital platforms, of which Anita uses WhatsApp and Instagram @natlovers_1998. Apart from domestic consumers, Natlovers bags have also attracted overseas buyers such as from Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, Australia, the United States, and their biggest, oldest buyer, Japan.