Innitiate, Innovate, Inspire, Indonesia

Innitiate, Innovate, Inspire, Indonesia
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Lianna Gunawan
LAUREATE 2012 FOR ASIA-PACIFIC - Cartier Women Innitiative Awards

Lianna Gunawan

La Spina Collections designs and produces hand-made shoes that highlight Indonesian culture and heritage using traditional fabrics and craftsmanship.

Like many women, Lianna Gunawan loves shoes. But while most will assuage this passion through shopping, this former retail and marketing professional has taken it one step further and created her own shoe company! Entrepreneurship crept up on her unexpectedly: ‘I always worked in a corporate culture,’ she explains, ‘but when I took time out to become a mother, I was scouting the Internet for shoes and decided I’d get an artisan to make me some.’ She had so many compliments and requests for similar shoes, she started to get them made for friends and built up the idea from there: ‘in my living room!’

Having bootstrapped La Spina Collections in 2010, Lianna soon wanted to take her company further. Government initiatives to promote Indonesian crafts and heritage struck a chord with her. ‘I decided that would be the core value of my business: hand-made Indonesian shoes, using uniquely Indonesian materials.’ She is intent on debunking home-grown notions that ‘Made in Indonesia’ means cheap and cheerful. For this young entrepreneur, La Spina is about much more than a pair of shoes: ‘you’re wearing a piece of our culture and heritage as well.’

Indonesian savoir-faire

Fridays are ‘batik day’ in Indonesia, to encourage people to wear the country’s traditional dye-resistant fabric, the making of which is a veritable art form. La Spina has integrated batik into its shoes, using the hand-stamped variety, because it is still 100% handmade. ‘It’s far more challenging to use than leather or synthetic uppers, you have to structure the textile and develop linings to shape it,’ says Lianna. Other Indonesian specificities include rattan heels or woodcrafts from Jakarta, which are more commonly seen in furniture or statues. ‘Furniture wood is too heavy, so we have the sculptor carve mahoniwood, an indigenous species, into soles and heels. And we don’t cut down trees for it either! We buy leftover wood scraps from the Ministry of Forestry.’

Lianna started out creating the designs herself in collaboration with a pattern-maker, but is now fostering partnerships with universities to work with young designers and showcase Indonesian flair. She is stringent about comfort, even in the highest heels. ‘Feet are precious, so we line our inner soles with the kind of padding you would find in sneakers or trainers!’ La Spina footwear is sold in four major retail outlets in Jakarta, from the first concept store for Indonesian design to the capital’s branch of the department store Debenhams; the upscale department store Metro; and a stand-alone outlet. Sales in the first quarter 2012 reached US$86,000 and the first exports were shipped to Japan last year. Lianna’s goal is to bring international visibility to her collection to highlight the Indonesian fabrics and savoir-faire of which she is so proud. In this aim, she joined the Femina Women Entrepreneur community in Indonesia, which encouraged her to submit an application for the Awards. ‘I’m so excited to be going to France, the land of high fashion, as a finalist. My next dream would be to see La Spina in a Parisian department store!’

The company is currently at maximum production capacity and preparing to scale up this summer, for Lianna has just achieved one of her prime objectives: La Spina has been contracted to make shoes for the cabin crews of Indonesia’s national airline, Garuda Indonesia. ‘We’re thrilled to showcase Indonesian quality and design with a major ambassador for our country,’ says Lianna. ‘I’ve been scouting for craftspeople for months to be able to respond to the corporate market, and am set to hire two dozen more artisans alongside our 20 current employees.’

Best foot forward

To differentiate itself from the competition and heighten awareness of the quality of its product, La Spina has made its after sales service a competitive advantage. ‘We offer to exchange our shoes if they don’t fit well, an extremely rare service in Indonesia, alongside a full guarantee: we repair any potential manufacturing defect and lend a pair of shoes while you wait!’ There are perks of course too. ‘Obviously I wear all the shoes!’ she smiles. ‘I personally test them all for comfort and wearability.’

Don’t let words like ‘traditional’ and ‘artisanal’ lead you astray: La Spina shoe designs have created a pioneering mix of quality handmade traditions and contemporary style that’s sharp and feminine; from wedge sandals to cute ballerina flats, colourful patent brogues or peep-toe platforms and stiletto booties, there’s a style to fit every budding Cinderella out there. As the company slogan says: ‘Fashionably Indonesia.’

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