Today, we broaden our horizons and speak with Caterina Hapsari, an Indonesian fashion designer based in Bali, who speaks about her passion for batik, fashion, Indonesia and Bali.
I’d met Caterina previously through Rotary. I’d watched her journey the last 18 months and knew she was someone I wanted to learn more about. So this week, we met with her at the beautiful Jimbaran Puri Bali Hotel to have a chat.
The first thing you take in is Caterina’s smile. It is warm and sincere. You instantly like her. It’s little wonder Garuda employed her. She is a beautiful ambassador for Indonesia. Her pride in her country shines in her eyes, and this is inflected in the passion in her voice for what she is doing, and what she wants to do.
The second thing about her is her height and stature. Not just her radiant beauty, but the whole package. She has curves that are accentuated by her own designer dress, the green makes her golden skin glow, and without a doubt, she is very sexy.
Caterina has confidence that isn’t threatening, even to someone with 16 odd years on her. We walk over to the dining area to sit and chat, and she reveals that she’s nervous. This makes her real and I smile inside. I love it when people are open, honest, vulnerable. It’s a small thing, but it connects you with them, and feeling connected gives me a warm buzz. It validates purpose and meaning, that we are all here for a reason.
Caterina’s story is simple. Born to a policeman who rose to the rank of General in Yogyakarta, her life was strict and followed Christian principles. She adores her mother and regularly seeks advice from her. Caterina’s respect for her parents is matched by the pride they have for her achievements.
We quickly move to her rapid rise to fame in Indonesia. She won’t see it as fame, but she is acutely aware that something is happening in her life that is fast, magical and important.
I ask her about being MC at the recent Apec conference in Indonesia. For a young woman to be asked to hold this position is a huge honour. Caterina beams.
“I never say no for an opportunity!” she smiles.
“Were you nervous?” I ask.
She giggles and nods her head. “Five days before the big day, I cannot eat or sleep!” She explains how not just one, but five or six people met with her to go over the details. She asked them how many people would be there. “Just 540”, they share. “Phew, that’s ok”, she thinks, knowing that she’s stood before 1,000 people at the Rotary District Conference. This shouldn’t be too hard at all.
Then they drop the bomb. The Minister for Transport is going to be there. And officials from 25 countries!
“Bring it on!” she laughs.
Caterina has a can-do attitude. I explain this colloquialism to her and she nods, agreeing and gives an example. When she met with Discovery Kartika Plaza to measure a couple of staff for uniforms, she had to contain her surprise when they announced that 50 were there ready to be fitted. And, as she says, “that’s when the magic happens”. She got home much like JJ and Mary did from Bali, buttons and bankruptcy, an earlier story. “It was very very funny when I got home. I just said, ‘Let’s do it.’ I never say no for anything.”
Every morning, Caterina looks herself in the mirror and says, “I’m succesful, I’m brilliant, I’m travelling, I’m making money.” This is the kind of stuff Jack Canfield teaches. I ask where she learned to do this, whether it was a conscious decision to make positive affirmations. “Yes, of course!” she smiles. Her ‘second mother’ taught her, someone who has taught Caterina much. But I suspect that her own personal attributes contribute much toward her ability to learn.
And her natural trust. She mentions trust several times, it’s very important to her. “Without trust, it will not happen.” She means that without belief, it cannot happen. Along with never saying no for any ‘good opportunity’. Not every opportunity. But trusting to know when to say yes, and just leap into the dark and do it. She understands the power of the mind. She’s been taught this and the results that come so rapidly have convinced her that it is true.
In just three years, she has gone from having no business, to being Master of Ceremonies of Apec and being one of just five Indonesian designers showcased during an important fashion show in Berlin organised by the CBI, the Economic Chamber of Commerce.
But it hasn’t been without noticing how peoples’ attitudes have changed as she now regularly appears in news articles. One organisation had given her a hard time about the style of her dresses, unable to accept that they were sexy. She shrugs. “I am a fashion designer. It is who I am.” However recently they contacted her, wanting her to associate with them once again. She knows this is simply because she is now well-known. “I went,” she says. “To say thank you!” Ah yes, with Caterina, if you push her, she will push back harder. It is something she uses to drive her to succeed, a positive tool. While their criticism hurts, instead of dwelling on it, it made her more determined.
I ask about her training and Caterina roars with laughter. “I’m a driver, a model, the accountant, a designer, sales, RP, a PA, I am all!” This is with no business, pattern or batik training, something at odds with a family history of policing.
Batik is simply something she loves. While working in Singapore, she pretended to be Malaysian. She was selling Indonesian batik and was asked why she didn’t sell her own country’s. It was almost as though she was working incognito, to glean the international opinion about Indonesian batik. It seems that by comparison, the respect for it outweighed many others and this is something that make Caterina very proud. She wants to keep batik alive, but to many, it appears old-fashioned, so she is blending the traditional with youth and vibrancy.
When she was a flight attendant, it amazed her how little other countries knew of Indonesia. “They know Bali, but think it is a country, not part of Indonesia. Or they think Indonesia is about a tsunami, or muslims. Indonesia is in actual fact very rich in culture.”
She grew up with batik, where it is used everyday in Yogyakarta. The different patterns have an appeal for Caterina, for its symbolism and its deeper meaning. One day, she wants to design her own but for now, she follows the market while she learns.
Caterina has blended her Indonesian name Hapsari with her Western name for a reason. She wants to embrace the freedom of Western culture, but not 100%. It is too open. And the history of Indonesia is something that is incredibly important to her, to never forget or lose touch with.
I ask how she feels about Bali today, about Westerners in Bali. It makes her sad when she sees them breaking the rules of her country, for example, by not wearing helmets. In Jakarta, she explains, people there respect the rules, you would never see someone without a helmet. Bali is in a transition, it is confused, she muses. It’s her hope that the culture of Bali can be retained, that balance can be restored to accept the good from Western culture, without losing history forever.
She gives another example, sambal, a side dish for rice or meat. The many variants are made from ingredients such as chilli, lemongrass, onion and spices. But the whole point of it is that it is hot.
“It’s not spicy anymore, like it is meant to be. They change it for the Western taste.” And Caterina feels that this is wrong, that you must follow the tradition you have and not compromise it for someone else. “Keep the tradition,” she declares.
Whether Indonesian or not, Caterina had a special upbringing that she is grateful for. Her parents always let her be herself. They are proud of her and this is important. She explains that she is who she is, she cannot hide it, even though at times under criticism, she has cried a lot. But behind her are her parents, who “let me be me”.
Criticism is tough, but so is Caterina. She launched not from her home town, but Bali. Being from Yogyakarta isn’t easy in this island town. Acceptance doesn’t come simply because you are Indonesian, but Bali was more famous and it made sense to start here.
There are three things that guide her and they roll off her tongue:
- Networking. That is important, and something she does well. When arriving in Bali she knew only three people. One was General Manager at the Jimbaran Puri Bali Hotel where she now ranges her collection. Support like this is invaluable and she is very grateful for this connection. Without a network, she is aware that she cannot do it by herself.
- Opportunity. To never say no. There is more to it than this. It is trusting that it is taking you in the direction you want, being open and learning. Networking creates opportunity, opportunity creates network.
- Attitude. Well, Caterina has bucket loads of positivity. She learns from herself, her own experiences and mistakes. And if she doesn’t have the knowledge she is not afraid to go and ask for it, to learn.
But there are other things she lives by. Be humble. Never say you’ve learned everything. “Indonesian women won’t ask”, she says. “They are too shy.” So she has had to have belief in herself to overcome this cultural taboo. “You won’t get success if you’re shy.”
She reflects on Indonesian women and there is no doubt she wants to be a role model for them. “They have potential,” she says. But, they need confidence.
Her vision is to promote Indonesia in a different way, young and sexy. Even though it has been difficult, often scary, with many tears, she pushes herself to keep trying. When she didn’t know how to measure, she went home and learned. “Teach me how to measure!” she laughs.
Just two years ago she started affirmations. “And look!” she says, “Everything happens so quickly! After you say it, your whole body wants to be moving!”
“I believe in it,” she says of affirmations. She knows they work.
But, with a determined look in her eye, she is firm. “I believe in myself.”
Caterina is an Indonesian woman who is holding true to her country’s values, blending a little bit of the west where it makes sense from a commercial perspective, and being an ambassador for this beautiful island and its country.
Her next step? Bangkok. Taking Indonesia to another country rich in its own heritage. I wonder if one day historians will look back on this period of awakening, of change, the blending of cultures, and hope that while each country opens up to new ideas, learning from each other, the best of each is retained.
With young talent like Caterina, Indonesia can be assured of retaining its roots, while growing into one of the most persuasive cultures on the planet. And I am very much going to enjoy watching Caterina’s journey.
This young, vibrant woman puts her country first, has a clearly defined self-purpose, and a confidence that other women can be inspired by.
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Text: Clare McAlaney & Photography: Trish McNeill
Headline image by Caterina Hapsari
Copyright 2013. No image or text may be reproduced without express permission of Bali Soul Journals. Please use the contact form below if you would like to use this article for commercial purposes. The full article will be available later in 2013 with interview transcripts and the photography of Trish McNeill.