Did you know that Bali has catapulted itself into number 15 on the global list of fashion capitals? According to Global Language Monitor, a media-analytics company, Bali has risen from number 40 in 2015 based on their analysis of millions of web pages, blogs, a global print and electronic media, as well as social media sources.
Bali clearly then is no pushover when compared to other Asian capitals such as Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo. So with a thriving fashion scene in evidence, how did this small tropical island, perhaps better known for its beach, surf and culture, emerge as a global fashion capital?
To start with, the arrival of mass tourism in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, accelerated the pace of development on the island. As millions of tourists, expecting modern comforts with a touch of Bali, descended on the island, the notion of Bali-style soon became an international buzzword. Particularly in architecture, where modern architectural concepts fused with the designs that already existed on the island.
In much the same way, this set the stage for a fusion that led to the foundation of a nascent Bali fashion scene. However, a fashion capital needs much more than just that to be a global hotspot. Balinese craftsmen played a key part. The rich heritage of Bali’s stone, wood, metals, leather and fabric craftsmen soon made their presence felt. With a new outlet for their work, they were quick to adopt and adapt many of the new styles while staying true to their own time-honoured traditions. In fact, many of these traditions were eagerly adopted by fashion designers into their own designs and became their key USP. John Hardy and others, for example, became recognized global brands by working closely with local artisans to create recognized fashion brands.
Bali has also been able to attract creative designers from all over the world; Europe, Australia, Russia, Asia and the U.S. This entrepreneurial dynamism with designers co-mingling, inspiring each other and bringing influences from their home countries, provides the creative impulse necessary for a hotspot to thrive. Most tellingly has been their respect for and adoption of local creative talent to create, what is possibly the most unique feature of Bali based fashion industry, not found anywhere else in the world… and what is this?
In today’s parlance we would probably call this ‘Slow Fashion’; a dedication to the integrity of production which considers the material and social aspects of design. This rich artistic and productive eco-system is unique in the world and only found in Bali.
Therefore, if we had to summarise what makes Bali Fashion so unique and has propelled it into the global ranks of fashion capitals; it is this unique eco-system that has its roots in Balinese culture, heritage and craftsmanship fused with international concepts of style, quality and design.
Not existing in a vacuum, this unique microcosm was further strengthened by global economic forces. The 1990s saw numerous factories established in Bali trying to serve the mass-market. They were, unfortunately, unable to compete with the cheaper manufacturing and volumes available in China. As a consequence, many closed, whilst others shifted to servicing smaller boutique labels. This shift further entrenched Bali’s unique creative microcosm as the focus on higher quality production, lower volumes, detailing and complex styling accelerated.
Besides attracting international designers, the eco-system includes all the other players needed in a fashion capital- the photographers, stylists, models and of course more recently, the influencers, bloggers and digital platforms.
The eclectic internationalism of the local fashion scene would be nowhere without the bountiful inspiration one finds on the island. One is easily immersed in a rich and vibrant culture, world-class beaches and lush tropical landscapes. Not to forget the bountiful shopping opportunities and boutiques that dot the neighbourhoods of Seminyak, Legian, Canggu among others. Much more than a bohemian beach style, the Bali fashion scene ranges from world-class handmade jewellery, high-quality swimwear, leather goods to chic resort wear. The uniqueness of this creative fashion microcosm is what propelled Bali, and deservedly so, to the top of the world’s top fashion capitals.