superchat jakarta: emmelyn gunawan

© escalier 

indonesia is a country on the move, and nowhere else has the frantic pace of progress and growth been so evident as in jakarta, its behemoth capital city. along with the steadily increasing wealth of a large part of its inhabitants, the city's retail infrastructure has gone leaps and bounds, as boldly manifested by dozens of glittering malls along congested six-lane highways that meander through an ever-expanding metropolitan jungle. but while the size of retail offerings in general - and foreign brands in particular - has dramatically expanded, a growing demographic of savvy jakartans has become saturated with the usual offerings they come across and are more and more looking for niche labels that cater to their discerning taste level. superfuture talks to emmelyn gunawan, the passionate co-owner of escalier, an innovative new player in jakarta's dynamic retail arena. a fashion graduate from melbourne's rmit, gunawan shares how she keeps all the balls in the air with a clear creative vision and a little backing from the renowned potato head hospitality group.

escalier is closely connected to the potato head hospitality chain. could you elaborate on this link, and how did you personally get involved in retail? when my brother jason gunawan and his business partner ronald akili decided to open the potato head beach club on bali they had always envisioned having a retail space on the premises, so it all happened quite naturally. they knew i had a fashion design background and i proposed myself to be included in running the retail outlet with two other partners. i was very lucky that they trusted me from the beginning to manage it and to do anything i wanted with it. i’ve always dreamed to have my own store where i could spill my ideas and I could travel to source and buy. the whole idea of curation is always an exciting adventure for me. i’ve been very blessed!

what made you decide to set up shop in the senayan area? jakarta is a whole different ball game compared to bali. on bali we get thousands of international travelers walking in and out of the store each day. but jakarta is a fast-growing mecca for business, lifestyle products, as well as top hospitality establishments on a par with leading global cities. we feel that our portfolio could expand and we could establish escalier as a solid retail business. especially regarding potato head's expansion, we feel it's also time to our business a notch up. we chose the south side of jakarta, which is the central business district, because of potato head garage. this venue was already established there, and they got offered that space. consequently, we then got offered to provide the retail side of it. our space in jakarta is half of bali's, but we feel it's somehow better for us as it shows a more curated store.

who designed the store and what's the concept behind it? the design of the jakarta store is the result of a mix of ideas by all the founders. we were given a space that had been abandoned for over ten years. it was in such dire condition, but we knew it had a great potential. so, we kept the flooring, which was basically used to play badminton flooring, featuring an army green hue with red paint all over it. my business partner resida was really into the marble look so we wanted to juxtapose that extreme elegance with the roughness that comes from the floor and also a side panel in the entrance which we kept and to which we added a clear glass. it does have that cold icy setting when you walk around, but for us i think the aesthetic mattered more.

© escalier

what is the profile of the escalier customer in jakarta? a lot of the brands that we carry are very niche and particular, so i would say it would be quite a segmented group. definitely those who appreciate the history and story of the product or brand, more so than someone who shops for the sake of looking for a jacket or t-shirt. in an overall business point of view, this is probably the hardest market to cater as we find even as buyers you've got to be on top of things in terms of looking at new brands and what you think will be the next big talent. as for our customers, we find that some are in the fashion industry themselves, or most probably in the creative industry.

which brands does escalier stock and what made you decide to pick them? we carry a good number of edgy women's designers, such as jacquemus, être cécile and simone rocha. all of them, if you read about the profiles, have very eccentric backgrounds and often they have a fun way of ridiculing themselves in social media. we like that they don't take themselves too seriously and yet they're successful in their industry. simone rocha has won a few awards and jacquemus has been picked up by very good retailers. we're one of the few retailers in the region to carry them, so the challenge itself to bring them here and introducing them to our customers is what makes us tick.

it's often super challenging, but as potato head expands its offerings internationally, also and with their expansions in hospitality, we feel we as a retail component need to pick up our game too. at the moment we have a few good japanese brands like cav empt, human made and soon also undercover. not many indonesians know about these brands, but again their branding and aesthetics are so strong in japan. they're all well-respected brands, and we like to introduce products that are not yet carried in indonesia, or even in southeast asia. 

jakarta’s retail scene has seen an accelerated boom this past decade. what’s your take on the city’s diversity and size of offerings, also in comparison with the more traditional shopping destinations in the region such as singapore, bangkok and hong kong? there definitely has been a new insurgence of new promising talents in the last five years or so, and especially from young adults who spent many years studying abroad and then came back to their hometown in indonesia, or specifically jakarta, creating and producing amazing products. i think many of us who were educated abroad during the suharto era definitely took something positive back home with us and used that knowledge for a better purpose for our country.

as a retail store owner i am very supportive of young talents that cross our paths, finding the ones that infuse the heritage and finding ways to make it modern and fresh are always things that appeal to me. in comparison with the other cities in southeast asia, i do feel we here in jakarta are still lacking in terms of the variety of premium international brands. however, if you compare those three cities, only bangkok seems to have a strong community of local talent creating unique apparel or jewellery that show strong influences from local heritage. i find shopping in singapore and hong kong pretty stale, coming across just rows and rows of branded products.  

along with indonesia’s economic rise many local fashion brands have popped up producing well-made products that have started to gain attention abroad. as a retailer who predominantly stocks foreign brands, how do you view their creative output and growing fashion relevance? when we started, we promised that we would support our local talents. a lot of them are our friends in the industry and word spread quickly that we were opening a store, so many were carried at escalier. however, after a few seasons we find that many designers stopped or took extended breaks from their careers for personal or other reasons and so we were left with hardly any local brands. from then on we decided we need to look elsewhere and so we began distributing international brands from overseas. at the same time, we find that there is a demand for some of the international brands we carry so we continued. i feel longevity and originality are vital components when a designer decides to create a product or brand, what separates your product from the masses or other brands out there, and to keep at it until it succeeds no matter what.

© escalier

surprisingly, the indonesian hipster seems to exclusively reside in the capital jakarta. large cities such as surabaya, bandung and medan are lagging far behind, each boasting rather underwhelming retail scenes. what’s your view on this? jakarta is a like a melting pot of international people from all over the world, they come here to find work or invest in the economy. of course being the capital city where its finance sector is strongest compare to the smaller cities also helps because you get influenced by the sizeable expat community residing here and the many travelers. work relationships formed and from there you share ideas and become inspired. it seems like the jakartans are like sponges, we just absorb and are eager for new opportunities, and because of our strong financial back-up we seem to get things done faster which i guess creates bigger impact.

e-commerce seems to be something few stores in indonesia embrace. why is that? i believe it all boils down to how far do you want to take your business to. do you want it to succeed locally or do you want it to be globally successful too? many are quite content with how their businesses are going. after all, the economy is pretty stable and the middle class segment is supportive, plus many indonesians are still quite precarious to using the e-commerce systems. however, a considerable number of people are slowly but steadily embracing e-commerce locally and internationally, and it’s really up to the businesses to take the risk to invest in this. many local wesites like have really taken a huge risk doing e-commerce but they are growing into a huge mecca platform supporting local talents and educating Indonesians that e-commerce is pretty user-friendly.

what’s coming up for escalier in the near future, are their any plans you can reveal? we are going back to how we started again, looking for local talents who are passionate and creating beautiful products made in indonesia. retail is a very competitive world, we believe that going back to our core and how we started is very important to keep ourselves grounded and sane, so there will definitely be more unique offerings from indonesia. at the same time we are launching our online store by the end of the year. it’s about time we expand our customer demographics and present escalier globally. you can also find escalier’s line of basic tees in store which just launched this month. 

what’s fun in jakarta these days, where do you like to hang out? you can always find me either at potato head brasserie on a friday night with a couple of virgin mojitos or at the recently opened three buns over the weekends with my family and friends. there's nothing like a good burger to wrap up a hectic week!

© escalier