Meet Merdi Sihombing from Indonesia

by Patti DeSante

Photography by Harry Leonard Imagery


”We are strong people. I am from the Bataktoba Tribe."

Meeting Merdi reminds me of meeting my African sisters and brothers. The village which people come from is almost always communicated within the first sentence. How could knowing our roots and the land that grew us affect our relationship to fashion more directly?

The Bataktoba inhabit the highlands. Through their ancestry, the tribe prides itself on being, "Honest people."

Merdi: "Whatever is in your mind, you say it. So everything we do must be honest. We do not copy from others. Our ancestors tell you that you should be number one, original copy. You must preserve culture."

Merdi is a pioneer of eco-fashion in Indonesia. It is by nature a culture of slow fashion. It is easy to find their traditional roots through dress. Women and men still continue to dress in traditional ways today.


Accessories are very important. I remember when I was in the dressing room at Eco Fashion Week Australia how the hats, the belts, the jewellery, the handbags and the shoes were all meticulously organised on a table, ready when needed. It was truly impressive and rarely matched by any other designer I have witnessed backstage.

He opens one of my books and sees the title of a section, “The moon in your heart.” He responds favorably and says it speaks to the honesty that must be present in fashion. The collection he brought to showcase at EFWA 2017 is defined by its honesty and warriorship.

Merdi also graced the audience with his incredible vocals. In that moment we fully grasped the extent and diversity of this remarkable man’s talents and so many of the eco-fashion designers that had arrived to this inaugural stage.


Merdi is a professional musician.

“Singing always grounds me. I also look to the environment if I am experiencing any difficulty to ground me in the moment.”

“For EFWA I am bringing a new collection that has an 80’s fashion style and will introduce Indonesia’s wealth, especially from my ancestral lands. I have redesigned and incorporated the weaving of the Indigenous people who live and inhabit the highlands around the Lake Toba. There is also a SIRAT (twining end) that is always used as a decorative edge of the fabric that I show as a destil and belt. Some of my Batik collection will feature sacred geometry motifs created using dyes from agricultural waste and factory furniture waste (wood shavings) on woven cotton fabrics."

My palette includes the colours of the earth such as light brown, coffee, rice, maroon and black. There will also be materials using metallic yarn in silver and gold. You’ll see hand embroidered abstract and floral flowers motifs as well as some machine embroidery. Accessories include bags made from wild orchid fibres in Woven ( ULAP DOYO ) with unique hand embroidered created by the Dayak Benuaq tribe women, leather shoes and silver jewelry made in the city of Jogjakarta.” - Excerpt from Marilyn Wilson’s EFWA interview

The more I interview eco-fashion designers, the one trait they all mention more than other designers I have met and interviewed is the importance of discipline as a core of creating a dignified collection.


Discipline is not based on feeling guilty, or trying to avoid painful situations and cultivate pleasurable ones. It is a natural process that binds together body, speech and mind. When your mind is together, your body and speech will also be together. Your entire state of being will be in harmony, which makes a wholesome human being.” -The individual Path of Liberation, Chogyum Trungpa.

Merdi: Discipline comes from your parents. I work with a community of artists. Discipline is the absolute ground from which everyone works. Promises are important. Being on time is important. I have worked within the same community for 15 years. I teach them how to make a good garment and try to change the mindset of people. Before you begin sewing you talk about the character traits that they must possess in order for them to work for you. The most important mindset is humility and that we work together with a sense of, 'We can do it.' It's important to enjoy your work from start, middle to end..everything. I enjoy the process of making the collection. After I finish the collection, I can feel my ego. A sense of pride. It’s ok to feel good about yourself and then you must share the joy.

Merdi considers himself a patient person, but admits that when people don’t do things right he can get angry. He smiles. His response though is upfront and yes, honest!

Like many at the show, Merdi’s designs became a favorite to us all. The craftsmanship, the commitment to others, the commitment to truth and his generosity were a stand out.

Discipline I witness, transformed into the aesthetic of design... produces harmony on an individual and collective basis. It brings JOY! The audience response is radiant AWE!