>Purser and His Love for Indonesia

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The Jakarta Post Feature
Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2005

Bambang M, Contributor, Yogyakarta

The fact that Australian Warwick Purser loves Indonesia is not in doubt.

To help Indonesia recover its reputation, which has, in a way, been tarnished
by bombings in Jakarta and Bali, Purser, who has successfully introduced Indonesian handicrafts to the international market, launched a book titled Made in Indonesia: A Tribute to the Country’s Craftspeople on Sept. 28, an occasion that was also intended to mark his 61st birthday.

“The book can serve as Indonesia’s envoy. In spite of a number of unfavorable occurrences in Indonesia, the country still has a lot of good things to offer,” said Purser, when he was met in his house in Tembi village, Bantul, Yogyakarta.

In the book, illustrated with pictures taken by photographer Rio Helmi, Purser talks about Indonesian handicrafts and the sales that could be achieved with serious promotion.

The country’s artisans are very skilled with their hands and produce a variety of articles from the raw materials available to them. Often it is only innovation that is lacking.

Combined with resin, leather, glass or iron, traditional handicrafts can take
on a contemporary feel. Purser’s team of designers, for instance, combined teak leaves with resin to make fruit bowls for export to Italy.

His first trip to Bali was in 1968 was with his wife Lisa on their honeymoon. Following this first visit, he decided to settle in Bali, where he set up Pacto Tour.

For a time he left Bali, residing in Thailand but then, in 1993, Purser — whom the UN Development Program once hired as a tourism consultant – returned to Bali for good. In 1996 he set up handicrafts export company Bali PT Out of Asia.

However, as he wanted to live in a peaceful environment where artisans were not hard to come by, Purser moved to Tembi in 1998. In this village, he rented traditional Javanese houses, which he renovated for use as both his home and office.

When Purser came to settle in Tembi, it was quite a deserted place as most of its residents worked in towns. Since then it has become quite a busy village.

“Today, about 90 percent of some 400 families in Tembi are involved in the handicraft business,” said Rismilliana Wijayanto, a PT Out of Asia employee.

Tembi is now a tourist village and a model of a successful rural community development program. In view of the success of the village, the government has asked Purser to help develop the rural economy in 20 villages across Indonesia, including some in Aceh and Pacitan, East Java.

Along with the progress in Tembi, Purser’s business is also growing by leaps and bounds, thanks to his hard work and knowledge of international market trends. Purser, who is also a talented designer, has introduced a variety of handicrafts from Indonesia such as candle holders, furniture, placemats and lampshades to the international market.

His business turnover stands at some US$5 million a year. His business involves about 10,000 craftsmen from Tasikmalaya, West Java province, to Lombok island, West Nusa Tenggara.

It is really something to learn that the handicrafts, which Purser prefers to call art works and are fully made in Indonesia, can be found in world-famous shops such as Harrod’s, Habitat, the Conran Shop, The Body Shop and Marks and Spencer.

Although all these art works are produced by PT Out of Asia, none of them carries the label of Warwick Purser. Instead they are labeled “Made in Indonesia”. Indeed, Purser hopes that this label will encourage his buyers to find out more about Indonesia or even visit the country.

After successfully exporting handicrafts, Purser has now turned his attention to marketing them at home.

He said Indonesians were easily impressed by products made overseas but by buying locally made products, more jobs would be created.

Purser’s undertaking to market Indonesian handicrafts here was not immediately rewarded. People in the upper-income bracket have been the most loyal customers. His Warwick Purser Lifestyle outlets can now be found in several shopping malls in Jakarta and Bali.

Among those who like Purser’s designs are Coordinating Minister for the Economy Aburizal Bakrie and his wife, who have reportedly asked Purser to furnish their official residence.

Purser has a strong belief in the importance of quality craftsmanship. That is why he published his book. “I believe the book will showcase to the Indonesian people quality handicrafts that are made by Indonesians,” said Purser, now one of Southeast Asia’s largest exporters.

Despite his success, Purser, who jogs around rice fields in Tembi every morning, is a modest man. Rather than taking the credit for creating jobs for villagers, he expresses his gratitude for the creativity they have inspired in him.

His book is dedicated to Indonesian artisans for the fine works they have produced. Besides which, Purser, who is now undergoing a process of naturalization to become an Indonesian citizen, is also dedicating this book to “the fascinating culture of the country I am pleased and proud to call my home — Indonesia.”

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