DENICA RIADINI-FLESCH WINS 2023 ROLEX AWARD FOR ENTERPRISE

When Denica Riadini-Flesch returned to Indonesia after years studying and working abroad, it was as a development economist with no interest in becoming an entrepreneur. Since then, she has founded SukkhaCitta, an ethical clothing brand and social enterprise that has had such a positive impact on the people of Indonesia, it has earnt her a place as one of the five Laureates of the 2023 Rolex Awards for Enterprise.

The idea for SukkhaCitta was born during her time as a development economist, when she travelled to some of Indonesia’s most rural communities. Having been raised in the city, she encountered some of the rural craftswomen that make up so much of Indonesia’s enormous clothing industry for the first time. She was struck by both the beauty of the garments and the financial situation of the women making them, of which fewer than two per cent earn living wage.

So she found a way to help them. SukkhaCitta is a social enterprise that implements a regenerative, farm-to-closet clothing supply chain dedicated to women’s empowerment, respect for nature and the preservation of local cultures. Its clothing is sold online or through a handful of shops, cutting out the middlemen that so often reap the rewards of the women’s labour. By connecting the rural craftswomen more directly with consumers, Riadini-Flesch is able to pay the women a fair living wage.

A group of Ibus, elder craftswomen, preparing for the next cotton crop by cleaning and planting seeds in East Java, Indonesia. Using indigenous knowledge, farmers working with SukkhaCitta are taught how to grow cotton while regenerating the soil. - 打开lightbox

However, these sartorial crafts are not the only ones Riadini-Flesch is interested in preserving. One of the women she met on her travels was Ibu Kasmini, a 65-year old farmer whose grandmother had passed down her cotton farming practices to her. Despite this long tradition in her family, Kasmini no longer grew cotton, instead choosing to plant corn as it was more lucrative.

Riadini-Flesch was struck by the decline of Indonesia’s cotton industry, which used to make up a large part of the economy. She returned to Ibu Kasmini with a proposal. She would pay her to grow the cotton for SukkhaCitta’s clothes, making it a truly “farm-to closet” brand.

In order to keep SukkhaCitta’s operations as “sustainable” as possible, Riadini-Flesch encouraged Kasmini to use regenerative farming techniques. Cotton is often called the dirtiest crop on the planet because of the amount of herbicides needed to grow it. They found the solution in the generational knowledge passed down from Kasmini’s grandmother and others like her.

Kasmini planted chilli next to cotton, so the pests were drawn to the chilli plants. She planted mung beans, helping the soil absorb nitrogen, and tall-growing corn to protect and shade the cotton. In all, she planted 20 different, but complementary crops. 

The results were extraordinary. Her cotton yield increased six times compared to previous efforts, and crops with different seasonal harvests ensured a year-round income. Here was living proof of the benefits of a regenerative approach. “When we take care of Mother Earth, we take care of ourselves,” says Ibu Kasmini.

Since its inception seven years ago with just three women, SukkhaCitta has grown to work with over 400 people, including farmers, dyers, artisans, weavers and seamstresses. 

The direct translation of SukkhaCitta is “happiness”, and it is safe to say that is just what the company has brought to the craftswomen. Women who work for SukkhaCitta have seen an average 60 per cent increase in their earnings, giving them a greater say in where household income is spent. This has benefitted not only their families, but often their whole villages. Riadini-Flesch says: “When you empower one woman, you don’t just help one person, you make sure that her children get access to schooling and the healthcare that they need. When you empower one woman, you make it possible for her to help her entire community.”

Riadini-Flesch has also set up four craft schools in Indonesia, with a fifth on the way. Rumah SukkhaCitta (House of Happiness) are Indonesia’s first textile craft schools, where women are trained in how to earn a living wage from their craft and how to set up and run their own businesses. In some villages, young mothers are taught the crafts involved, such as weaving, dyeing and farming by older, more experienced women, replicating the traditional craft lineage from mother to daughter.

Rolex Awards for Enterprise Laureate and founder of SukkhaCitta Denica Riadini-Flesch (right) holding cotton harvested on a farm near Central Java, Indonesia, by Ibu Tun and Ibu Dair, who she is standing with. The cotton will be used to make high-quality, traditionally crafted clothes, making SukkhaCitta a true farm-to-closet company. - 打开lightbox

SukkhaCitta has already built an extraordinary legacy. It has impacted the lives of an estimated 1,500 people and its traditional farming techniques have regenerated over 30 hectares of degraded land. The use of 100 per cent natural dyes, as opposed to the chemicals favoured by most clothing producers, has prevented over 3 million litres of toxic dyes from going into Indonesia’s rivers.

Yet Riadini-Flesch’s work is far from over. Being part of the Perpetual Planet Initiative through her Rolex Award will give her the chance to amplify the work of SukkhaCitta: “The amazing thing about Rolex is that they give you a mic. They let you speak about the things that you really believe in, to inspire others to do the same. It’s embedded in the Rolex DNA, to support pioneers.”

With this support from Rolex, she plans to triple the number of craft schools. By 2030, she aims to impact 10,000 lives and regenerate 1,000 hectares of land. She is also launching an app containing the digitized curriculum of SukkhaCitta, allowing the project to reach women even in Indonesia’s most remote communities, on different islands, and speaking different dialects.

Ibu Srikanthi supervises two younger women drawing batik patterns in one of SukkhaCitta’s craft schools, Rumah SukkhaCitta, East Java. - 打开lightbox

ABOUT THE PERPETUAL PLANET INITIATIVE

For nearly a century, Rolex has supported pioneering explorers pushing back the boundaries of human endeavour. The company has moved from championing exploration for the sake of discovery to protecting the planet, committing for the long term to support individuals and organizations using science to understand and devise solutions to today’s environmental challenges.

This engagement was reinforced with the launch of the Perpetual Planet Initiative in 2019, which includes the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, as well as long-standing partnerships such as Mission Blue and the National Geographic Society, or younger organizations such as Coral Gardeners, among a pool of over 30 partners.

As one of the pillars of the Perpetual Planet Initiative, the Rolex Awards continue to expand their portfolio, which includes projects from Grégoire Courtine’s groundbreaking technologies to treat spinal cord injury, to Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim’s work with indigenous people to map natural resources and prevent climate conflicts in the Sahel.

Rolex also supports organizations and initiatives fostering the next generations of explorers, scientists and conservationists through scholarships and grants, such as Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society and The Rolex Explorers Club Grants.

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DENICA RIADINI-FLESCH 2023 Rolex Awards Laureate

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