Friday, June 12, 2009

A gift for all seasons

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , JAKARTA | Fri, 06/12/2009 1:36 PM | Lifestyle
Gift boxes from Attila Ethnique: (JP/Matheos V. Messakh)Gift boxes from Attila Ethnique (JP/Matheos V. Messakh)
Whatever direction the world economy goes and whatever the time of year, people will keep on getting married. And in Indonesia, wherever there is a bride and a groom, there is also a seserahan – or wedding gift package.

The tradition of the seserahan – a gift from the groom to his bride before the wedding – is practiced across the country, although with some regional variations. And like most once-in-a-lifetime experiences (well, for some it happens more than once, but not on too regular a basis), it is important to get it right.
The groom’s family and neighbors are traditionally the ones who put together the gift – a box or boxes containing clothes or other items. But the fact is not everyone has the necessary artistic touch or knowledge of how to best arrange the items in a wedding gift package to bring – and not everyone has the time to do it right.
Put all these factors together and this aspect of traditional culture translates to a healthy commercial prospect. The wedding gift business is flourishing, even though those who are willing and able – or with more time than money – can buy their boxes and baskets from Cikini market in Central Jakarta for few thousand rupiah and arrange their seserahan themselves.

Attila Sawir, a single mother in Pondok Labu, South Jakarta, started her wedding gift business in a rented room in Yogyakarta in 1987, when she was just a university student. She then moved her business to Jakarta one year after she got married in 1993.
Attila started out by selling artificial flowers and scented candles under the brand name Attila Collection. But by 2000, Attila’s business was concentrating on wedding-related gifts.

“I started to shift my business when a customer asked me to decorate some pre-wedding boxes for him, and obviously he liked the decoration,” Attila said. “Over time I found that the business was good, and at the moment providing and decorating pre-wedding boxes is my main business.”

Attila now has 13 employees dedicated to helping her create and decorate boxes. She has also involved some neighborhood youth organizations in helping her make wedding souvenirs.

Among Attila’s products are various kinds of boxes and baskets made from wood, cardboard, paper or woven materials. Prices range from Rp 35,000 to Rp 375,000. The most popular products are the boxes in the Rp 35,000–Rp 65,000 range.

“We provide boxes with the size fit to the size and shape of the gifts but the customers tend to prefer boxes made from cardboard and paper because they are quite cheap and can be reused,” said Attila, adding that wooden boxes are the least popular because they are expensive, heavy and take up more space.
“Cardboard boxes are lighter to carry and lighter for the customer’s pocket,” she said, laughing.
Attila said that, with about 30 to 40 customers a month, her business generally had a monthly income of up to Rp 50 million.
“Weddings know no season during the year,” said Attila, who has also opened a shop especially to sell wedding souvenirs.

The number of boxes requested also varies, depending on the relationship between the families of the bride and the groom or depending on their financial situation.

“The better they know each other and the surer they are about the prospect of the wedding, the greater the number of boxes they get. Perhaps they have no hesitation about giving something valuable,” said Attila, who has had orders ranging from only three boxes to up to 30 boxes.

Istje Souvenir: (JP/Matheos V. Messakh)Istje Souvenir (JP/Matheos V. Messakh)
The decoration of boxes can take a few days, but with her team, Attila can sometimes take urgent orders, as long as the order does not hold up the delivery of previous orders.

Another woman who has made a business out of the tradition is Siti Aisyah. An employee of an airport cargo company, Siti started her business as a side business in her home in Pasar Baru, Central Jakarta, soon after she got married in 2005.

Dissatisfied with the quality of the packaging of pre-wedding gifts, which she described as “usually incompatible with the wedding dresses and party’s spirit”, she designed her own wedding packages, which have become a leader among available wedding-related gifts.

Expanding on the notion of boxes designed for pre-wedding gifts, her cottage industry, operating under the name Istje Souvenir, now offers a service providing and decorating boxes for pre-wedding gifts, dowries, wedding rings and wedding souvenirs.

Istje Souvenir adds another twist, not only selling the decorated boxes but also renting them out. It costs Rp 125,000 to rent a plywood box and Rp 200,000 to buy one. Wooden boxes are Rp 175,000 and Rp. 250,000 to buy, and brocade boxes are Rp 225,000 to rent and Rp 300,000 to buy.

With her team of five workers – her husband, her mother and brothers – Siti can finish an order in two weeks. Urgent orders are accepted only if they do not affect waiting orders.
Siti Aisyah, owner of Istje Souvenir: (JP/Matheos V. Messakh)Siti Aisyah, owner of Istje Souvenir (JP/Matheos V. Messakh)
Siti, who is open on weekends and by appointment, said most customers choose either plywood boxes covered with a traditional mat made from pandanus thorns or plywood-Styrofoam boxes covered with brocade, with price being an important deciding factor. Wooden boxes are rarely requested because of the expense.
However, unlike Attila Collection, Istje Souvenir provides boxes for pre-wedding gifts in one size only – 45 x 35 centimeters.

“What people need is actually decoration and decoration needs space. That’s why we use big boxes – to allow us to show off the beauty of the gift,” she said.

Although she says that the diversity of the shapes and designs are the selling points of her products, Siti said she usually advises her customers not to expect too much from some materials; for example, some traditional woven fabrics or silk cannot be folded in certain shapes as that would harm the fabrics.

With between five and 10 customers a month, the average number of boxes ordered ranges from 12 to 17, which gives Siti a monthly income of up to Rp 12 million a month.

Unlike Attila, Istje Collection does have a peak season – June, July and after the fasting month – and a low season in February and March.

Yet another pre-wedding gift package designer, targeting middle and upper class families, is The House of Seserahan. Like the other businesses, The House of Seserahan began out of home, started up in January 2008 by retiree Sylvia Hasan and her husband in their house in Cempaka Putih, Central Jakarta.

The 59-year-old woman said the business started from her hobby helping relatives and friends decorate their boxes – a hobby she began when she was young.

“For decades we did it for free, but my daughter opened up our minds and persuaded us to do it for business,” she said.

Unlike the other vendors, The House of Seserahan targets only middle- and high-income families.
Therefore, they provide only wooden boxes, which are considered be less wasteful and are more durable than cardboard boxes.

“We chose this middle segment because we can easily move up or down,” she said. “We believe that there are always people who want something special for their special day.”

Where the other vendors cover the top of their boxes with transparent mica, Sylvia uses only acrylic for the cover. “Glass materials are heavy. Mica is light but easily scratched. The acrylic is quite expensive but lighter and stylish,” she said.
Thanks to the family’s interior design business, which they have run for years, they have all the necessary skills to design elegant luxury wooden boxes. With six workers and her husband as the box designer, they produce boxes in various sizes and styles, covered with suede, leather, paper and mica.

Sylvia is responsible for putting the final decorative touches on the boxes, with beautiful fresh, dried or artificial flowers and various ornaments.

“We have for the highest standard of box, but we also want the customer to get what they really want. Which is why we have a consultation first, which is never less than one hour long,” said Sylvia.
“People might buy an expensive product but that doesn’t always mean that they get what they want.”
Prices for boxes sold by The House of Seserahan range from Rp 200,000 to Rp 600,000 depending on size and materials. They are available for hire from Rp 125,000 to Rp 200,000.

The best-sellers are the boxes priced between Rp 350,000 and Rp 400,000. Boxes priced between Rp 150,000 and Rp 200,000 are most popular for rental.

“There is a balance in the number of the people who want to buy and the people who want to hire,” Sylvia said, adding that she has at least four customers a month, which gives her an average monthly income of up to Rp 30 million.

As Sylvia has taken her business online, she said she experiences no “wedding” season. “A bad month to hold a wedding for some people and cultures is a good month for others.”

The House of Seserahan
Jl. Cempaka Putih Timur IV/17
Jakarta 10510
Tel: (021) 424 6539

Istje Souvenir
Jl. Pasar Baru Selatan 20
Jakarta 10710
Tel: (021) 6890 0054

Attila Ethnique
Jl. Lebak Bulus III/21
Tel: (021) 7062 5250

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