DCWBC ShopHER Profile: Batax Bule

Hello! Today, we spoke with Metrini Geopani Weaver, owner of Batax Bule. Batax Bule is a globally inspired and ethically sourced fashion, jewelry and home textile design studio based in Washington, DC, and one of the women-owned, small retail businesses located at ShopHER.

Thank you for joining us, Metrini! First, can you share why you decided to take part in ShopHER and how it has helped your business?

I decided to take part in ShopHER because it’s close to my house and I believe it’s good to support the local community, including businesses in Union Station. A couple of years ago on the way back from my office I envisioned being part of the retail community at Union Station, so it’s a dream come true! This has been my first time showcasing my products in person and meeting with customers face to face and so it’s a good opportunity, especially after COVID. 

Tell us about Batax Bule. How did your business originate and from where do you get inspiration?

The idea began when I went to Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia. It began in 2014 with a mood board and then I learnt about pattern making, sewing, draping, and tailoring. Then I learnt about the business side and how to be an independent designer selling products. It’s all part of understanding the fashion industry, which is a really cutthroat business. I have to make strategic choices for combining a product from Indonesia, where I’m from, with a style that speaks to the market here in the US. Indonesia is a majority Muslim country and more conservative in terms of how women dress, but my collections allow women to express who they really are. I’m from a tropical place so the colors are bright! I started with home décor before making clothes, and then I began to support artisans by distributing their products under my company name.

My own tribe, which is in Sumatra, has an ethnic fabric called ulos. Ulos is used during harvest, when babies are born, and at weddings and funerals. It’s symbolic and meaningful to me, especially living here in the US, because I like to connect with my roots. I tell the story of a product so that customers understand the unique processes and skills that were needed to make it. My products have a human story that’s shaped by culture, and I hope people share that with their family and friends!

How do you select artisan partners to work with?

I met some at sewing or tailoring classes and others on Philadelphia’s famous fabric row. We shared stories and then I met with a group who organized an education co-operative and helped me get featured in a quilt show. From there I met others working on a sewing project with refugees and they introduced me to more people.

I moved to DC in 2016 and got a sense of the market before doing a couple of shows at New York fashion week. I look for good quality, wearable and affordable products made from different materials such as denim, silk or satin, and then I combine them with original fabrics from Indonesia like batik or handwoven ikat. My products are for everyone who wants to stand out and be remembered at happy hours, business meetings and networking events, for example. 

How are your clothes made?

I design the clothing using the colors and styles that inspire me during my travels. Last time I went to Indonesia I visited Komodo island, which has its own organic ikat fabric, and I challenged myself to create a new collection of clothes for people who live in countries with four seasons. I decided that I wanted to combine the ikat with velvet so it’s a mixed fabric. I found a group of ladies who did every step of the process by hand in an old church from the Portuguese colonial era. They sell their fabric to pay for home repairs like a new roof, or for their children’s tuition. I consult with a textile expert to make sure that the construction of the fabric is good.

Next, I go to a teacher in couture from Paris, and I drape the fabric on the mannequin and then try it on myself. Then together we create the patterns, test it out in muslin, and create the different sizes. After the prototype stages I send the patterns to my seamstress, who is very good, and knows how to tweak things to adjust for the thickness and weight of the fabric.

I want people to wear my clothes and look beautiful without being worried about whether it will suit their body type. Beautiful clothes aren’t only for models or skinny people – it’s not supposed to be like that. Everybody has the right to look beautiful. 

Can you explain what Batax Bule (the name of your shop) means?

Batak is spelt with a ‘k’, but my shop is called Batax with an ‘x’ because I wanted it to sound more futuristic! Batak is the name of my own tribe of Sumatra; we’re ancient, like Native Americans. We’re a group of people that live around the volcanic Lake Toba, which is one of the deepest lakes in the world and the biggest lake in South Asia. We are surrounded by the mountains and historically have rarely left the lake so that’s how our culture and language developed the way it has. I carry on the Batak name in my business so I can remember my own roots and ancestors because I’m away from my own people.

The second part, Bule, is our name for foreigners across the country. I’m Batak and I married an American so when you put that together, it’s Batax Bule! 

What has been the most challenging aspect of growing your business?

Being an immigrant has meant I had to start my business with zero network. I don’t have alumni here, I didn’t go to primary school here, I don’t have a church congregation, and so I needed to connect with other people and it’s not always smooth. It’s been a roller coaster here and there but that’s part of the challenge.

The second thing is that here in the US people don’t know much about Indonesia, even though it’s another hub of the planet, and so it’s hard to make people relate to what I’m doing. It’s different when we talk about Thailand because there’s Chrissy Teigen, for instance, and people are more familiar with the Philippines and Japan. But Indonesia is such a beautiful place with wonderful people and culture!

Deb Almond, owner of Candid Almond, one of the ShopHER vendors.

Photo courtesy of Metrini Geopani Weaver.

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