Merdi Sihombing's Ulos Sitolu Huta Collection Brings Batak Heritage to the Global Stage at Toronto's Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival 2024


Fashion designer Merdi Sihombing, supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology of the Republic of Indonesia - Directorate of Culture, and the Center for Innovation and Creativity at Gadjah Mada University, proudly presented the Batak heritage at the Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival 2024 in Toronto, Canada, on June 2, 2024. Held at the iconic CF Toronto Eaton Centre, this event honored Indigenous artists and designers from around the world.

In the heart of Samosir Island, where the ancient traditions of the Batak people merge with the breathtaking beauty of Lake Toba, an extraordinary fashion collection has emerged – Ulos Sitolu Huta. Inspired by the rich cultural heritage of Sitolu Huta village, designer Merdi Sihombing skillfully weaves centuries-old motifs and techniques with contemporary silhouettes, creating a vibrant show that speaks of both the past and the present. The Ulos Sitolu Huta collection pays homage to the intricate art of ulos, a traditional handwoven textile with deep cultural significance in Batak culture. Each piece tells a story of ancestral wisdom, community bonds, and spiritual blessings, passed down through generations.

Merdi’s designs showcase a variety of patterns and symbolism found in ulos, from geometric shapes representing natural elements to stylized figures depicting legendary heroes. Natural dyes derived from local plants and minerals provide an earthy color palette, evoking the vivid hues of the landscape.

Deep indigo, rich reds, and warm browns blend seamlessly with intricate weaves, creating a harmonious visual symphony. The use of sustainable materials and ethical production practices further strengthens the collection's connection to nature and community.

"As the Ulos Sitolu Huta collection graces runways around the world, it carries the spirit of Samosir Island, reminding us of the beauty and resilience found in embracing our roots. It is a testament to the transformative power of fashion, not only to adorn the body but also to uplift the soul and connect us with our shared human heritage," said Merdi Sihombing. "I believe that fashion is a powerful medium for cultural expression and storytelling. Through my work, I strive to preserve and celebrate the beauty of our heritage while pushing the boundaries of creativity."

The collection features intricate handwoven fabrics, vibrant natural dyes, and symbolic motifs reflecting the Batak people's deep connection to nature and spirituality. Merdi's designs seamlessly blend traditional and contemporary elements, creating a unique and captivating aesthetic.

Hilmar Farid, Director General of Culture, Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology of the Republic of Indonesia, stated, "Traditional culture and natural materials are Merdi's hallmarks, underscoring his commitment to cultural preservation and the empowerment of local artisans. Merdi's dedication to sustainable fashion aligns with Indonesia's efforts in environmental preservation and cultural diplomacy, proving that lifestyle and social responsibility can go hand in hand. Merdi's success at the Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival Toronto 2024 is a testament to the power of Indonesian fashion in celebrating culture, empowering communities, and advocating for sustainability."

Myra Suraryo, Acting CEO of the Center for Innovation & Creativity at Gadjah Mada University Indonesia, added, "Ulos Sitolu Huta is more than just clothing; it is a cultural statement, a celebration of identity, and a bridge between tradition and modernity. The collection allows its wearers to embrace Batak heritage while simultaneously expressing their personalities. From trousers adorned with bold ulos motifs to tailored jackets with delicate woven accents, each garment is a testament to the enduring power of craftsmanship and cultural pride. Merdi's participation in the Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival Toronto 2024 not only elevates Indonesian fashion on the global stage but also demonstrates Indonesia's commitment to nurturing and empowering cultural wealth and local talent."

"We are honored by Merdi's participation in the IFA. When Merdi took to the runway after his show, I was filled with joy and pride," said Sage Paul, Executive & Creative Director, Indigenous Fashion Arts.

Beyond the runway, Merdi's engagement with Indigenous communities in Indonesia highlights his commitment to social empowerment. By collaborating with local artisans and incorporating their traditional knowledge into his designs, he fosters economic opportunities and cultural preservation. This approach aligns closely with the festival's ethos of celebrating Indigenous creativity and community empowerment.

Learn more about Merdi's work

Documentation of Merdi's show at the Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival Toronto 2024: here

Profile: Indigenous Fashion Arts

Coverage: Elle Canada

Instagram: @merdisihombingofficial


About Merdi Sihombing

Merdi Sihombing is a graduate of Fashion Science and Design with a passion for reinterpreting traditional textiles and natural dyes in contemporary fashion. Inspired by his Batak culture, he explores traditional craftsmanship in modern design. His work celebrates the rich cultural heritage of the Batak people while embracing innovation and pushing the boundaries of creativity. His journey includes fashion studies at Bunka and ESMOD, textile crafts at the Jakarta Institute of the Arts, and ongoing collaborations with Indigenous communities across Indonesia. He is based in Jakarta, Indonesia, but his heart also resides in Samosir Island, North Sumatra, Indonesia, his hometown, where he runs a Ulos weaving center with his wife and three daughters.

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