Anne Avantie’s signature kebaya designs are growing in popularity as Asian fashion enters the global scene. Born to Chinese parents in Solo, Indonesia, Anne never had any formal training in fashion design, but always had an interest in the fashion world. Her love for fashion design started young, when she created and sold hair ornaments to her friends in elementary school. As she grew older, Avantie began doing costume design for her school events and other local events in Solo, and in 1989, she started her own company with only a rented house and two sewing machines. Her business soon boomed, however, with her specialization in her elaborately beaded costume wear and wedding gowns.
The kebaya is a traditional form of clothing worn through southeast Asian nations, including Indonesia, Burma, Singapore, Brunei, and Thailand. The word “kabaya” actually comes from the Arabic word abaya, and its design is influenced by Arab clothing, presumably from the Arab traders who had contact with people from these areas hundreds of years ago. Evidence of this style was first recorded as being worn in the Javanese Majapahit Kingdom, and combined the torso wrap known as the kemban with a more conservative blouse top that becoma popular with the adaptation of Islam. Other sites also note that this dress form as roots in ancient southern China as well.
Pre-1600, the kebaya was considered the dress of royalty, since most of the laypeople were bare-chested in their everyday wear. This dress form was first recorded in the West by the Portuguese, and photographic evidence can be seen of the kebaya as early as 1857.
The kebaya is also a form of clothing that has been used by Indonesian women’s rights activists throughout the nineteenth century and into the modern day as a form of female empowerment and anti-colonalist resistance. When Indonesia proclaimed its independence from Dutch rule on August 17, 1945, S.K. Trimurti, the only woman present with other key Indonesian freedom fighters, wore her kebaya, signifying that this was the female dress of Indonesian nationalism.
During the Second World War, Indonesian female prisoners of war in Japanese prison camps worse their kebaya instead of the Western clothing given to them in national and racial solidarity. Kebaya have also been worn by Indonesian first ladies such as the wife of Indonesia’s first president Sukarno. Former Indonesian first lady Tien Suharto was also a prominent advocate of the kebaya.
In turn, Anne Avantie is not only a fashion designer who puts a modern spin on traditional clothing, but she is also a prominent social activist as well. In 2002, Avantie built a halfway house called the House of Love Mother with the order of St. Elizabeth in Semarang that aid people with disabilities. Avantie also runs free entrepreneurship workshops and subsidized business programs to aid women and small businesses. In 2004, 2005, and 2008, First Lady Mrs. Ani Bambang Yudhoyono gave the award “Kartini Award” to Avantie for her contributions in developing small industries. In 2008, the Minister of Female Empowerment in Indonesia Meutia Hatta also recognized Avantie for her social achievements.