There are only a few textile experts in Indonesia, and Arif Gampang Utomo is the only one who has studied for 15 years specializing in waterproof, windproof and breathable fabrics and windbreakers. As the only certified expert in the field, Arif told Elsid Arendra that he aims to make his skill and expertise useful.
On the outskirts of Baros in Cimahi, West Java, Arif Gampang Utomo took GlobeAsia on a tour of the workshop he rents to local SMEs. Set on an area of 16,000 sq m in the Cimahi hills, one workshop is already in use, with three more under construction.
Gusts of wind and droplets of rain didn’t diminish his enthusiasm when he explained his vision and mission to make his Respiro brand a business operating in mutually beneficial cooperation with SMEs.Already a success in his own business, Aril says he wants to share the profits, not keep them all to himself.
His land also boasts three small shops that serve as an office. In the workshops and warehouses, piles of fabrics and other jacket materials such as zippers, velcro and reflective tape are arranged by the door to the sewing room. Lined up neatly, dozens of tailors produce jackets bearing the Respiro brand.
Arif, 41 and the father of two children, wants to empower SMEs in the region by working with him. “I bought this land, built a compound on it, equipped it with infrastructure and tools. I rent them all to a labor coordinator, then they sell their products to me. You can say I am not their employer, I am their partner,” said Arif.
Using the system a single labor supervisor – only a high school graduate – who oversees dozens of tailors can take home at least Rp5 million per month. That wage is many times the minimum regional wage in Cimahi district.
“Almost all workers in this workshop are locals. We provide them with tools and equipment, we train them to meet our standard and then we buy the result of their work,” Arif explained. “Indirectly, we teach them how to become an entrepreneur, because they do not receive a salary, the money they earn is based on the products they make. It’s a symbiotic mutualism that I want to develop. A business that is closely involved with the community.
“I do not aspire to have a large modern factory with thousands of workers, but maintain a distance with the surrounding people. I hope this business can be a blessing for SMEs and the surrounding communities. I also want to help SMEs with management and a better system, not traditionally managed SMEs, but SMEs with updated management that have evolved to keep up with the changing times.
“I plan to make this land a cluster for small and medium enterprises that empowers local communities. I don’t dream of becoming a big capitalist business, but I want my business to grow with systems such as cooperatives, lifting the living standards of people around the workshop.”
Arif has plenty to share. His Respiro brand now manufactures more than 100 items including jackets, gloves, caps, vests, bags and tank bags and accessories. In 2014, he established PT Synergy Mitra Utama as the holder of the brand and manufacturing company and PT Synergy Ventura Pratama to focus on the marketing and distribution of Respiro products.
Blessing in disguise
The graduate of the Surbaya Institute of Technology (ITS) previously worked at a company that produces a wide variety of protective textiles for military, mining and industrial purposes for sub-tropical countries. The company sent him to Europe to study the technology and development of waterproof, windproof and breathable materials.
He became a representative of the company and established good communication with Europe’s leading jacket manufacturers like Alpinestar, Dainese and The North Face. “From those relationships, I learned about the process of making a jacket. From research to production, I absorbed a lot of knowledge from the international brands on how to produce a jacket for special purposes.”
But he didn’t see eye-to-eye with his boss over how to run the business. Arif wanted to try Plan B, because Plan A wasn’t working. His boss insisted on sticking with the usual way of doing business.
With a “Waterproof, windproof and breathable fabric laboratory acreditation, high visibility clothing dan european standard for protective clothing” certificate from SATRA Technoloy in Manchester, UK, Arif’s decision to quit was a big loss to the company. He had become the the sole holder of the certificate in Indonesia. He had to pay a large sum of money to the company in compensation for the training it had paid for.
On the day he quit he went home much earlier than his normal 8 pm finish and didn’t know what he was going to tell his wife. He sat down in a café in Bandung and called some relatives, friends and some of the people he dealt with in the garment business. He told them he wouldn’t be representing his company any more.
Those calls brought some surprises. Arif received several employment offers at quite a high salary. After considering the options, he signed a contract with a Belgian company, Sioen Apparel, that produces several brands of protective clothing. The contract marked the high point in his career as a textile industry employee in terms of salary and facilities.
Even before he quit he had talked to some of his colleagues, many of whom were entrepreneurs. They encouraged him to start his own business rather than return to work as an employee. When he was hired by Sioen, Arif told his friends about the contract. The salary he thought was fantastic was nothing remarkable to them, he found.
“If you decide to become an entrepreneur, the amount of money they pay you as an employee you can get in two years, and still you have a business. You no longer work for other people. It would be better to become an entrepreneur,” his friends told him.
Arif had already committed to the new contract but he decided to talk to his new boss, Jacqueline Sioen, wife of Jean-Jacques Sioen, the founder of Sioen Industries, and explained that he wanted to run his own business and had decided not to work for her. He promised to complete the project he had been given at the new company and fulfill all his obligations before he left.
After asking whether he was just trying to negotiate a better deal, the CEO made him an offer. “I can accept and support you if you decide to be an entrepreneur. But if it turns out one day I see you working for another company, especially a competitor, I will not forgive you,” said Sioen, mother of Michéle Sioen, the president of the Federation of Belgian Enterprises (VBO).
Arif completed the task he’d been set in three months, without receiving a salary. When he rang up to say he’d be leaving, he was told he’d be receiving a check for a lot more than he’d expected. “I am happy with you Arif. You finished your job without asking any salary, and you completed your job with very satisfactory results. If you can keep this kind of work ethic, I believe you will be a successful businessman some day,” said Sioen.
Loaded with a sum of money, plus a Rp600 million loan from a partner, Arif set up his business. He recalled that if he hadn’t fought with his original boss, he’d still be working for a salary. “To be an entrepreneur, we have to leave our comfort zone,” he quips. “Sometimes we have too much fear of taking the step and usually the things we feared don’t happen.”
At the beginning of his career as an entrepreneur, Arif worked as a supplier for other producers. Raw materials and designs were determined by the buyer, and Arif just sewed the materials and handed over the results. But two years later, in 2010, he created his own brand, Respiro, aimed at the motorcycle rider.
“I wanted to produce a jacket that would be useful for the community, especially people who use motorcycles for daily transportation to go to work. The human body will still feel comfortable when using the jacket, which can handle a temperature range between 35 to 40 degrees Celsius.
“Sometimes riders turn up in the middle of the city wearing a mountain jacket. They sweat and are uncomfortable when they arrive at work. I felt compelled to make a product that is comfortable for daily use but still provides adequate protection.”
His close interaction with world-class jacket manufacturers and his own lengthy research into jacket design added zip to Arif’s business. He knew that materials, design and manufacturing could be adjusted to create specific characteristics: windproof, waterproof, breathable and many more.
He also had little competition, with businesses providing protective clothing for mining, industrial or military purposes imported from overseas. Even today, almost all the gear used by bike riders, with the exception of helmets, is imported, from low-end products to premium brands.
“For the jackets we made, we ordered a special material that we patented. The appearance may be the same, but the performance is clearly different. The use of coatings, knitting and sewing is different.
“The climate in Indonesia is unique. During the day it can be very hot and then suddenly in the afternoon the rain comes and temperatures drop drastically. This is an anomaly. A performance fabric can only tolerate a temperature difference of up to six degrees, above that the fabric isn’t able to cope. You need to be innovative, with special features like ventilation, cutting angle pieces and stitching.
At Respiro we are very concerned about research and development. We try to understand what most motorists want. Most motorcycles in Indonesia are small automatics with an upright seating position. So we designed a jacket that suits these riders.
“It would be funny for them to wear a hi-performance motor sport jacket. The riding position is different, the air flow is also different. We offer the most suitable jacket for your ride in the tropical climate. That is why we chose Respiro as our brand, from the word respire, or breathing.”