Scaling the heights of fashion

At Pari Radja’s flagship store, an international buyer is scanning leather items encased in glass. Her fingers dance past purses airbrushed in all the colors of the rainbow, maroon-white batik “cap” wares and wallets coated with tiger prints and jersey cow splotches, to settle on the company’s classic stingray skin billfolds.

“This all used to be considered trash,” says Pari Radja proprietor Mufthar Khoir, pointing at the pimpled and shimmering fish-skinned accessories. “Ten years ago, sting ray pelts sold for Rp 10,000 [85 US cents] a piece.” Now they fetch Rp 100,000. And Mufthar is getting commissioned by the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry to test out tanning tuna, tilapia and even pufferfish.

“Indonesia used to export lots of raw material,” says Maman Hermawan, the sub-head of the ministry’s non-consumable division, who is charged with managing a grab bag of industries including fish pellets, emulsions used for organic farming in Japan and ocean-derived crafts like sea shell curtains. “Now we are trying to encourage industries to do added value work.”

In 2012, Indonesia exported 2 million kilograms of fish skin worth $2.5 million, according to the Central Statistics Agency (BPS). To expand on the material available, the fisheries ministry has sent…

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