Dinny Jusuf, CEO and Founder of Toraja Melo

An inspiring story of social entrepreneurship.  Whilst many of the leaders we feature focus on the increasing urban issues, it is worth remembering that in ASEAN alone there are more than a quarter of a billion people still living in rural areas.  It is great to see what Dinny Jusuf is doing…
What’s your story?
I am a mother, a wife and a dreamer.  I have two adult children and my husband hails from Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia.  I dream of a better life for marginalized people, especially the women weavers of Indonesia.  In 2008, I started working with weavers from Toraja.  In partnership with Nina, my fashion designer sister, we aim to rejuvenate the indigenous culture by taking hand-woven textile to daily contemporary life.
Our brand is Toraja Melo, which means Beautiful Toraja. We produce head-to-toe fashion line made of hand-woven textile.  We work with around 250 weavers in Toraja and will soon expand to West Sulawesi and East Flores.
What excites you most about your industry?
Young People!
We love it when we see young girls learn weaving again in the villages.  They say, they do it, because it is a meditative activity and it pays their school fee.
We love it when young people come to our office/shop saying: “I have studied in Art History. I want to learn about Indonesian crafts, especially weaving. Can I join you?”
We love it when we see young people buy our products.  Sometimes with tears in their eyes, saying:” We have been looking for something ethnic to wear, but modern in style. This is it! Thank you!”
What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia. I spent sometime in Australia.  I came back to Jakarta and in between enjoying my time as a mother and a wife, I have worked as a Corporate and Consumer Banker, Training Consultant, Social Worker, and as an Activist for Women’s Rights. I commute between peaceful Toraja and hectic Jakarta.  Toraja is where my husband was born and where our main home is.  Now as a Social Entrepreneur, I go to Jakarta to market our products.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Jakarta! Actually I have a love and hate relationship with Jakarta.  I hate the traffic jam and pollution, but I love its vibrant ambiance.  So much is happening.  Presently, I am so excited with a kind of renaissance in loving Indonesian heritage creations among the Jakarta people, especially the young generation.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
In 2008 when I saw nobody was buying and wearing Toraja textile, I wondered what I could do.  So, I bought a few pieces of and brought the textile to Jakarta.  I asked my friend Obin of Bin House, who is a famous batik maker, what I should do.  She said: ”Use the textile to create something”.  I have never looked back since.  Every year, we launch a new fashion line, which has 5 F’s components: fun-fashionable-functional-at fixed price-made of fiber.
Who inspires you?
Brave, hardworking, selfless and yet ordinary women! Women like the weavers in Toraja, who work in the field in the day-time and weave at night to pay for the children’s school fee. Women like the single parent weavers in East Flores, who defy their customary law to lead their life and feed their children. Urban poor women like our seamstresses, who travel a long way through traffic and rain to sew our dresses.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
We learn new things every day in doing the community organizing activities among the weavers (leadership training, textile design, etc.) and doing the business in the market.  The value chains in both areas are very long.  So many things can go wrong every day. We learn to have faith, that despite all challenges, in time everything is going to be OKAY.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Maybe to collect capital first from various parties (i.e. friends, family, etc.) then start working.  We have been using our saving to start and develop this business. We did not know, that it would cost so much. Hua ha! It’s too late to stop now.
How do you unwind?
Go home to Toraja with my husband and watch the clouds go by.
Have a drink with my sister Nina.
Read a book.
Spend a scuba diving holiday with my children.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Because there are mountains to hike, colorful ceremonies, friendly people to chat with, great local food and where my home is.
Everyone in business should read this book:
I always have these books by my bed.
“The Power of Unreasonable People-How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change The World” by John Elkington & Pamela Hartigan
“The Sufi Book of Life-99 Pathways of the Heart for the Modern Dervish” by Neil Douglas-Klotz
Shameless plug for your business:
Toraja Melo’s two pronged approach is community organizing, which includes providing access to education and micro finance for the weavers. This is combined with a social business in designing, producing and marketing high quality fashion line.
Dinny is the CEO in charge of Finance, Marketing and Public Relations;
while Nina is the COO in charge of Design, Production and Operations.
Dinny received the “Indonesian Women of Change” Award for The Trade and Investment category from the U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia on International Women’s Day in 2013.
In 2013, Toraja Melo received Best Creation Award from Bank Negara Indonesia for Nina’s design.  In 2014 Toraja Melo was recognized as one of “50 Leading Companies for Women in APEC”.
How can people connect with you?
Facebook/Youtube: Toraja Melo
Twitter: @TorajaMelo

This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:
Callum Laing has started, built, bought and sold half a dozen businesses in a range of industries across two continents. He is the owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 11 countries and he is also the CEO of Entrevo Asia, a company that runs 40 week Growth Accelerator programs.
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