My Jakarta: Sugianto, Leather Repairer
Happy 485th birthday, Jakarta. May you have less traffic, less heat and many more interesting residents for this column to grow along with you.To celebrate this event, My Jakarta today features an establishment nearly a quarter as old as the Big Durian itself.
Have you ever heard of Laba-Laba leather repair shop? The business of a leather repair shop may not sound grand, but this brand is nonetheless legendary. It started in 1898 during the Dutch occupation and is now in the hands of Sugianto, the fourth generation in the business, who immediately knows what to do with your damaged leather items just by looking at them.
The 58-year-old left his architecture studies at Tarumanagara University and, along with his wife, devotes his time to the family business.
With more than 100 years in Jakarta, what kind of items have been repaired at your shop?
Various kinds of shoes, handbags, luggage, belts and even eyeglass cases.We even take requests from handbag resellers in Mangga Dua.
Some items imported from China have minor damage, so they are often brought here first for repairs before they are put on the shelves.
We also have partnerships with several airlines for repairs to customers’ luggage if it gets damaged in flight.
What about premium brands worth millions of rupiahs?
We have customers bring in items of many premium brands, like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Bally, Bottega Veneta, Cartier, you name it. We once enlarged a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes that cost Rp 18 million [$1,900].
The premium boutiques cannot repair a lot of items. Most of the time, it takes about three months to fix a handbag because they have to send it to their workshop in Singapore. Laba-Laba can repair them, and in less time.
Do you repair more genuine or fake items? How can you tell if something is genuine?
Before the recession in 1998, most leather items brought to Laba-Laba were genuine. But, nowadays we receive more of their Chinese twins [smiles].
If you work with leather everyday for decades, it becomes easy to tell. You just know it through the small visual details that are too complicated to describe.
Some customers even argue when I tell them that their stuff is fake [laughs]. It’s hard on your ego and your pocketbook to know that the exclusive and expensive apparel you bought turns out to be fake.
Laba-Laba has several branches in Jakarta. How do you maintaina consistent quality?
Each Laba-Laba shop is managed independently by my siblings and relatives, so they’re not really branches.
We all use the same leather pieces from Italy, France, Germany and high-quality leather from Yogyakarta. Our standards for quality are the same. The tricks were passed down, so Laba-Laba has the same quality wherever you go.
But make sure you’re using Laba-Laba; our competitors use similar names. We are only in Pasar Baru, Cikini, Panglima Polim, Depok and Arteri Pondok Indah.
How did the skills to run Laba-Laba get passed down through the generations?
When I was little, I helped my parents run the shop. I saw the repairing process and I cut the patterned leather. I also learned how to talk with customers, how to negotiate prices and so on. We don’t have a fixed rate in Laba-Laba, the fee is always based on a case-by-case deal.
You’re the fourth generation;how is the fifth doing?
My children have more interest in opening a car showroom. I really wish at least one of my three children would continue this family legacy. Right now there is only one helping me in the shop, just like me in the old days. I hope he stays.
Why is it named Laba-Laba (spider)?
Spiders patiently weave their webs from one point to another, whether in sunshine or a downpour. The strength and durability of their webs have been scientifically proven to be stronger than steel. We want to work as diligently and patiently as spiders, producing strongand durable results.
The store has survived for over 100 years but only has a handful of outlets — why?
If it was so profitable we would’ve had hundreds of outlets by now [laughs].
We once advertised in a national newspaper, but word of mouth is more effective. By maintaining quality, loyal customers will keep coming for generations, and bring new customers.
We do not focus on chasing big revenue. We collect small profits patiently. As long as we are able to fulfill our daily needs, it’s enough for us.
Sugianto was talking to Isabella Apriyana. The stores’ website is at www.labalaba.co.id.