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Robby's story: fashion dreams in Indonesia

Robby Darwis dreams of building a mini fashion empire in the northern Indonesian province of Aceh. His colourful boutique in Keude Teunom market on the west coast of Sumatra is crammed with neat racks of jeans and T-shirts. Traditional sparkly tops jostle for space with trainers, children’s outfits and football strips festoon the entrance.

The Teunom area of Aceh Jaya district was one of the coastal regions worst hit by the tsunami in 2004, which killed 17 per cent of the district’s population of 99,000 and displaced 40 per cent. After three and a half years, most survivors live in new homes constructed by aid agencies, and many have regained their livelihoods.

“I worked as a driver for the British Red Cross for about two years. After that, I opened a small business using my savings from the Red Cross work,” explains Robby proudly, sandwiched between two male dummies on the counter. “Later, I didn’t have enough stock in my shop.”

Raising money

Man smiling in clothes shop© InfoRobby had a smart idea to raise more money. He’d received a new house from the British Red Cross after the tsunami swept away his family’s home and killed his father. He decided to take out a loan of Rp. 10 million (around £550) with Bank Pembangunan Daerah backed by the legal certificate for his property in the Tanoh Mayang relocation village.

“I used the loan to buy all these clothes, and I called the shop ‘Reyans Collection’. I named it after my son who is one year seven months old,” says Robby, his eyes shining with ambition. “The sooner I can pay back the loan, the better, because then I can get another loan of Rp. 100 million to open another shop.”

The interest rate on the two-year loan is 10 per cent per annum, and each month, Robby has to pay back Rp. 500,000(£27).

Top sellers

So far, business is going well. Robby says his best customers are housewives, and his women and children’s collections are the top sellers. He sources his stock from wholesalers in the city of Medan in North Sumatra province, around a day’s journey away by road.

“All the clothes, including the baby collection, are of good quality. I make sure those who want to shop here will be satisfied, really satisfied,” says Robby.

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