With Japan push, Indonesia leads in lashes

by Rudy Madanir

Kyodo News

PURBALINGGA, Indonesia — Welcome to Purbalingga, Indonesia’s capital of false eyelashes.

Regular, colored, decorated and Halloween are just a few of the popular models of false eyelashes made here to adorn the eyes of millions of women in Japan and other parts of the world.

Jun Ho Lee, managing director of lashes maker PT Royal Korindah, said that years ago Japanese makeup artist Shu Uemura ordered a special edition of lashes from his company for actress Jennifer Lopez to wear at the Academy Awards and for pop star Madonna to wear for a world concert tour.

“Thanks to Uemura, whose phenomenal makeup to those two celebrities have stressed the importance of the use of lashes . . . the global demand for false eyelashes has skyrocketed, pushing us to struggle to raise our production capacity,” Jun said.

Leading the business since 1975, his company has experienced the ups and downs in demand depending on the world’s fashion whims.

“But since five years ago, the trend has moved upward and it will likely continue to surge in the years to come, as not only adults but also teenagers use false lashes nowadays, not only for special events or photography, but also for everyday occasions, including like going to work and school, or just going to the shopping mall,” Jun said.

Citing Madonna, who once declared on a major talk show that she “would not dare to go out without wearing the lashes,” Jun said many women around the world are doing the same, contributing to a surging demand.

To meet the growing demand, Purbalingga has moved from having just one factory producing false eyelashes to seven eyelash manufacturers today, plus 10 other companies that produce wigs in addition to lashes. They employ almost 100,000 workers, most of them women.

Many are housewives who knit lashes at home or their neighbor’s houses in the initial stage of production. They supply the factories where the production process continues, ranging from art-cutting and curling to finishing.

“Our longtime workers have been frequently targeted by competitors seeking highly skilled hands in this industry,” Jun said.

The work requires “extra-patience” as the women knit tiny hairs one by one, Jun said. His father, who founded the company, cleverly chose the relatively rural Purbalingga for its production center instead of Jakarta or any of the industrialized zones on Java Island.

“In that way, the women have no other choice than making the lashes, unlike those living in industrialized zones who would rather work in shoe or garment factories, for instance” he said.

Unlike heavily rural parts of Java, most women in Purbalingga don’t like the idea of becoming migrant laborers or housemaids in Indonesia’s big cities or abroad, as they earn enough from making lashes while remaining with their husbands, who typically are farmers.

While many of the women labor off-site, during a recent factory visit by a reporter thousands of workers were knitting human or synthetic hairs or other materials as music blared over loudspeakers to boost morale.

One of the workers was Openings, a 30-year-old Purbalingga woman, who has been making eyelashes for half her life.

“At the beginning, doing this kind of work only gave me a back pain, and even pain all over of my body, but now it rarely happens,” she said.

With many hours of overtime, Openings can earn up to 1.6 million rupiah (about ¥14,900) per month, enough to support her husband, a farmer and freelance guitar maker, and their 8-year-old daughter.

Because Jakarta and its surrounding areas impose a relatively higher minimum wage of 1.1 million rupiah per month, Purbalingga offers cheaper labor costs. The monthly minimum wage is just 695,000 rupiah, making it ideal for the labor-intensive cosmetic eyelash and wig industry.

Purbalingga’s only rival is in Guangzhou Province, China, a local official said.

There are currently some 3,000 different models of false eyelashes, falling into the basic categories of regular strips, flares or clusters and individual singles, according to PT Royal Korindah manager Very Anjarwinarto.

Designed and developed in Japan but made in Purbalingga, a set of Shu Uemura’s false eyelashes can cost 545,000 rupiah in Jakarta’s top mall, or almost as much as the monthly minimum wage in the Central Java provincial town. Uemura’s special edition lashes can carry a price tag of 1 million rupiah or higher in the capital.

Korindah currently produces 2.5 million sets of eyelashes a month for around 200 companies around the world in addition to Shu Uemura.