Art can manifest in many ways, but one way, in particular, has been around for centuries: tattoos. Tattoos decorate bodies around the world. For some, the ink is seen as a symbol and for others, it’s a sign of rebellion. In Indonesia, it’s both.
From floral designs to circular shapes, there are several Indonesian patterns that hold a special meaning for locals. It’s an unspoken language of each person’s journey that emanates from their body. It’s that mentality that Solana shoes aimed to capture with some of its own designs.
The Borneo shoe is mirrored after the Indigenous tattoo motifs amongst the Dayak people, such as the Iban and Pantang.
The Iban tattoos were used to understand someone without having to communicate out loud. For instance, an Iban woman that had tattoos on her hands and thumbs was likely an expert weaver. From a religious perspective, these symbols had significant meaning to the afterlife. It was believed that only those who were completely tattooed could pass safely into the Land of the Dead where they would see their ancestors and receive wonderful gifts.
These tattoos from the Dayak people are also significant by design. It relies on using skin to create the lines with black ink etched all around it. According to tradition, some believed that having black ink on the body meant it would turn into gold after death. The Dayak people are native to Borneo where these symbols were originally created. For some, the designs can symbolize achievements. For others, they can be protection against malicious spirits.
In the Borneo Solana design, you can find several powerful symbols. For instance, the Bunga Terung, or rosette, represents valiance and courage, with the spiral representing the circle of life. On the sides are also Borneo scorpions, which were commonly tattooed on the warriors of Borneo for protection in battle.
Each of these symbols holds a special story, as do many tattoos, and the Solana shoe designs and symbols are no exception. Another shoe, in particular, Ubud, is based on a tattoo symbol seen often in Indonesia. The Balinese symbol for OM, Sun -Om or Aum, is included in Hinduism around the world. There are many representations of this word but its meaning usually stays the same. It represents everything “all reality, in all nature.”
Aside from its recognition, the design also reminds Solana Founder and Creative Director Yasmine Idriss of a special moment. During her stay in Ubud, she would pass a Stupa of a deity being cared for daily by a man. Around the Stupa were burning incense to satiate the deity and the man was tasked with replenishing the offering. Every day that Yasmine passed him, he was smiling dutifully at the side of the Stupa. Yasmine said his facial expression was so pleasant and at peace. His smile wasn’t forced, it was natural. It reminded her of the Buddha’s typical depiction: sitting crossed legged, a content smile on his face.
“He was in this other place,” she said. “He was always smiling when we crossed each other in this place. I saw him every day."
This symbol that stayed with her was at the center of the deity. “I looked it up later and it was the Om symbol,” she said, but this old man translated it to me as “love.” While love can have more romantic connotations in the Western world. Yasmine said this was not the case here. “Love in the Western world is romanticized and usually shared between two people. But love in the East is a more universal kind of love. I saw it with this man every day,” she said.
This idea of using an unspoken language, much like tattoos, was appealing to Yasmine for the Solana designs. She decided then and there her designs would be a symbol of love in the universal sense. A reminder to people that they are part of something bigger than just their current surroundings.
“We are saying you can wear something that looks really good and still holds meaning,” she said. “You’re participating in a larger movement of people trying to understand one another, reaching out to one another instead of running away from each other.
“I do think we are in a day and age where there are two extremes developing. On one hand, people are more open-minded and accepting of one another, and then, on the other hand, you have people wanting to build walls and bring back hate groups. Both forces are powerful.”
While there might be some in the world who are at odds, Solana aims to use its designs to bring people together and promote a more open-minded society.