Over the past few weeks, Dukuh Atas Park, located in the heart of the Sudirman business district in Jakarta, has been packed with young people. From late afternoon to evening, magnificently dressed teenagers have used a zebra crossing as a catwalk, creating a DIY fashion show that has been dubbed “Citayam Fashion Week”.
Citayam is an area on the outskirts of Jakarta, an hour train ride south of Dukuh Atas, between Depok and Bogor. The phenomenon was given the name “Citayam Fashion Week” because most of the teens hanging out at Dukuh Atas are from these suburban areas of Greater Jakarta.
Citayam Fashion Week began to take off in June, when interviews with several of the teens went viral on TikTok. The teens’ unique sense of street style, carefree attitudes and amusing slang made for compelling social media posts. These in turn attracted the attention of more teens and the mainstream media – and, eventually, politicians.
The media began calling Dukuh Atas “The Next Harajuku”, referring to the area of Tokyo known for its youth culture and bold street style. Celebrities, professional models, content creators, and politicians soon joined in, creating their own content to attract viewers and send a message of support for the teens.
Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan has said the city government would not seek to prevent the teens from gathering in the area. After a formal meeting, he even invited the European Union ambassador to Indonesia, the vice president of European Investment Bank, and their staff to strut the Dukuh Atas crosswalk in their business suits, not exactly capturing the edgy grassroots street style that is a fundamental aspect of the trend.
But not everyone has been supportive of the phenomenon. Many critics have complained about the teens loitering, littering, and causing traffic congestion. In fact, Citayam Fashion Week and the emerging tensions around it have exposed some of the deep class problems confronting Jakarta and the people who live in it.
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Reclaiming the ‘Golden Triangle’
Jalan Sudirman is part of the so-called “Golden Triangle”, an area bordered by Jalan MH Thamrin-Sudirman, Jalan HR Rasuna Said and Jalan Gatot Subroto that serves as the central business district of Jakarta.
Preparation for the 2018 Asian Games prompted the local government to beautify the Sudirman area, revitalising footpaths, installing park benches, and building comfortable bus stops and modern footbridges. Jalan Sudirman now presents a sterile image of Jakarta as a secure, modern metropolis, supposedly inspiring similar urbanisation in other corners of the country.
Smack bang in the middle of Jalan Sudirman is the Dukuh Atas transport hub, where Commuterline trains from the outskirts of Jakarta (Bekasi, Depok, and Bogor) converge with multiple TransJakarta bus routes (another affordable option for suburban commuters to access Jakarta’s business district), the new, more expensive, Jakarta MRT, which began operating in 2019, as well as the BNI City station that connects to the airport.
Different classes of society meet in Dukuh Atas – minimum wage workers who live on the outskirts and middle-class office workers who are travelling to their jobs around Jalan Sudirman or transiting to catch the next train or bus home. In August 2019, around the time the Jakarta MRT was launched, the city government redesigned the Dukuh Atas area to become a public park. It closed off a street, converting it into a muralled pedestrian thoroughfare, built a skate park, and promoted the space as being open to all.
While city life might be often associated with glamour and success, research by Puskapa and Unicef found that city youths are rarely included in decision-making processes and are often ignored by adults. They crave access and having their voices heard. One news report noted that Jakarta Governor Baswedan was supportive of Citayam Fashion Week because he believed it might inspire young people to one day seek jobs in the city – a hint at how young people are only valued when they grow up and become part of the labour force.
Citayam Fashion Week is therefore about young people communicating their desire (and ability) to penetrate the urban landscape in their own way. It is also a clear indicator of the hunger for open spaces in crowded Greater Jakarta, a consequence of poor urban planning in areas like Depok, which leave young people with no space for self-expression.
The Citayam Fashion Week teens are changing Sudirman in many ways. The term SCBD, which usually refers to the “Sudirman Central Business District” – the area where the Jakarta Stock Exchange and major tech and e-commerce companies are located – has now been repurposed to also stand for “Sudirman, Citayam, Bojonggede, and Depok”. Likewise, the term “Anak SCBD” (SCBD kids), which had previously been used to refer to the wealthier millennial and Gen Z office workers employed in the SCBD, is now used as a moniker for the teens gathering at Dukuh Atas.
The appropriation of the term SCBD is both a humorous twist on the formal and capital-oriented image of Jakarta, as well as an emotional expression of the teens’ desire to be part of a city that has pushed middle to low-income residents to the periphery.
But it is not only a discursive appropriation of the term SCBD. This yearning to be part of the urban landscape also takes an obvious physical form, as the teens dominate the Dukuh Atas crosswalk, holding up passing cars and motorbikes, and staking their claim on the city.
Even so, this seizure of public space is ephemeral. At the end of the day, the teens face an hour-long train ride home, their efforts represented only in short-lived social media posts.
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By adapting Dukuh Atas Park as a place to hang out and show off their street style, young people are claiming ownership of public space and expressing themselves with their limited resources. They have been applauded for their creativity in using unbranded clothing, knockoffs, and local brand makeup, and combining them effortlessly.
As the trend has taken off, some challenges have emerged. The teens have become famous specifically because of their bold low-budget adaptations of branded fashion. But others have mocked their fashion as “tacky”, revealing the deep class and income divides that are a feature of modern Jakarta.
As Citayam Fashion Week has grown in popularity, and celebrities and social media stars have sought to take part, the phenomenon is becoming increasingly removed from the grassroots spirit that made it popular in the first place. Several content creators recently admitted to being endorsed by brands to showcase their merchandise at Dukuh Atas. Likewise, last week actor Baim Wong even attempted to trademark the term “Citayam Fashion Week”, quickly backing down after he was savaged online.
The Jakarta government has begun discussing relocating Citayam Fashion Week to another area of Jakarta, or only allowing it on weekends, since it has begun to cause traffic congestion. Predictably, some members of the government have said they would take action against male teens in feminine clothing, ostensibly under the guise of “protecting” the teens.
It is important to question who really benefits from the growing popularity of Citayam Fashion Week, and whether young people are truly gaining access to the prosperity that the city promotes. There have been several reports of teens sleeping on footpaths after missing the last train home, and then being described as a nuisance.
Citayam Fashion Week should not only be viewed as the product of young people’s creativity and their bold sense of expression, but also as blatant evidence of the stark class divides in Jakarta and the challenges faced by teens seeking to transgress them.
Hopefully Citayam Fashion Week’s popularity will help the public to better understand young peoples’ aspirations and see their worth beyond participation in the workforce. The phenomenon should also serve as a reminder for the government that the city urgently needs more inclusive public spaces, and it should be doing much more to improve the living conditions of precarious youth on the outskirts.