In Conversation with Denica Riadini-Flesch, A Laureate of the 2024 Rolex Awards for Enterprise

Since its establishment in 1976, the Rolex Awards for Enterprise has provided support to 160 Laureates spanning various fields. Originally intended as a one-time celebration, the recognition garnered by the Awards has evolved into an ongoing program. The recipients of the 2023 awards are among the exceptional individuals contributing globally to improve and protect our planet. Every two years, five Laureates are chosen by a panel of ten esteemed experts, receiving project funding and joining the Rolex Laureates network, fostering ongoing collaboration. Amongst the five are biologist Constantino Aucca Chutas, social entrepreneur Beth Koigi, primatologist Inza Konè, remote sensing specialist Liu Shaochuang, and social entrepreneur Denica Riadini-Flesch, who we had the pleasure of speaking more in-depth with on her farm-to-closet clothing supply chain and founding her company SukkhaCitta.

What lead to the founding of SukkhaCitta? 

    “It started when I went into the villages. Having grown up in the city, it was the first time I saw clothes being made by these women. It was so beautiful, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but notice how much they struggled. They would work full days, but couldn’t earn a living wage, and that really broke my heart.”

    Can you share a particularly memorable project or accomplishment you’re proud of?

      “Today, our work positively impacts 1,500 lives from farm to closet. We’ve managed to prevent over 3 million litres of toxic chemicals from being dumped into our rivers by using completely natural dyes, and we’ve regenerated over 30 hectares of degraded soil that are now bursting with life by changing the way our materials are grown.”

      You’ve managed to grow your business from working with three women, to over 400 people, in just seven years. What led to such a rapid success and how do the workers (farmers, artisans, etc) play a role in SukkhaCitta?

      “Instead of making everyone come to one spot, we build schools that specialize in different crafts in different villages. So we grow the plant dyes that we use in one village, then another village spins the cotton and another one does the dyeing, and in a way, you create a circular economy of villages that support each other like a big collective.”

        Given that April is Earth Month, can you outline key factors in creating a more ethical environment in fashion and beyond? 

          “We’ve come to a stage where we’re facing multiple planetary crises, and in a world that’s running out of time, it’s no longer enough to just do less harm. Working in the villages has made me realize there is so much we can learn from these Indigenous communities about what it means to be stewards of the Earth.”

          What does it mean to you to be one of the five Laureates of the 2023 Rolex Awards for Enterprise? 

          “I’m so proud, because this is a win for all the Ibus, women who have been invisible for far too long, whose voice is now being listened to all around the world, whose work is now being recognized, whose wisdom is now being learned from.”

            How has working with Rolex helped better your success? 

              “What makes Rolex support unique is that it’s embedded in their DNA to support pioneers doing ambitious work in something they believe in. We have to support these dreamers now because we can’t solve the climate crisis with the same mindset that created it.”

              What do you hope for the future of SukkhaCitta?

                “Part of the work will be physically scaling up our schools, but the thing about Indonesia is that we have so many different islands and dialects. So, with the support from Rolex, we’re digitizing the curriculum that we’ve created over the past seven years to put it into an app that will allow us to reach women, even in the most remote communities, in their local language.”

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