Denica Riadini‑Flesch Is Transforming Indonesia's Textile and Garment Industries

With support from the 2023 Rolex Awards for Enterprise, the Indonesia-based entrepreneur is taking circular fashion to unprecedented heights with a "farm to closet" approach.
Published: March 26, 2024
Denica Riadini‑Flesch Is Transforming Indonesia's Textile and Garment Industries
A group of craftswomen preparing for the next cotton crop by cleaning and planting seeds in East Java, Indonesia. Photo: Courtesy of Rolex/Sébastien Agnetti.

The Rolex Awards for Enterprise was set up in 1976 by André J. Heiniger, then CEO of Rolex. Conceived as a one‑off celebration meant to mark 50 years of the Rolex Oyster, the world’s first waterproof watch, it drew so much international interest that Rolex transformed it into an evergreen, biennial programme instead. Since then, it has supported more than 160 laureates of over 50 nationalities, whose projects have benefited humanity and/or the planet in more than 65 countries worldwide. “We initiated the Rolex Awards for Enterprise out of a conviction that we had a responsibility as a company to take an active interest in improving life on our planet,” shared Heiniger, “and in the desire to foster values we cherish: quality, ingenuity, determination and, above all, a spirit of enterprise.” Today, the Rolex Awards for Enterprise is subsumed under the brand’s Perpetual Planet Initiative, which debuted in 2019 as the overarching programme for all of the brand’s conservation efforts.

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Denica Riadini‑Flesch Is Transforming Indonesia's Textile and Garment Industries
Riadini‑Flesch speaking with the women at a craft school under her company, SukkhaCitta. Photo: Courtesy of Rolex/Sébastien Agnetti.

The Rolex Awards for Enterprise is unique in several ways. For a start, it does not retrospectively honour past accomplishments; rather, it supports new or ongoing projects. Application criteria are also highly atypical. In the spirit of recognising original, visionary projects that can improve lives and protect our planet, as well as the expertise and will to execute them, the Awards only requires candidates to be aged 18 and above—no other academic or professional qualifications are needed. Applicants’ projects, however, do have to focus broadly on specific fields: The environment, science and health, applied technology, cultural heritage, and exploration. In addition, the projects are judged on their originality and impact, as well as the candidates’ “spirit of enterprise”. The selection process for the Awards is, unsurprisingly, extremely rigorous. Applications are first analysed by researchers, before top entries are assessed with input from relevant specialists. An independent, interdisciplinary jury of experts then judges the shortlisted candidates. Panellists have included Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to summit Mount Everest (with his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay); Chris Hadfield, astronaut and former commander of the International Space Station; and Brian Schmidt, astrophysicist and Nobel laureate.

Every edition of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise honours five pioneers, with the winners receiving funding for their projects and membership to the Rolex Laureates network for collaboration opportunities. The Awards is exclusive; just over 160 laureates have been inducted from more than 37,000 applicants so far.

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Denica Riadini‑Flesch Is Transforming Indonesia's Textile and Garment Industries
Rolex Awards for Enterprise laureate Denica Riadini‑Flesch. Photo: Courtesy of Rolex/Sébastien Agnetti.

Among the 2023 Rolex Awards for Enterprise laureates is Indonesia‑based social entrepreneur Denica Riadini‑Flesch. Her project, SukkhaCitta, is a “farm to closet” social enterprise that’s working to transform Indonesia’s garment and textile industries—and solve some of their most pressing issues. The first concerns inequity. Due to the layers of middlemen involved, fewer than 2 per cent of the workers in Indonesia’s garment and textile industries—most of whom are women—earn a living wage. SukkhaCitta tackles this problem by selling high‑quality, traditionally crafted clothing through its website and select retailers, which connects the women who make these clothes more directly to the global market. By cutting the middlemen, SukkhaCitta has helped to raise the earnings of the women it works with by 60 per cent on average. Unsurprisingly, this creates positive knock‑on effects. Gender roles in these communities often see a dramatic shift, with women taking greater charge of their households’ finances. As a result, the nutrition and education of the villages’ children—especially girls—see improvements that lay the foundation for continued sustainable development. In this aspect, SukkhaCitta also lends a hand by facilitating access to education in craft and design, business skills, as well as environmental stewardship, often through mentorship arrangements between younger craftswomen and older, more experienced artisans.

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Beyond the industries’ human element, Riadini‑Flesch is working to conserve the environment with SukkhaCitta. Currently, almost all of Indonesia’s cotton is imported, and grown on large monoculture farms using harmful chemicals such as herbicides, before being processed with toxic dyes. Riadini‑Flesch and her team settled on an alternative farming method that integrates the cotton crop into the forest ecosystem instead. The technique is called regenerative farming and entails planting cotton alongside 23 other species of plants in order to alleviate the need for chemicals—while maintaining biodiversity and restoring soil health. What’s more, environmentally friendly natural dyes produced from plants grown by their farmers are then used, further lessening any impacts on the environment. SukkhaCitta’s approach here harks back to a more sustainable way of living and draws on the experience of older generations of Indonesian cotton farmers. “The best thing is that this is not some fancy new technology,” declares Riadini‑Flesch. “It is proven local wisdom that has been practised here in Indonesia for generations.” SukkhaCitta has seen dramatic growth over the years. The project started with just three women in 2016, but now works directly with more than 400 craftspeople and smallholder farmers, to date impacting more than 1,500 lives. This is slated to increase with Rolex’s support, of course. “The thing about SukkhaCitta is that it has always been about a movement, not just a brand, so it’s important for me to bring the story to as wide an audience as possible,” says Riadini‑Flesch. “Rolex and its Perpetual Planet Initiative can help me do exactly that."


Laureates of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise have effected positive change for millions of people and advanced conservation in various ways over the past 48 years. The impact of the latter is remarkable, with some 28 million trees planted, 52 endangered species and 32 major ecosystems protected, as well as hundreds of new species discovered. Riadini‑Flesch joins a rarefied group of pioneers and changemakers who can, collectively, create an outsized impact on the world by leveraging one another’s connections and expertise. There is much to look forward to with regard to this entrepreneur and her work. 

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