For the majority of my 3 weeks in Bali, I was kindly given residence at “Villa a la Bon Vivant” – the airy HQ of Stuart Musgrave and his leather accessories brand; BNVVT.
Being a newbie to tropical Indonesia, waking up to this white-washed, open living house with a pool practically in the kitchen and terraced rice fields over the back fence was downright exotic!
I had been following Stu and BNVVT for about a year and while I am sure he appreciated the posts, he was certainly wasn’t obliged to put me up, arrange a scooter for me, scoot me around to various sunset drink spots and keep me safe, fed, watered and entertained!!
After leaving behind a career in finance, travelling, some soul searching and recognising an empty niche, Stu has channeled his personal aesthetic into a growing collection of hardy, beautiful, functional AND affordable leather bags, accessories and now shoes. Bon Vivant: [French] literally, “one who lives well” is aimed at like minded souls keen on some adventure with a bit of style!
On one particular day I was lucky to be his passenger, headed inland for about an hour from his Canggu base to visit some of his makers. Hanging off the back of a scooter is a sure fire way to feel directly connected to Bali and its swirling mix of life/living, work/working and spirituality.
I was warmly welcomed by the team of 4 men based in a studio attached to the owner’s family home. They worked swiftly and with deliberate skill when it came to the measuring, cutting, embossing then construction of the leather BNVVT backpacks. Conversation was light and joking, made easier by Stu, who holds a good grasp of the Indonesian language. This was creating “by hand” in the truest sense of the word and while the workshop could have done with a sweep, the vibe and outcome was the same as any skilled leather craftsman in a shared space the world over.
During the rest of my stay I watched Stu come and go from visiting his carefully selected crew of makers and suppliers. They would in turn drop by with completed orders which would then be bounced out the gate again with the friendly, chatty postie who visited regularly.
Life was the see-sawing balance of managing and growing his business while making the most of his special location, being part of a community (both local and expat) and remaining diligent and focused when the situation called for it.
For many I think it’s hard to imagine living the dream on a tropical island AND still sitting in front of that screen answering emails, shipping orders, social media cultivation, engaging influencers, media mentions, making sales! ….the same day by day requirements of any small business. In fact if anything – it requires a WHOLE lot more dedication!
Stu has kindly answered some questions in depth below. I’d love you to take the time to check out my snaps of his Bali life, his story and ideas on business and the awesome latest editions to the BNVVT collection!
Where were you and what stage in your life were you at when the seed for your business first sprouted in your brain ?
I was 27, had recently finished working in Financial Advice and was looking to change things up so set off for six months travel and discovery, meeting up with friends along the way. Whilst I was visiting my brother and sister in London during the 2012 Olympics a friend of his had recommended I read the “4 hour work week by Tim Ferriss”. I had heard of it before however never got round to it, and seeing as I was spending lots of time on trains planes and buses thought it would be best to give it a try! The ideas and advice resonated with me and I started jotting down different things that I could do as an alternative to my previous path.
As part of my initial plan I had decided on Bali to be the place I wanted to spend a month mapping out my next moves. While I had been travelling I noticed there weren’t too many affordable products that catered to my desire for quality, simplicity,and timeless style. I had purchased a beautiful leather bag that had been made in Morrocco several years earlier that had gone everywhere with me including on this trip and I was always complimented on it – this got me thinking that potentially an opportunity existed for something in this space.
As part of my beach based contemplation and good fortune, the host who I had first stayed with when I came to Bali had a connection to a leather worker in Ubud and I decided to get some samples made. I was very happy with his work and what had come of it and decided to plunge head first into things.
What was it about Bali that attracted you to its shore’s to follow your dream ?
When I was travelling I was initially tossing up between trying to base myself in Berlin, NYC or Bali. However once I had decided to pursue Bon Vivant, Bali was the obvious choice.
For me right now, Bali is the perfect mix. Big enough and eclectic enough to have amazing food, architecture and things to do, as well as a whole hive of creative people to feed off. However it also has the nature, sunshine and waves to further my very basic surf skills.
More than all these things, is the people! Bali and Indonesia are brimming with amazingly talented people! Especially in handcrafts and traditional trades, things are still done the old way, by hand. I am continually amazed at what people are able to achieve with the simplest of tools and the quality supplies. It definitely isn’t what people imagine when you say you live in Bali but the quality of life is pretty amazing and that is a major reason and founding principles behind Bon Vivant.
Living in Bali is a riddle, things are never as they seem, and I don’t think I wil ever quite get to the bottom of it!
Of course there is no such thing as a typical work week but what would some of the tasks, jobs, activities be that you might experience over a week ?
It is definitely one of the challenges and advantages of basing yourself out of Bali is that there really isn’t a typical week, it really depends on what stage of things you are at as to what needs doing. For example, during a period of sapling or production there is a huge amount of time spent on the bike visiting different suppliers, sourcing bits and bobs and running them to the workshop. If the production is under control it is a lot of time staring at the laptop.
I like to start my day getting in the ocean as I find this leads to the most productive and focused of work days and I usually like to take a bit of time for lunch away from the screen to defrag a little. I usually like to end the day having dinner with friends.
If you could share some advice with anyone else looking to kickstart their own small business what would it be…?
Nothing that I do is all that unique or special – anyone can follow their dreams!
Probably the most important thing I did was made a decision to try!
Carpe Diem, Nothing ventured Nothing Gained etc etc.
In terms of practical advice, everything takes longer than you anticipate! Everything and especially here! What I am still learning is that there are some things that you learn best through doing and others that it is important to understand the fundamentals first THEN outsource to someone who either has greater knowledge skill or interest in that particular area. One of the most coolest things for me is knowing that I am making decisions about my life, I love seeking counsel, asking advice but at the end of the day, right or wrong, it is my decision and there is something rewarding in that.
Some secret, off the beaten track spots in Bali that you love and why?
Bali has so many different sides and faces, one of my favourite things to do is to go exploring, never been down that street before wonder where it leads. Sometimes it’s a beautiful vista, sometimes a insight to life as it’s been for thousands of years. My two favourite times of the day are sunrise and sunset. In the morning the light has this pastel effect and you can see the Indonesian people going about their business unfettered. In the afternoon watching the sunset from the beach with a cold beer or a young coconut seeing if the sun will kiss the ocean is a great way to finish the day.
Photo of Stu by Todd Geasland
Shoes and bags by BNVVT
WHAT I LEARNT FROM STU MUSGRAVE:
It comes in handy in every aspect of your life and business, allowing you to dodge frustration and meet your own expectations in a realistic time frame!