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Leslie Kuster

Many years ago, I traveled to Indonesia for seven months and loved it. I loved the culture, the handicrafts and most of all the people. When I returned to my hometown of New York City, I needed to get a job. I started looking in the newspaper (which is what you did back then) and it became crystal clear there was simply nothing in that paper I wanted – I did not want an office job. And then I had a light-bulb moment: I remembered the gorgeous batik clothing I'd seen in Bali.

I took out a calculator and did some numbers, and realized I could make some profit if I went back and bought some of those colorful styles I'd fallen in love with. My motivation was strong, because the alternative was working in an office and I knew I never wanted to do that again. So I jumped back on the plane and started buying off the streets at different stores in Bali. I loved traveling and beautiful fabrics, and this was how Back From Bali was born.

What I love about developing my clothing line in Bali is that I don't work with factories. Instead, I partner with Balinese women who have their own small businesses with perhaps 2-10 sewers. My production there is truly grass roots, provided by local cottage industries. Some of my vendors sit on floors hand-crocheting, others make batik sarongs in traditional ways, and others work with their families hand-sewing crystal embellishments onto tunics. I work with several designers and it truly is a collaboration.

And I love my vendors! Some of our relationships have been developed over many years, and I go from one hug to the next. I know many people say their clothes are made with love, but here at Back From Bali it's really true. We support local artisans who have their own small businesses, and they really care.

My grandmother and great-grandmother ran a successful clothing shop together in New Jersey, and sometimes I think I just have it in my blood as I have no professional design training. I go with my gut and what I like and what feels right, always considering the costs as well as the people I work with. Both of my parents are entrepreneurs, and I was always raised with the belief to “just do it”.

Thanks to that first trip to the islands, I've discovered my real passion – creating fabulous quality clothing with a heart, selling it to wonderful people, and most of all giving myself the freedom to live and work as I like.

The tag line of Back From Bali is “Live Free,” because freedom has always been my #1 value. My hope is that through Back From Bali, I inspire other women to become entrepreneurs and to find a way to live their “Free”, whatever that might be for them.

Live Free!