Interview: Stuart Musgrave – Bon Vivant, Quality Bag Co.

Some time ago we were contacted by Stuart Musgrave, an Australian designer living in Bali with a passion for leather goods. Stuart told us of a new business venture and pointed us to a suite of products on his website at which point we were instantly hooked. Bon Vivant (BNVVT) Quality Bag Co is not only producing high calibre leather goods, but they are seriously stylish and have an incredible attention to detail.

We got in touch with Stuart to ask a few questions about the brand, his ideas and his processes. It’s amazing to hear such passion and knowledge from an individual who is so heavily embedded in his brand and output.

1. What got you into leather work and leather making?

I have always been interested in things of quality. With leather and leather work, quality can be both observed from the inputs, during the making of the product and then reaffirmed over years of ongoing use.  I also like the idea that a product’s true character can be developed and displayed over time as the materials wear and age similar to a persons. I had experimented with a few different projects in my earlier years to varying degrees of success. I was really excited to work with a team of craftsmen who share these views and I really connect with the tradition and passion that goes into something like a bag or a pair of shoes. Creating something beautiful only using the simplest of tools and a lifetime of knowledge is very noble to me.

2. Where do you source your materials from?

We source our leather from Denpasar Bali however, most of the tanneries we use are located in Java. The quality of leather available from Denpasar varies greatly so having a good relationship with our suppliers is very important. The hardware is mainly produced in Bali or Java. We are constantly amazed when the skill of an artisan trumps computer power as the main determinant of manufactured quality in our production process. For example, we spent quite some time perfecting our logo with Lachie Goldsworthy and ensuring it was in the correct format for fabrication. To then be amazed by the ease at which our craftsman could hand make our brass logo stamp, relying only on an A4 print out as a visual reference.

3. What do you look for in a good leather?

The main thing we look at is application, different leathers are better for different purposes. We generally look for full grain vegetable tanned cow leather. The full grain comes from the top layer of the hide which contains all of the grain, hence the name. This cut includes the outermost layer of the skin and helps the leather to absorb natural oils and react to use, creating a rich patina. We then usually dye the leather to achieve a colour that we feel will best reflect and respond to the ongoing relationship between article and owner. Our main supplier is also an experienced leather craftsman so his input and advice have been very helpful in suggesting different hides and applications. Hide selection is important because each hide is uniquely shaped and sized and may contain blemishes. Things like scars and other irregularities must be identified and considered when selecting which hides to use. The learning process has involved heavy liaison with leather experts in addition to independent research. There is a huge amount to know about this process and I am always eager to learn more.

4. I’ve noticed your workshop is in Bali? What made you choose Indonesia as a base for the business?

Travelling to Bali and identifying the unique production and collaborative opportunities compelled me to set up here. A friend introduced me to my team of craftsmen. Initially, I simply wanted to see what was possible in terms of handmade leather work and how it was done. Having no technical or design background meant that I had fairly low expectations of my ability to transfer what I had in mind to a sample, however from working with the guys and seeing the final product I was absolutely amazed. In an age where we either have no idea where things come from or assume things are made in giant factories with robots and advanced technology, I was blown away at what five decades of experience, a pair of scissors and not much else other than time were able to craft things of beauty. Whilst it would be cheaper, faster more efficient to produce in places like India, China, Vietnam or even Java, Bali has allowed me to work with a team of craftsmen in a collaborative way. Then there is the lifestyle, part of starting Bon Vivant was wanting to live and encourage a life that was filled with things that we hold to be good. Bali is a place that allows us to live our version of the good life.

5. What advice would you give to people out there thinking of starting their own business?

Asking for advice? That would be my best advice, to ask for advice. There are so many people who are already doing great things and they almost always are willing to share their hard-earned knowledge. Whether it is technical or business in general. I am also a fan of Timothy Ferris, and one of the things he helped me learn is that for me it was a bigger risk to continue down a safe path and feel disappointed than to try and see where the adventure takes me, regardless of the outcome.

BNVVT goods are available through the TVG Store.

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