The Good, The Bad & The Bali.
Welcome to the birth story of älskar.
This isn't just your 'I love kids clothes so I started a fashion label' story. It's deep... driven by emotion, passion, self-discovery, trauma and experience.
It all began the summer of '17...
I had just had my first child (Sahara) and to say it was hard would be an understatement. Not only did I have a horrific 9-month pregnancy where I was sick and sore the WHOLE time but I was then faced with a traumatic 56-hour labour.
Upon arriving home, I had very little to no support around me; adapting to your new life as a mum is very overwhelming and your life completely changes. I was also the first of my friends to have a baby, they didn't understand at all and we're all still concerned about what they should wear on the weekend and whether a boy would text them back or not #firstworldproblems.
Baby Sahara & I
We opted for a change of scenery and had built a house in the country where my partner grew up (myself originally growing up in St Kilda). At first, I was loving the space, peace and quiet but it soon dawned on me that I was alone, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually. No one came to visit me because we lived too far, I had car anxiety from my screaming baby who hated driving anywhere and I didn't connect very well with the people in town because I was always the 'weird, hippy, artsy girl', the kind that small town folk don't really 'get'.
After months of feeling those new baby blues, I was finally diagnosed with the nasty 'D' word... depression, postnatal depression to be exact. Taking care of a baby is hard enough when you feel good! After a year of crying, isolating myself from the world and cutting people off I found myself in a really bad headspace that needed to change; I didn't laugh anymore, I barely smiled and on top of all of that I had lost my identity - I wasn't creative or feeling any sense of achievement, something that I had always done and strived for, I was just meh!
So we decided to sell everything in the house, my partner moved to his dads and I moved to Bali with my daughter who was 18 months old. Now, I didn't pack up and leave to go and start a business or work, in fact, it was quite the opposite - I went to get happy again and to find my identity.
The view from 'The Shortcut' road in Canggu - our route to get home.
At first, it was scary being in a foreign country as a white female with a baby, we knew no one and was clearly all alone but we adjusted quickly. We first lived in a little 2 story apartment in Canggu, it had no windows and no kitchen so we moved to a villa for 2 weeks before moving to a nice but very small townhouse apartment - thankfully this one had windows and a kitchen!
Sahara & I at Panama Kitchen Pool
After living in Bali for a couple of months I noticed there was nowhere fun or safe for kids to go, there weren't many kid-friendly menus at restaurants and if they did have kids food it was hot chips and a burger and it was really lacking in clothing for kids especially for little girls (strange considering it was harder to find boys clothes in Australia).
Sahara on her toddler seat on our motorbike
Every day we would walk up to the top of our gang (what the Indo's call a street) to our local cafe (Satu Satu - best coffee ever) they would great us by name and knew my order without me saying anything (the key to any coffee lovers heart).
After I while I noticed there was an empty 2 story shop and on the door was a for lease sign with a phone number so I rang. 2 days later I was inspecting the property and 2 weeks later I was the new signed tenant of this abandoned cafe!
The shop before renovations. - Pantai Berawa Canggu
The concept I had was a children's' play cafe and clothing store that had a menu dedicated to kids - think sparkly frozen yogurt breakfast pops, rainbow pancakes, colourful spaghetti, but all healthy! There was an enclosed play area with imagination toys - fake supermarket, reading corner, arts and crafts; but with a babysitter! Organic kids clothing that was oversized to help save people money and a clothing donation box to help support orphanages in Bali. So basically the whole kit and caboodle.
I hired a builder to start putting my dream into action, I sourced beautiful linen fabric and hired a sewer, I painted walls myself, I designed and created the menu, I designed the clothing I wanted to get made, I designed all my logos and advertising posters, I even interviewed and hired workers. I have never felt so much passion and achievement in my life, it was exactly what I needed.
It was two weeks from opening day, and then... The Lombok earthquakes happened.
The first one was short and quick, I was sitting on my bed and I thought my daughter was pushing the bed but she wasn't.
But a week later a second one hit and this time it was a 6.9 magnitude shallow earthquake that felt like it lasted for longer than 10 minutes. It was around 8 pm at night, we were in the shower, water was splashing everywhere, the windows and doors were shaking and the whole house felt like a houseboat in a storm. I covered my daughters head with a towel and held onto her for dear life, we were naked and wet standing in the hallway not knowing when this earthquake was going to end.
Hanging out with our local moo moo's
When it was finally over I couldn't stop shaking or crying, then there was the fear of a tsunami hitting, we lived near the beach so I needed to be prepared. I got us both dressed and a bag packed, jumped on our motorbike and rode through the night to a friends villa where we got a taxi to Ubud (the middle of the island).
When we got there, people were scrambling to get into hotels, nearly everywhere was booked out, families were desperate to find a place to stay after travelling from Kuta and Seminyak. Luckily I got the last 2 hotel rooms in a decent place to spend the night. We were exhausted. Through the night there were 2 more earthquakes and multiple aftershocks, we were at the top of the hotel where you could really feel the building swaying from side to side. After a couple of nights there we felt more at ease having not felt anything for a little while, so we reluctantly ventured back to Canggu.
During the week my anxiety was through the roof, there had been a tsunami warning for a few days and there were still aftershocks happening so my daughter and I were sleeping on pillows on the floor downstairs with a tsunami bag packed next to the door ready to leave in an emergency. Every time we would leave the house to get food I felt like I was going to fall over or that I could feel another earthquake when no one else could, I don't know if I had post-traumatic stress or if the earthquake had shaken up my equilibrium but I just did not feel safe at all anywhere I went. It took me 5 days of nothing happening to get the courage to leave my daughter with her nanny whilst I was finishing up the shop, the day I left her another earthquake happened, there were cracks happening in the road and buildings - I jumped on my motorbike and sped through traffic (I basically drove like a local by that time) to get home to her. Her nanny had taken her to the village across the road to keep her safe, thankfully she was.
Beautiful La Brisa
By that time I couldn't be in Bali anymore, raising a toddler and starting a business in a foreign country is hard enough without throwing in some badass Mother Nature in the mix so I decided to throw in the towel, book a flight home and take my 110kgs of luggage consisting of the kids clothes for the shop, with us.
I cried, I felt like I had failed not just myself but the people who I had hired in Bali that were counting on having a job, failed my partner for his hard work in funding the project and never being able to enjoy living overseas, failed because I could have spent my time in Bali relaxing instead of working... but like all success stories, you must fail first in order to succeed.
It took me about 7 months to get over everything that had happened with the shop but I decided to try to continue doing the kids clothing so I started to sell it on Etsy and was taken by surprise at how many people were buying the clothes. I then rebranded to the name Alskar (originally being 'The Gypsy Concept') in March 2019.
Some pieces from our first collection made in Bali.
In April 2019 I had my second child (Tyger). For some reason unknown to me, my brain changed for the better, it was like all my negative feelings melted away. All my stress, anxiety, failure and insecurities were just so unimportant anymore and I became happy again.
Baby Tyger - Photo by Brooke Keam
I was more motivated than ever to succeed after a long day of looking after a newborn and toddler I would sit at my computer, search high and low and send email after email to find the right manufacturer to do the design I had created in my head. It took me 4 months of searching and dealing with people in India and China, waiting for samples and tech packs, it almost became too hard but I persisted until I finally found a manufacturer. Winter had passed so I had to design a summer version with the same concept and by the end of September, I had my first clothing collection made to last 2+ years worth of growth spurts.
The first Alskar Grow Into Collection featuring Trevor our Labradoodle
After living in Bali, my outlook on life changed. Things that didn't seem so important to me prior were now more important than ever. I watched people live off the land, smile in poverty and love unconditionally. Material items were no longer important, people, the earth and animals are now my priority. I want to build a better world that everyone can be proud of so I've created this business to support better working conditions for farmers and factory workers, educate children and build communities. That is why älskar is organic, sustainable and ethical. There is no reason for businesses to be anything else.
The rice fields next to our house in Pererenan