Up Close with Sarah Leslie
What a fabulous time we had at the Bali home and studio of the human whirlwind known as Sarah Leslie. Jewellery, fashion, and swimsuit designer, exhibited artist, mother of four: this dynamo has not stopped creating since making the big move from Melbourne two years ago.
We spent some time in her stunning coastal villa talking life: career, fashion and family. It’s hard to believe anyone could achieve so much, so quickly. But that’s the kind of uber-chick she is!
We absolutely love your label, Bare. It started out as an accessories line but you’ve branched out into clothes and lingerie. It’s happened so quickly, how has it all come together?
Well, I began making the jewellery and clothing for myself after I moved to Bali in 2011 and the growth of Bare has been an organic process because every piece I have created has been something I wanted or needed for myself and could not find. Tailors are abundant here and it never seemed daunting to sample an idea and make multiple attempts to perfect it. The locals are so accepting of a challenge and willing to try anything! The sewing is of such great quality, and turnaround time in Bali so fast it made the process really easy.
You are on a roll! Can you tell us what’s the next step for your label?
The Hex collection (current season) saw me designing my own fabrics after I became frustrated with good quality fabric availability and supply in Bali. I love the traditional silk Batik motifs and workmanship and they are a strong influence in my collections. It is nice to pay homage to the wonderful dying art of Batik in Indonesia.
The plan for Bare is to create an individual aesthetic through original textile design and beautiful tailoring, and keep designing resort and urban wear for all ages. The Bare swimwear and coordinates range is coming soon to compliment the Ready to Wear collections.
I am really excited about the new range and hope to open Bare’s first flagship store very soon.
Any advice for budding fashionistas?
Follow your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, dump it and don’t waste your time on it. There should be passion and excitement with every design and piece you create.
Fashion wasn’t your first career. How did you make the switch from advertising to where you are now ?
Yes, this is my first cohesive apparel and accessories collection. I graduated from Monash University with a BA in Graphic Design and worked in advertising for 7 years, which gave me great experience with consumer demand and expectations and professional presentation. When I had children I started my own business doing Prospectuses and Annual Reports but soon found the deadlines stressful with young children. It was then I began painting out of a studio I rented in St Kilda, Melbourne and continued for 8 years with 3 successful exhibitions. When we moved to Bali for a family adventure I found myself lured by the artistic discipline of fashion design. But I see it as just another outlet for my ideas and creativity and I approach the design process in the same way as creating a work on canvas or designing a corporate identity.
You design all your fabrics and they are all beautifully hand printed. Can you tell us about the process?
Actually I design all my fabrics on the computer and they are digitally printed in Thailand. The fabric quality and digital processes are fantastic in Thailand and Hong Kong. But I always manufacture here in Bali as the sewing is excellent and it allows me to govern the quality control and sampling process. The local Batik Fabric I use is ordered from factories in Java where each motif is particular to a province or group of artists and is waxed and painted flat on the ground. We often experience delays due to rain, which can be frustrating so I try to order most of the Batik during dry season.
We attended your fabulous pre-fashion week launch party at Motel Mexicola which was a riot of colour, fun, and way too much tequila. We also had the pleasure of sitting front row at your show at Bali’s first fashion week. How has the whole whirlwind fashion extravaganza experience been for you?
The Fashion Festival Bali was an amazing experience! It was so lucky this event began this year and Bare was able to be a part of it. It was so thrilling to see the process through from cutting table to runway and the antics behind the show! I absolutely loved every minute of it and definitely want to do more!
I arranged the Motel Mexicola event to raise awareness of the label prior to the Fashion Festival as we are a newcomer to the scene and was worried no one would turn up at our show! The Mexicola party was a huge success! Adrian Reed sure knows how to throw a party and of course the fabulous venue makes it easy to put on such events.
How does a nice Melbourne girl end up in Bali with her husband and four kids?!
Lifestyle change. My husband and I found ourselves becoming stressed taxi drivers to our 4 children in Melbourne! The pressures of sport and Western parenting were hard to avoid and we decided we wanted to step out of that whole scene.
Bali has always been our favourite family holiday destination and we had often discussed living here for a few years, so after my husband’s work commitments changed we took the opportunity to do it.
We had planned on a two year adventure but now we call it home and cannot imagine living in Melbourne again… but never say never! Our children are at the Green School, in the jungle, half way between the coast and Ubud and are having the most amazing experience. Wonderful teachers in a completely green and natural environment- an opportunity for them we could not resist.
One of our children is home schooled by an Australian teacher and has surf coaching. This is his passion and he spends 6 hours a day in the water. Bali really allows you to indulge your passions and make dreams a reality and we gave our son this opportunity. He has his own motorbike driver to get him to the best surf spots each day!
Tell us about your typical day.
Up at 6.30am to get the kids off to school by 7.20. Then it’s straight to the computer until I head into the studio at about 9.30am where I work until 4pm when the kids arrive home from school. We have wonderful staff at the villa so we enjoy home cooked meals 4 or 5 nights a week or eat out at all the amazing restaurants in Bali now.
Bed by 9 as I need my sleep!
Can you tell us your favourite places in Bali to eat and drink?
Favourite places to eat are Motel Mexicola (and drink!), Sardine for a special night out, Sarong and Biku for lunch and Mama San is amazing. You cannot beat Ku De Ta for a sunset drink and we often enjoy a cold beer on the steps at Berawa Beach in Canggu watching the kids surf and catching up with friends.
You’ve had some great family holidays since you’ve been here. I know some of the family love chasing the waves but tell us about your favourite places to travel around Bali and Lombok?
We love going over to Nusa Ceningan which is 30 minutes by boat off the coast of Bali. No cars and very simple and great surf so it ticks all the boxes. We also love going to Gili Air in the Gilis group of islands near Lombok. Stunning.
We plan to explore more of Indonesia and the islands as opportunities arise.
You never leave home without your…?
Phone- a mother of 4 must always be contactable! Money of course- cash is king in Bali! And my jewellery/accessories of the day!
If you had the chance to talk to the younger you, what advice would you give?
Follow your dreams and passions. Don’t feel overwhelmed because everyone starts out feeling like they don’t know what they are doing! It is nothing to feel shy about… ask questions and be determined to reach your goals and aspirations. There is always a way and once you arrive at your destination it is never as complicated or daunting as you thought it was going to be! We are all just people learning and growing through experience and a fresh approach and outlook is what changes and evolves the landscape of aesthetic professions.
Sarah Leslie, it’s been an absolute delight being in your home and in your studio watching you work. Thanks for having us.
All images taken by Radhika Rao. After 15 years of running a successful photography business in Hong Kong, Radhika now calls Bali home. Contact: email@example.com