Ten years? Ten years!! I can’t believe that it has actually been ten years!!! Where has the time gone? But then when I think of all the ways in which Vida Vida has grown in such a variety of different directions the decade anniversary seems to not be such a surprise. Ten years is definitely cause for celebration so excuse me if I reminisce somewhat but I think a little history seems apt.
My wife, Andreya and I met whilst we were travelling in Fiji and started Vida Vida at the end of a round-the-world trip. We were (and still are) travelling obsessed and had had lots of fun and adventures and back then we were in Argentina planning what we would do once we arrived home. I had finished uni at UCL where I had studied geography and then tried my luck at a range of professions to try and get some travel money together before heading off on my travels. I had tried bar journalism (writing about bars - not so good for alcohol consumption levels), wedding catering and carpentry to name a few but none had a really grabbed me and given me any real inspiration to go back to them upon my return.
Along our trip we had seen beautifully woven textiles, handmade jewellery, incredible leather work and some beautiful clothes all of which were unique to one area of the globe. Quality was everything - things were built to last from the best materials each country had to offer. We loved the attention to detail, the skills involved and the cultural significance. We were inspired!
Andreya had already been working in fashion before we left but this method of production was something new. So our idea became apparent - we wanted to start a company that encouraged traditional workmanship, incredible quality, fairness and a combination of our style with that of each artisan. And so Vida Vida was born - we had been in Argentina when we decided on the name. It’s meaning “Life Life” is just a gentle reminder to us that our lives and the lives of those who we work with need to work in balance and harmony.
So off we went with this bohemian ethos fresh in our minds. Our first port of call was a stall at Portobello Road Saturday Market. Here we would arrive at 4am in the hope of getting a good pitch, until we realised that if my beautiful Andreya went up at 7am we would still get a better pitch than if I went at 4. Our lesson learnt we then started being able to do Spitalfield Market on a Sunday (without fear of exhaustion) and then went on to having stalls at almost all of London’s fashion markets.
During this period we were offering handmade cowboy boots from Guatemala, beautiful silver rings and hand-crafted saddle bags from Mexico, alpaca knitwear from Peru and stunning leather and fused-glass handbags from Argentina. At this point we were travelling during the quiet business months of January, February and March on a constant search for new and wonderful products and crafts-people to make our designs.
Whilst on a camel safari in India we came upon a a very special man called Dinesh (or Dennis as we call him). His father had taught him all there was to know about leather work and he specialised in a unique, vintage-like, suntanned goat leather, which gave all his bags a beautifully characterful aged appearance. Anything vintage-looking was right up our street so we loved all that Dennis could make us and over the next few months we stayed put in the small desert town where Dennis lived and decided to start a fair-trade workshop with Dennis.
The idea was simple, we would design a range of bags, satchels and travel bags, with heavy influence from the vintage classic designs that we loved and use Dennis’s expert craftsmanship to make sure that they were made just right. From this point on Vida Vida saw quick expansion- the Indian workshop went from 3 skilled craftsman to the 43 that it has at the moment, the wholesale side of the business grew exponentially, we added several more market stalls and the rise of internet retail meant that we focussed on online sales as well.
Have no fear we weren’t working constantly! We were still lucky enough to spend 3 or 4 months in India each year, to make sure all was well in the workshop and to continue to explore the vast country that we had developed such a love for. We were always on the lookout for new treasures and had a brief dabble in importing incredible vintage furniture until my back said stick with the lighter stuff. At this point we were lucky enough to start a family and had 2 beautiful boys - Herbie who is now 4 (and a half- its all about the halves at that age) and Reggie who is almost 2.
On top of all of this business expansion we have also managed to raise over £10,000 for Unicef, which we thought a worthy charity as they do lots of great work in areas close to our workshop. (A lot of this money was gained from my swim across the English Channel in 2014 (I know I’m blowing my own trumpet but Andreya said I have to mention it as lots of loyal customers donated to the cause so many thanks if you contributed.)
Our ranges have now expanded to include all manner of handmade leather accessories and leather bags and stunning silver jewellery. We have a few exciting new ideas in the pipeline such Vida Vida Cashmere and Vida Vida Home, which will be starting very soon. These new ranges allow more creativity on our side and also the meeting and working with more wonderful people from around the world, which continues to be our main inspiration.
So so far so good - we enjoy every day with our young sons and we still love nurturing Vida Vida as it continues to grow and develop in an organic fashion (organic fashion actually sums up what we are trying to achieve!).
am absolutely loving the Tim Walker photo shoot in this months Vogue. I am a huge fan of Tim Walker’s work, having been to his amazing exhibition at Somerset House last year and owning two of his gorgeous coffee table books. This however is even more magical as its shot in Bhutan which I have been lucky enough to visit. His pictures from this Vogue in Bhutan convey the beauty and intrigue of this magical Kingdom perfectly. I visited in 2007 after our yearly visit to our workshop in Rajasthan. We made our way right across India and up into Bhutan. We felt very privileged as they only let a small number of visitors in a year as they are trying to restrict tourism so it doesn't ruin their incredible culture and landscape. Who cannot love a country who talks about Gross National Happiness (GNH) rather than GNP. A phrase coined as a signal of commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan's culture, based on Buddhist spiritual values instead of western material development. The Bhutanese people are amazing. They still all wear their traditional national dress on a day to day basis but they also have very modern views on subjects such as the roles of women in society, which are far more liberal than their neighbouring countries. It was a pleasant change form India to be able to chat freely with women in a bar who were having a beer! The Tim walker shoot takes them to some of Bhutan’s most special places. In the Vogue article the photos are accompanied by a written piece by the model who is in the shoot who mentions the hard walk up to Tigers Nest Monastery . The photos from this location are stunning and it brought back lots of memories from our visit there. Not nearly as glamorous but me in a similar spot wish my backpack had been filled with anything so fabulous.
Such a special place.