Passion over profit. Hang out, don’t sell out, because you can’t assign a value to the ironclad loyalty of this Benesari brotherhood. Cibola isn’t an imported offshoot of a major fashion brand or a bule startup selling screenprints in the surf shops. This is Bali merchandising at its most authentic. Detour down any little gang and you’ll see the craftsmanship of this island. These young men are the descendents of true artisans, heirs to the arts. They’ve inherited this island at the apex of a cultural shift and they’re making sense of it however they want. They aren’t seeking anyone’s approval. There are no suits calling the shots. The Cibola boys are building an empire around their own philosophy.
What is Cibola? Garut: We first started in 2006, we were just a bunch of little kids. We didn’t understand anything about running a business we just decided to give it a try. Win was a good artist and was designing stuff all the time. Win: We did six designs the first year, six shirts that we just made and gave to friends. People started liking them so we started selling them. Where did the inspiration for Cibola come from? Minasti: We all wanted to make a local brand. We saw Rip Curl and Volcom and other international brands and we thought ‘Why not do it ourselves and be a king in our own hood?’ And you guys saw a viable opportunity here? Win: At first we just did it for fun. It was for fun and family. But then we saw there was a need for this kind of thing. Bali’s had successful local brands before, Amphibia, Bali Barrel, Mad Cats. What happened to them? Minasti: The big brands took over. What was the hardest thing about starting Cibola? Minasti: The brand image. Figuring out what Cibola was and staying true to that. Keeping the designs and artwork uniform so
that people recognize, ‘this is Cibola.’ Garut: People were asking what Cibola was. They noticed we were different. We had a different style. Win, you did all the artwork in the early days. What muse inspires your artistic style? Win: Aaron Horkey inspired me a lot. He’s from America. He drew a lot of birds and Cibola shirts focus a lot on birds. All hand drawn and really good detail. He really inspired a lot of my drawings during the early stages. You’re expanding your horizons? Minasti: We have three main shops in Bali, and 14 shops that we sell consignment in. And now we are selling in Australia and Japan too. Where else are you planning to sell? Garut: The whole world (laughter). Win: But we always want to keep things real. We don’t want to turn into some huge brand that doesn’t have heart. We want to keep that community feel. Down to earth and together with family. Minasti: Yeah, cause we’re all friends here. We like what we do. Even if we don’t get a lot of profit we still have a lot of fun.
Is there a sense of local pride within your customer base?
What can you do to stop the Cibola counterfeiting? Minasti: Keep the quality high. I don’t worry about the copying because those shirts will fall apart and then maybe that person will buy the one that lasts.
Win: Yeah, they know we have fun doing this and they have fun wearing it. We do all our own photo shoots, marketing. Who buys your clothes? Locals or foreigners?
Win: The counterfeiting of Cibola just means we’ve made a name for ourselves. We have a product that people want. So that feels good. But sometimes we get angry too when we see our fake shirts selling for cheap price. But this is Indonesia. It happens with every brand.
Win: In Kuta, it’s 60/40. 60 bule and 40 local. But we have a shop in Denpasar and it’s 100% local. It’s too far for most toursists to drive to Denpasar. Are there and Cibola family traditions?
Minasti: We met with a lawyer and he said he could handle all the counterfeiting. But he wanted 15 million rupiah just to start the process. Later he would want more and more money. So we decided not to do anything. We’re surfers, you know?
Minasti: Every year we have a big anniversary party. It’s part of being Hindu and Balinese. It’s how we respect our gods, our environment and each other. We go to Besaki Temple and pray. Then we go to Yayasan Senang Hati, we go see the kids at the orphanage. Then we throw a party at our Benesari shop.
Garut: Yeah, all of us surf. At the end of the day we’re not businessmen. We’re surfers.
Win: There’s tons of music. Food. This year we do a photo exhibition about Balinese Culture. Did Cibola pave the way for a wave of new local brands in Bali?
Minasti: I just wanna say… support your local brand. Buy the original one. Don’t be a fake. Now, let’s get drunk. //
Garut: As soon as we made our name and more people got to know us there were a lot of people who saw and wanted that. Some people right here in Kuta too. They got together and created their own brand. Brands like Huck. Justify.
Minasti poured me a shot of what he eloquently calls “the most precious and high quality Arak in all of Bali.” Then he poured me another. And another. I stumbled out to my car to grab my Canon A-1 and a few rolls of film before things got any dizzier.
What about counterfeiting? Are there any stalls on Poppies 2 that sell fake Cibola gear?
From behind the lens I saw the life these guys had built their brand on. They don’t rent Harley’s on the weekend or borrow classic cars from the shop, they own them. They don’t call up modeling agencies looking for girls, there’s plenty of supple bodies leftover from the night before. The following 18 pages are my best attempt to capture the Cibola crew in their natural habitat.
Manasti: Oh yeah T-shirts, bags, stickers… A bunch of places on Jl. Imam Bonjol sell fake stuff. Win: It was funny ‘cause I bought a helmet recently and the guy in the shop offered me a free sticker. I told him that’s my sticker man! That’s my logo!
Come ride with us.