Laurie Osborne meets Sophie Gargett & Peter Kemp, the duo behind high-end lifestyle boutique and café, Souq. Photo: Lucky 8.
MORNING peeps. What first led you both to Bali?
PK: We spent eight exciting, challenging years living in Shanghai, observing and absorbing the buzz of a transitional time in China. Once we had two small children, we made the decision to give them more space, clean air and a natural environment. Though we are both Australian, we were not ready to leave the excitement and opportunity of Asia behind us so Bali was the perfect mid-way.
How would you describe Souq, and what is its mission?
PK: Souq means “market” in Arabic. The name conjures up beautiful romantic images of the canvas-roofed markets along the Silk Route under which the vendors sold everything, from clothing to tableware to food. We want to be a premium, modern version of these souqs, where wonderful, original things can be discovered.
SG: In its essence, Souq is a high-end lifestyle boutique and café. The café exists both to compliment the store – for guys weary of the female shopping trail and who prefer a chilled drink to a dress – and also in its own right as a destination for thoughtfully executed and refined café food and drinks, all made with chemical-free and ethical, locally-sourced ingredients.
How would you describe the process of working with each other, as husband and wife?
PK: It’s not for the faint-hearted! And it makes it difficult to leave work at the office.
SG: But we really are a great complement to each other – when it comes to design we have a similar aesthetic but our styles and fortés are different enough that we constantly inspire each other and bring new ideas to the table. We also share our values which we think are crucial. We are both ambitious, but not at any cost: social and environmental principles always guide our decisions and we are both passionately committed to this.
How did Souq’s combination of hand-crafted-clothing-homeware-and-jewellery-with-a-café first come together?
PK: When we were living in China, we spent so much time exploring the country and broader Asia and finding so many inspiring things that were not represented elsewhere. And we were both constantly designing and making things.
Creating a space where our designs and other finds could be brought together was the ultimate culmination of our experiences.
SG: Originally we thought we would first open in Shanghai but the barriers to entry there are very high. Then we moved to Bali where we had access to artisans who could work with small quantities and found this amazing building – it was the perfect place to bring the vision to fruition.
What are people’s reactions when they first come inside?
PK: At this early stage of the business, these are the most heartening moments – we have had such a wonderful response to the space. People seem to love it. That is motivation alone to keep going through the hard early days of a new business!
SG: One the loveliest compliments that we have been paid is by a French guy who came in and said he thought it was unlike anything he had seen in the world and could see the care and dedication in every detail. Thank goodness people understand what we are trying to do!
Would you say there is a Souq community growing?
PK: Very much, and we love this. Wherever we have lived, we have always had a “local” to go to for our morning coffee and we love the sense of familiarity and comfort you get from this ritual. So we really enjoy that people are finding that place in Souq.
SG: Also, we have a number of very talented designers represented in the store and they are part of the community of the space as well.
What was your approach with the menu?
SG: As we wrote on the menu: “We believe in cooking and eating with integrity and compassion”. There is a tendency to consider ethical food as health food, but we do not. We are driven by taste and the joy of eating but we like to know about the source of our food.
How did you come to stock Irma Wy’s range of jewellery?
SG: I found Irma’s beautiful pieces in a shop in Paris. I love things made by hand and I thought her pieces were very unique and beautiful. I looked her up on Instagram and I loved her aesthetic – all her elaborate neck pieces were styled with simple clothing to look polished but easy. The lovely thing was that it was only when I started corresponding with her that I discovered that she is in fact Indonesian. Her parents are both from Indonesia, but she was born and raised in Geneva. I loved the story of her pieces coming back to be displayed in the country of her heritage. I have since met her and she is such a charming, warm, beautiful person that the relationship has been a winning one for us.
How would you describe Bali’s local design community?
PK: Very talented, but under-represented. There are so many people here doing amazing things that are not visible in retail and business in Bali. There is an impression that the market here is only interested in inexpensive souvenir-quality purchases. We are here to challenge that idea.
Tell me about some of your most noteworthy items currently in stock?
PK: Where do I begin? We have a super-cool range of Feiyues and Shulongs, the iconic trainers from China that were made famous by the Shaolin Monks and kung-fu masters. We have a pair of black leather high-top Shulongs coming in this month that I won’t be able to keep my hands off.
SG: We also have a selection of stunning hand-carved glassware that we designed and had made for Souq. It is dual-coloured and is the particular skill of four generations of one family from India. The paper-mache wall-mounted animal heads are very special – designed by us and made by a local sculptor who does beautiful work.
Do you ever fall in love with items that you stock to the point that you can’t let go of them?
SG: Always! There is so much love that has gone into the purchasing of all these pieces and it breaks our hearts a little bit to see them go. The jewellery is very hard to part with. We had some amazing gold snake bracelets with jewels on their heads that I was in love with but we had to let go.
PK: I became very attached to a white petrified wood fish. It was unlike any of the petrified wood we have seen before and had the most gorgeous wood patterning in it that almost looked as though it really was the scales of a fish.