Tony Stanton riffs with Brazilian born Renato Vianna about his life by the sea. Photos: Saskia Koerner.
Renato, can you tell us a little about how you grew up?
I grew up in Rio de Janeiro on the beach at Ipanema Arpoador, the counter culture stage at that time. Bossa Nova was born a few blocks from my house. I loved the sea and tried to go to the beach every day, even if it was only to look, study or work. I had a very good childhood with five sisters; I was an engineer’s son and my mother was a homemaker. She always made our clothes as it was difficult at that time to buy anything ready-made. All my sisters also sewed, my grandfather was a tailor and he made suits in a small office with four other people. I remember visiting him and being amazed by the process, and I always keep these scenes in mind.
And how did you arrive in Bali?
I ended up working for one of the best clothing companies in Brazil, starting as a sales person, then moved to store management and finally to a new design department. It was a great period for me, working with the very talented owner. One day one of our suppliers came in with some swimming trunks made from Bali batik, and I became very curious about the technique. Back then there were no computers and printing fabric was a very long process. I was fascinated. I sold my VW and used the money to come to Bali with a friend who had been here many times before. During that time the surf industry was only making black trunks, but I made 70 different samples that were very tropical and colourful, and I gave them to my friend when he returned to Brazil and told him to give them to my former boss. The buyers arrived at the office and immediately ordered 5,000 pieces.
It was 1993 and I only spoke Portuguese. Can you imagine? There were no phones in Bali, we had no staff and no driver. I brought all of the fabric to the factory on my motorbike. The first delivery was not good, so I asked the guys at the bungalow I was staying at to help. Soon production got better and the orders grew to 15,000, 30,000, 60,000 . . . before long I started to build a brand called Totem in Brazil, which was very successful. After that I went on my own and started By The Sea.
What was Bali like back then?
After one year in Bali I met a beautiful Japanese Brazilian girl, 19 years old, and we fell totally in love. We lived in Oberoi and our house was also our office, no TV, no phone and no distractions, just work and surf and love. Bali felt magical and the expat community was very small. The only places to go were Goa, Café Luna and the famous parties at Warisan, where we met. If heaven existed it was in Bali at this time, I believe. I surfed Uluwatu almost every day after 4pm until it was almost dark, when I’d drink a beer and watch the sun set. I was living in paradise on earth with the woman I loved. It was a special time. Our son was born the year later.
From Oberoi we moved to isolated Kerobokan, which was a great place with an amazing view, but at that time a lot of things started to happen with the business, so we decided to ask someone to check the land. The mungku told us it was a cremation ground … which explained a lot. We decided to move to Canggu in 1997. At that time there were only two warung on the beach. Our second son was born there. It was the most amazing experience I have ever known.
Harumi started to have contractions while we were in the bath, and at the same time our then three-year-old son Kayu woke up, just in time to see his brother born and emerge slowly out of the water, just as the light grew in the bathroom. It is a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life.
So I guess you won’t be heading back to Brazil anytime soon . . .
I love my country and I love my people but I hate all the politics. Everyone’s life there has become difficult.
You’re a kite surfer, correct? How did you get into that?
I started surfing Copacabana when I was 14 years old, then later when I moved to
Bali I improved my skills here. Ulu was my place, and Padang Padang. There were fewer people around then of course. These days I surf less and spend my time on my new passion, SUP. I started kite surfing around 10 years ago when I was on a surf trip to Sumbawa. Someone was selling a professional kite surf kit, so I bought it and started to learn. It was a bit like learning to drive when your first car was a Ferrari! The kite was too fast for me, and I’d also decided to use it with a strapless board. I’m still learning to this day.
Ok let’s talk about the brand you’ve built here. When and how did it start?
As I said By The Sea started after Totem closed. We had very little money, but with a lot of energy and love we achieved a lot. We were still distributing in America and had stores in Brazil, but after a while I decided to invest in the Bali market.
Who would be your perfect By The Sea customer?
Classic and elegant, casual-smart, resort and beach wear, By The Sea is always connected to the ocean and a relaxed lifestyle without pretension. I think everyone can find something they like in our stores. Business is good.
Do you design and produce all the clothes? How are you involved and how far have you come as a company?
I used to design everything with my wife Harumi, but as the business has grown we have invested in professional designers to drive the brand to the next level. I think the potential for the brand is very big. I travel a lot and I’m always shopping and searching … and I know our brand can go all the way to the top. We’ve now opened two shops in Jakarta and the sales have shown us there’s a big market for us in the cities.
Everyone we know comments on the quality of fabric and work on your clothes. We only use natural fibers, and for me fabric has a soul. It’s my passion. I believe that we should give the best to our customers to keep them coming back.
Ok, enough business. What’s your perfect day?
Sunrise meditation, green juice for breakfast, SUP in front of my house in Pererenan for two hours, then the office and kite surf in the afternoon after a workout or yoga. Sleep early!
Renato, many thanks for your time.