The best adventures are the ones that never really end – the journeys that hide a memory deep down inside of us, that light a fire in our hearts that lingers forever – these are the adventures that change us.
When Angela O’Brien and her husband embarked on a year-long quest to surf the best waves in the world, they had no idea that they’d be finding more than just a few good swells. Inspired by the culture, rich traditions and the beauty of Bali, Angela devoted her creative edge and artistic background into developing a brand that truly embodies the wanderlust spirit – Cleobella.
Each Cleobella bag is individually and handmade in Bali; from the pattern design and fabric dying, to the detailed embroidery and handmade lace. Local artisans work diligently to ensure that each bag is truly a work of art. Additionally, all materials, textiles and recycled metals that are used in the bags are sourced locally – a beautiful reflection of the nation’s heritage, patterns and people.
Cleobella’s commitment to Bali is evident not only in their artfully designed pieces, but in their philanthropic ethos – producing and crafting in Bali means providing a sustainable income for local artisans. No materials are left to waste; all leftover fabric and leather is donated to charities that support Balinese villages.
Since the launch of the original collection in 2008, Cleobella has become a favorite for bohemian dreamers and adventurous hearts. In 2012, the brand became even more accessible when the first flagship Cleobella boutique featuring clothing, home goods and accessories opened in Sunset Beach, CA.
Cleobella has long been a favorite destination of ours, and we know it will become one of yours too. We spoke with Angela about the impact of travel – both on the business and personal side of things, and fell in love with her remarkable spirit and zest for life. She also gave us a peek inside the dreamy Cleobella boutique and design studio – a quant remodeled 1920’s cottage, reminiscent of Bali’s surf-side huts. Cleobella has captured our hearts, and truly lends itself to its motto – a brand inspired by “those stories you can’t always explain, but can never forget.”
CULT: Tell us a little bit about Cleobella. Have you always wanted to be a designer?
Angela: Cleobella is named after my mother – Cleobelle. After my husband and I were married, we left our jobs and traveled the world for a solid year. Our trip was designed around the waves and it was on the island of Bali where I designed my first clutch, our signature “Mexicana clutch.” I had always been interested in the arts; I am a painter and have been since the age of 6, painting with my Grandmother who is an incredible artist. More than anything, my dream was to create a lifestyle that enabled me to have the freedom to travel and pursue my passion of art and creation.
I am the best version of myself when I am inspired and creating….everything seems to make sense when I am in this space.
CULT: What inspired you to quit your former job and travel the world? Where were some of your favorite places that you visited?
Angela: My husband was really the reason why this adventure began. We had both lived and traveled to foreign countries but it was his idea to really break away for a year – I didn’t have to think about it for one minute, I jumped in head first and we began outlining our itinerary! India was my favorite place we traveled to because it is a culture so foreign to what we know.
I love the feeling of being out of my comfort zone and enriching my life with a new experience.
The markets, the food and the people will forever hold a special place in my heart.
CULT: Bali plays a huge role in the ethos and inspiration behind Cleobella; what was your first impression when you arrived?
Angela: My first impression was pretty powerful – we arrived after one of the very horrible Bali bombs and the island was very quiet.
There was a beauty I felt in the people that I had never experienced before – a pure kindness and peacefulness that I really connected with.
To walk down a random street and be greeted by a stranger with the biggest smile and to feel no threat at all in such a foreign land….this is Bali….the Land of Smiles…the people of Bali are what make the island so beautiful and enchanting.
CULT: How has travel shaped both your business, and you, personally?
Angela: Traveling is such a gift and one cant help to be touched by each and every place they have been. With an open mind and heart there is so much to grow and learn from travel. When I was 18 I moved to Japan for a 6 month modeling contract. This was the first time I was hit with the travel bug. This feeling has never left me. As for my business, Cleobella would not exist without the talented artisans who bring my designs to life in Bali. We share a meaningful friendship and we challenge each other to grow together as the business has grown.
CULT: Each bag in your collection is artfully handmade – how long does this process take, from inception to the finished product? What makes each Cleobella bag unique?
Angela: We typically design a year ahead. For example, as Spring 2014 is shipping to stores we are designing Spring 2015. The handmade quality is what makes Cleobella unique. Supporting local craftsmanship and not necessarily following a trend but a lifestyle is what makes our brand different in todays contemporary market.
CULT: Your flagship boutique features a well-curated collection of boho-inspired clothing, home decor and accessories. What are some of your personal in-store favorites?
Angela: At the moment we are fully stocked with a wide variety of Moroccan home goods and handbags from our recent trip to Morocco in January. I sourced many unique textiles and shipped them to Bali to be made into one of a kind handbags and clutches. The colors are so vibrant and many are made with natural vegetable dyes. I’m currently wearing one of our kilim totes everyday. It’s an easy statement piece to dress up jeans and a basic tee!
CULT: Where do you look / what do you do to find sources of inspiration?
Angela: I try to be very present in my life and when I am the most present it’s easy to find inspiration. Inspiration for me can be found a trip, music, art or even playing on the jungle gym at the park with my son. Some of the most basic everyday life experiences can often be inspirational.
CULT: Five things that you never travel without:
Angela: My Mexicana clutch, coconut oil (it’s my favorite beauty treatment!) my favorite sunnies, lollipops for my son to help with the elevation of the plane and a sarong (I find a sarong can be used for so many purposes on long trips).
CULT: Where will the next stamp on your passport be from?
Angela: Well – I’m due to have a baby girl in less than 4 weeks so I’m looking forward to spending time in Southern California for the next couple months, but after that I dream about traveling through South America with my family.
Words to live by:
Angela: “Carpe Diem”