Celebrating International Women’s Day

Get to know the creative powerhouse behind The Bali Tailor

To celebrate International Women’s Day this year, we sat down with The Bali Tailor founder and creative director, Leah Hills, to chat about what it's like to lead a female run and operated business.

Leah founded The Bali Tailor in 2015, following on from years of compliments on the leather jacket she had made on a family trip to Bali, to many requests for ‘where to find a good tailor’ in Bali. What came as an overnight idea, to be the ‘middleman’ for people looking for talented artisans to work with, the business has evolved into what it is today – opening her first flagship store in the back streets of Seminyak in 2016, launching online in 2018, followed by the second store in Canggu built from the rice fields up in 2019, and now the most recent addition, the team’s first Australian boutique in Sydney.

From humble beginnings, The Bali Tailor has continued to evolve into the contemporary lifestyle brand it is known and loved for today. Grounded on values of integrity and conscious craftsmanship, The Bali Tailor is powered by a team of strong women across the globe. Leah lives between Sydney and Bali, managing both teams and drawing inspiration from her travels. 

Get to know the woman behind the brand. 

Q. Firstly, tell us a little about yourself!

I feel grateful to split my time between living in Manly on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, my recently purchased home in Lennox Head, and of course everyone’s favourite island home of Bali, as well as regularly visiting my family in the coastal town of Ocean Grove, Victoria where I grew up. After years of family holidays to Bali, it was probably around 2005 that I had my first leather jacket made, and that saw the initial spark ignite in me that ‘I could do something with this one day.’

I enjoy my daily meditation practice, and my time by the ocean is non-negotiable for me. I recently took up ceramics as a little side hobby, I love exploring new places, being around inspired people, and spending time in nature. I am a true Taurean; loyal, resilient, and love to keep things light hearted and playful, on this adventure that is life!  

Q. How did your vision for The Bali Tailor come to life? 

It really did come from a simple idea, of being the middleman for people visiting Bali looking for quality tailors to get their own custom pieces made, and something I thought I would do ‘whilst I worked out what I wanted to do next.’

After leaving my corporate world job in 2010, and moving back into the retail space for a few years, I worked for female led brands whilst living in Byron Bay, and was inspired by, and witnessed their business growth greatly supported by the introduction of social media.This really helped ignite that fire in my belly to go out and do my own thing. 

After having worked with many talented local artisans, it made sense to connect my passion for design, working with quality leather and connecting people to bring their own designs to life. I feel so grateful that people entrusted me in creating their visions with my team and I loved the made to order process and seeing the joy it brought to those working with me to create their own piece. It essentially created a model that allowed the customer to be the designer, with support of myself and team - to alter, customise and personalise their piece to something that suits their needs and allows them to feel confident in a piece that reflects their own personal style. 

Q. As director you wear a fair few hats each day. What does a day in the life look like for you? 

I usually prefer to ease into my day a little, so start it with emptying the inbox and ticking off any pending admin tasks that need to be attended to - this can vary from design approvals, WIP’s with my team, or general accounting and business forecasting – I find I am more creative and focused once I know those things are ticked off so that usually takes up my morning, and then afternoons are when I move into more design and creative work, design research, check in on production timelines, and work closely with my team on marketing calendars, shoot planning, to approving social strategies etc. – it really does vary everyday but it is what I love the most about owning your own business – let’s just say you are never bored!

Q. Managing teams in both Bali and Australia means your work involves travelling between the two countries. What do you love most about each of them and what do you miss most when you’re not there? 

Pre-Covid days, I really did travel a lot between the two, and loved mixing it up between both places more regularly  – I really learnt to ‘be where my feet are’ which allowed me to be fully present where I was, rather than yearning for or missing anything about either place. I am not moving between the two as much anymore, as I have amazing teams on both sides that allows me to choose a little more freely where I want to spend my time and for how long, rather than being on a busy travel schedule. 

Australia is home so there is obviously a lot I love about it all – being in nature, our coastline, fresh air, friends, family and connections to your roots here.  And then visiting Bali is always such a treat, as it truly is such a welcoming island so it always feels so nice to step off the plane to that warmth that hits you  - the trips are usually quite full with work but each trip fills me with excitement for what it will bring. I love the people, culture, my team there feel like family, the hustle and bustle (although testing at times!) and then taking time to catch up with my ex-pat fam and visit my most favourite beaches, day spas, and all my fave cafes and restaurants. 

There is a real sense of freedom on the island, and being around that energy is uplifting and inspiring.

Q. Travel plays a big part of your life, what destination is next on the cards for you? 

Definitely Mexico and NY/LA – crazy, but I have actually never been to either so I am super excited to be heading there in May to meet with our LA Agency, explore the vintage markets and wander the streets of NYC. I’m then heading to Mexico to celebrate another rotation around the sun! Would love to get to Sri Lanka and back to Greece this year too! 

Q. What are your top 3 pieces of advice you’d give to someone starting their own business? 

  1. Start ‘before you’re ready’, as otherwise that ‘perfect’ time may never come – just start small and work it up from there. Do quality research, set up strong foundations initially, and don’t bite off more than you can chew in the early stages – this only creates unnecessary stress and overwhelm, that can hinder the sights of what you truly want to achieve;
  2. Find your purpose and passion – when you feel aligned to what you are doing, it makes it, and those extra challenging days, worth it. Do the hard work in the initial stages because you want to – make sacrifices, as in the end they will see you achieve the big things – discipline, motivation, patience, perspective and persistence really pays off! 
  3. Trust your intuition along the way, as then anything that happens you know you were true to you.

Q. What are some styling principles you keep in mind when building your own wardrobe?

Invest in quality and key staple pieces that make you feel your best and build from there - quality denim, quality basics and quality footwear – pieces that you know you will wear over and over and then can add touches of style and colour as you go through the seasons.

Q. What’s on the horizon for The Bali Tailor in 2023? 

Branching into the US market, expanding our wholesale offering and I am super excited to continue to work on what we do best and expand our own product offering within the market.

Q. What rituals do you use to set yourself up for a busy day in the office? 

It didn’t used to look like this, but my ideal morning and most days now, start slower – I love that I no longer set an alarm which allows my body to wake naturally, but is usually between 6 – 6.30 am – I make time for my Ayurvedic practises including my lemon ginger water, and lighting my favourite incense, before I sit for my morning Vedic meditation. I am super grateful to live by the beach so I always make time for a walk or to move my body in some way, and for my daily ocean dip, followed by a coffee ready to go. 

My morning and afternoon meditation practice is truly a non-negotiable for me and one that I see as a huge contributor to being able to run the business the way we do.