yostria gintarsa thinks his backpacks can change indonesian urbanism
Westward Works' Tramp backpack at their headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia
Yost and I in the pine forest of Bogor, Indonesia
Yost Gintarsa (IG: @yostria) founded Westward Works in Indonesia's capital over five years ago at age 19. The company has grown to sell high-quality bags sourced with the best components and materials to people all over the world. I met him on January 17 in Jakarta to model and shoot for his brand.
Here is an excerpt from my piece about our first meeting:
"I sat down with Yost in the workshop where he had three of his employees cranking out backpacks for his company, Westward Works. He told me all about his inspiration for starting the brand - he actually started it about 7 years ago in college and has been working on it ever since. It's pretty famous here in Indonesia; a lot of the people I mentioned it to already knew about the bags. They're really sturdy, backpacker-style bags. Anyway, I thought his business was really interesting coming from a background at business school and Yost is super entrepreneurial and you can see a really sharp glint of intelligence from his eyes." - Sunday, 17 January // Photoshoot in Bogor Pine Forest
Yost has a lot of brilliant ideas about Indonesia, travel, urbanism, and backpacking. Only 30% of people in Indonesia have access to credit cards. Businesses in the country work damn differently from the way you would expect... but despite a challenging business environment, he has been able to create innovative, beautiful bags for the urban and rural backpacker.
I want to let him share his ideas, background, and inspiration with you in this interview.
SACCO: You founded Westward Works several years ago. How old were you when you started and how has your perspective on business in Indonesia changed over time as you have gotten older?
Yost: It’s all started independently on 2008 and formally announced on 2010 when I was 19 years old.
And wow, this is a serious question, lol...
To be honest, when first time I’m starting westward works. I could say that I have nothing to say about business in general. I just interested in making things. My young fool heart back then only know that it will be nice to ever design something and see it being wore by somebody out there. That was an odd statement to ever said by someone who has Economic major, ironically. hahah
But those perspective quickly change over time. It was actually not long after I launched westward works first collection. But westward works was born and grow in the time where internet stepping on it’s early stage of popularity. I mean, people here was already familiar with internet, but there’s just not much who realize it’s potential on business. Back then, a website was more likely function as a source for product information. Customers will always do the purchase using more conservative way like texting via SMS or BBM and made a payment using bank transfer or making an appointment for Cash on Delivery.
And the government don’t have specific regulation to manage internet based business.
It’s far more different situation today. We have the regulation, the new president chooses to backed the creative industry and projecting it as Indonesia’s future economic backbone and online shopping was a trends.
westward works has its own website since 2010. But believe it or not, we have zero sales from it until 2012. While now, most of our sales was done via the website. And yeah, there’s even a place called SLIPICON VALLEY. Yeah you read it right, It’s like smaller version of Silicon Valley. It was actually way smaller like building complex / superblock in SLIPI district – Jakarta, where’s most of the tenant is a start up company. One of Indonesian start up company even break a record as they receive biggest funding in SEA from Softbank.
And for us – westward works, that produce carry goods (bags) and travel accessories. We face another problem. Because you know, we’re Indonesian doesn’t consider bag as one of necessary items. We will usually go for bag around USD 5 to USD 20. And since we come with higher price range as a compensation of high quality materials that we use (we’re even the first SEA brand who use cordura fabric here), we have to work harder to educate the market.
Thing getting harder when most of Indonesian high schooler and colleger drive their own car to their campus as a result from the absent of high quality mass transportation facility. They’re most likely won’t see bag as a necessity. I am aware of this since the beginning. So we’re educate the market, step by step. And now things starting to change. The plan to build MRT and subway will definitely change the game. Because here’s what I see; The better mass transportation, the less people will drive their own car (especially with the support of car ownership regulation is planned to made it harder for one to own car). The more people use mass transportation, they will need a proper bag to carry and protects their goods that’s also looks good on them. There it is, the market.
What are the ideas or questions that ignited this project?
The idea is simple. It was all started from my idealist passion to create. The need to design things and see it being used by people and help them solve their problem.
And making bags was our way to express those passion. One other thing that makes this project happend is because there’s no one doing it back then in our independent scene. While other brand only consider bags as an accessories product, we saw it as an opportunity. So we stepping up and bring the bag as our main products. And this decision makes our love for travel and mountaineer even more alive.
This very core of idea is still live until now. westward works strive to creating products that will help people solve their problem. Help them to travel better and explore further.
What are your most substantial fears and frustrations relating to your work?
I get bored easily. I always distracted to things that I find more interesting than what I’m doing right now. That happen a lot when I designing the products. I often change the concept drastically just because I was distracted or tempted to applied other concept on current designs. This could be frustrating as it took longer to me to finish the design.
I guess, there’s a lot of thing that I fear will happened. But I believe I will thrive with time. I even could thrive under the uncertainty by choosing a path as an indiepreneur. One that everybody fears the most.
Can you talk a little about your personal history and background?
Well...there’s nothing interesting actually. haha...
I was Sundanese, one Indonesian tribe. While my great great grand parents have a chines blood and Dutch blood. My parents were divorced when I was 8... months.
I live with my grandfather and was taught to work to get what I want. It’s not like that my grandfather makes my life hard. He made it even more easier actually. He has everything to gave me anything I want, but instead of doing it, he taught me the real life lesson. To work on whatever I’m good at and get the reward out of it. I guess this is where I forged my entrepreneurial sense. I still remember when I begged for super Nintendo back when I was 6 or 7. My grandfather said I had to work because it was expensive. So, I draw son goku from DBZ on HVS paper, multiplied it using photocopy machine and sold it to my friends so they can put the color on it. I got like, Rp. 15.000 (it’s like 1.5 USD) from it and my grand father gave me what I want, a super nintendo! haha
How much do you think this unique perspective influences your work?
If you mean my personal history. It has everything that made me who I am now. The idea of everybody should work to get what they want has influenced how I see my customers.
I believe that my customers have done things to be finally afford my products. Those things could be easy like asking some money from parents or hard like saving some of their money. Whatever it is, they done something for my products.
And I should reward them with the best work I could do. I even talk this perspective to my bags makers. I told them that the bag that they sew today is for someone who work to get it. Someone that will pay their salary at the end of the month. I will make sure that my employees are fully aware of this. They know that it’s not me who paid their salary. I just do my job. I don’t want them to think that the money is come from me. So they will only respect me, not the products. I want them to think that the money is from our customers and the only way to respect our customers is work with all their heart to create the best bag they could.
We spent a lot of time talking about how dramatically Indonesia's urban culture evolved and will evolve in the next five years. Can you talk more about that?
Well...in my perspective. The urban culture in Indonesia, or should I say, Jakarta has evolved drastically in every way I could think of. I still remember back when we had to bought anything hype from eBay or some store in US. It’s like buying a 250 USD of Jordan sneaker and we still have to deal with USD 40 shipping cost and bear a 150 USD tax. We still do it anyway.
My friend who have friends that stay in US has eventually made a proxy business from this situation. He is now have his own bike store as a result from this proxy busines, haha
For a few years, things were stay as it is. And it changes over time, dramatically.
Right now, it’s far more different. There’s even a store that sold visvim, thom browne and there’s an actual release for yeezy here. It’s somehow amazing to think what Jakartans could afford.
What do you like the most about running a bag company?
Aside from the designs and prototyping phase. The field testing process was one of my favourite. It’s required me to travel to different places to test if the bag has proper function and you know, who doesn’t love traveling. hahaha