A FEW STEPS AHEAD
By Cat Wheeler
Ubud – Bali – Indonesia – March 31st – April 4th 2010
Meghan Pappenheim, the New Yorker who put Bali on the map for the international yoga community, has always been a few steps ahead of her
time. She lived on the Upper East Side growing up, but from the time she was about 13 years old she’d catch a subway after school to the Village and its esoteric vibe. She was fascinated by the culteral extravaganza of the Village – the music, the dance, the yoga. At the New York Open Centre on Spring Street she was by far the youngest in the yoga class. A year or so later she was studying African dance.
“I’ve been doing business since I was ten years old,” she laughs during an interview in a lush Balinese garden. “Madonna had just come in, and I made bright plastic earrings and bracelets that I sold at school fairs and to neighbours. I also had a little business selling seedlings and bulbs for the gardens in the apartment.”
That entreprenurial streak, combined with her fascination for exotic cultures, has created a little empire in Ubud, Bali. Meg’s businesses include a bustling restaurant, craft gallery, yoga accessory shop and a popular yoga studio with a health food restaurant and an annual international festival.
The path to Bali was serendipitous. She was studying Art History and Asian Studios at Beloit College, in Beloit, Wisconsin with a focus on Balinese indigenous arts, when the opportunity for an semester abroad came up. The choices were Senegal and Indonesia. Despite her passion for African culture, Meg chose the Bali option because it was cheaper. The choice would change the direction of her life.
Arriving in Bali in 1992 she mmediately met Made Gunarta (Dekgun), the man who would become her husband. Romance bloomed for the brief month they had together. Meg and Dek corresponded for two years until she returned to Bali with a $6,000 stake in her pocket. “My first investor – my ‘angel’ investor -– was a lady of 85. She made me give her a budget. I already knew that I wanted to return to Bali and had been impressed by the huge skill base there.”
Meg’s first business, Global Frame, was the production and export of attractive hand-craved wooden photo frames beginning in 1995. “Even then I was promoting the concept of conscious consumerism,” she grins. “The tagline was, ‘Saving the World Frame by Frame’. Dek and I designed the sustainable wood frames together, using his connections with wood producers and craftsmen. We’ve been living and working together ever since.”
In those early days there was no bureaucracy to navigate, and the little business needed no licensing. Dek helped her navigate the intricities of Balinese culture while she picked up the language already conversationally fluent from her semester abroad stint Having a local partner made everything much easier.
Dek had opened a painting gallery in the family compound in 1989, and together they turned it into an ethnic craft boutique now known as Tegun
Galeri. “We traveled to remote parts of Indonesia together, sourcing unusual crafts directly from the producers,” Meg remembers. “It was a wonderful time of exploring this amazing archipelago with Dek. Those journeys together were an important part of our relationship, and I really cherish the memory of them now that we’re both so busy.”
Meg’s lively personality and unique products ensured the frames and other crafts a place in Neiman Marcus and American gift shows. Meg and Dek went bankrupt at one point, then business took off again. “Our craft export business peaked with Ibiza.com; the internet shopping companies were booming and we rode on that, exporting containers of crafts to the United States. Then it all crashed. IKEA and cheap Chinese products quickly changed the face of importing from unique, hand-made crafts to mass production.”
Their business screeched to a halt. Again they faced bankruptcy. Casting about for the next arena for her entrepreneurial energy, Meg noticed the growing trend for yoga in the United States. Once again, she was ahead of the wave. She trained as a yoga teacher about the time that Bali’s economy was devasted by terrorist bombs in late 2002.
“Tourism dried up overnight,” she states. “ I decided to start a website to bring business to Bali and create an electronic community of like-minded people.” The early website featured yoga, retreats, tours, accommodation and spas. From small beginnings (and smaller band-width), BaliSpirit.com now sees 18,000 unique visitors a month, and its newsletter goes out to a mailing list of about the same size.
The BaliSpirit website was the foundation for what has become an international platform promoting Bali as a holistic and yoga destination. “I’m really proud to have been the catalyst for that,” says Meg.
Join us in the next issue of Yoganomics to read about Meg’s creation of the Yoga barn and the Bali Spirit Festival, an internationally acclaimed celebratation of yoga, music and dance.