Michael and Regina Kirshbaum own Agabhumi The Best of Bali, a boutique in Stamford celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
In Balinese, Agabhumi translates to “ancient firmament.” In Stamford, it has translated into a successful jewelry and accessories retail business for a local couple that has since expanded as far as California and Barbados.
Husband and wife entrepreneurs Michael and Regina Kirshbaum are the business brains and fashion mavens behind Agabhumi The Best of Bali L.L.C., a hole-in-the-wall, 1,450-square-foot boutique located in Stamford’s south end celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
The couple opened Agabhumi The Best of Bali in 2002 after falling in love with an array of unique, locally manufactured products on a vacation to the island of Bali, an Indonesian province that is home to most of the country’s Hindu minority.
“Michael said, ‘We can bring Bali home and start a retail store,’ and I said, ‘I’ve had enough retail, I never want to do that,’” Regina said. “I had been at Bergdorf’s and Bloomingdale’s before so I thought he was out of his mind. Not a chance. And by the time we got home, he talked me into it.”
Agabhumi The Best of Bali has an agent in Bali and works with more than 40 groups of Balinese artisans to import products ranging from ornate jewelry to belts, handbags, sweaters and scarves to Stamford and the store’s other locations, Michael said.
“The way we work is twofold,” he said. “One, we’ll buy things off people’s lines and we will also customize things people are doing. And then … Regina will do sketches and designs and they’ll make prototypes from jewelry to clothing. Most of the clothing, though, is out of Regina’s head and then designed and created for us.”
In Bali, “The people are all artistic, they’re all trained in something, as a dancer, a woodcutter, a stone mason and that just permeates the society,” Michael said.
The Kirshbaums, who live nearby on Shippan Point, have since opened Agabhumi locations in New Haven, Santa Monica, Calif., and Barbados.
They opened the first Agabhumi location in the Stamford’s south end despite there being little in the way of luxury housing, retail and restaurants at the time, Regina said.
“Opening up here, on paper, was ridiculous,” she acknowledged.
In the 10 years since opening, Regina and Michael have worked to draw new customers to the area and to unite businesses around a common marketing campaign.
At one point, they launched an initiative to designate a name for the area called “SOTO,” or South of Town, and with city approval, paid out-of-pocket to install signage in hopes of unifying local businesses.
But all along, Regina said they were confident they could successfully market Balinese-made products to local shoppers out of the Stamford location.
“We moved here from Manhattan 23 years ago and when we got here, it all felt very isolated fashion-wise. It all felt very cookie-cutter and so for me, it was intensely dull. I’ve always been a treasure hunt kind of shopper,” Regina said.
“We knew that we could get (this merchandise) here and put a very fair price tag on it and finally bring some value to this area,” she added.
Regina and Michael both play a role in nurturing relationships with craftsmen and loyal customers as well as having a hand in their brand’s marketing campaigns, drawing on their joint backgrounds in retail and product development.
“We approach life from kind of a silly standpoint. We like the whimsical,” Regina said. “And we think about headlines people will remember that are clever or silly like, ‘Sleigh bells bling, are you glistening?’” she said, referencing an Agabhumi holiday campaign.
Beyond a shared sense of humor and style, the Kirshbaums share an active commitment to community involvement.
Agabhumi donates between 30 and 40 percent of sales to scholarships, public schools, community service projects and southern Connecticut cancer centers, which was in part inspired by a sudden near-death liver transplant operation Michael underwent in 2007.
“I call it ‘retailing with a conscience,’” Regina said.