In November of 2002, Michael and Regina Kirshbaum opened Agabhumi: The Best of Bali as their first retail store in Stamford, Connecticut.
Since then, Michael, now 62, and Regina, now 53, have successfully opened stores in Santa Monica; Holetown, Barbados; and most recently in New Haven, Connecticut.
They now operate a successful multi-national brand that sells more than 5,000 products including distinctive jewelry, handbags, shoes, clothing and much more.
Their entrepreneurial story is one that dates back decades, whose success is rooted in not only having their products featured in today’s most popular fashion magazines, but their perseverance through difficult times while making an unparalleled impact on their community.
There is simply no one else like them.
Agabhumi means “ancient firmament” and connotes a reflection of the strength and creativity of the local Balinese artisans with whom Michael and Regina work most closely.
The brand has grown to become internationally recognized while being featured in People, O, InStyle, Marie Claire, Lucky, Glamour, Cosmopolitan and more.
Its history dates back to 1974, when Michael first visited Bali as a young man and befriended an Indonesian family.
Decades later, the pair were reunited with that same family, and came up with the idea to bring U.S. consumers products that showcase the breadth of Indonesian beauty and craftsmanship.
Prior to opening the first Agabhumi store, the couple had years of collective experience in the business and fashion worlds, specifically in retail and product development, with Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdales and Abraham and Straus to name a few.
In the early 2000’s, Michael was excited about a prospective career change after reuniting with his old Indonesian friends.
Regina, however, was more content with her job, and resisted the idea initially.
However, the two collaborated and became more and more passionate about the idea.
Now, almost a decade and a few recessions later, the business is thriving, and the owners are, too, as the faces of an inimitable brand.
Their perseverance, however, has been tested not only because of economic instability around the world, but in a way quite different than the average entrepreneurs.
In 2007, Michael, then 57 years old, was quickly losing a battle with his health stemming from Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis or PSC, a rare biliary disease that poisoned his liver for 17 years.
For years before his surgery, he had controlled his disorder with a positive outlook, a team of regular and naturopathic doctors and rigorous monitoring of his health.
A good diet, frequent trips to Bali and their store in Barbados, and exercise such as karate, walking, and tennis helped.
Eventually, though, the PSC got the best of his liver. It was failing.
A donated cadaver organ he received at New York-Presbyterian saved him.
Seventy-five percent of patients on transplant lists suffer from liver cirrhosis, sometimes caused by alcoholism or hepatitis.
In Kirshbaum’s case, his wife notes, “It was just a freak autoimmune disorder that made him sick. None of this was his fault. And without this transplant, he was absolutely going to die.”
As Michael recovered in the years that followed, the business stayed top of mind for them. But so did what the couple describes as a greater mission of “Retailing with a Conscience.”
Perhaps the thing that sets the two founders most apart from other entrepreneurs is their willingness to give back to their communities, through the support of several charities.
In all cases, charities receive between 30 percent and 40 percent of the proceeds of sales of items.
Among their donations over the years, Agabhumi has supported southern Connecticut cancer centers, community service projects and scholarships, fundraising for the cure of PSC as well as other liver diseases, and several animal rescue centers on the east and west coasts.
One of the causes that the co-owners are most passionate about are those that promote anti-bullying.
Agabhumi has created their “Pearl Girl” line of jewelry named after a young, female super-hero they created.
The analogy of the pearl is purposeful to connote the layers of strength and value that build up over time in young women.
The exclusive line consists of treasures fashioned from freshwater pearls, mother of pearl shell and abalone shell. Fifteen percent of all sales from the “Pearl Girl” line will be donated to the Mayor’s Youth Council for anti-bullying.
The Kirshbaum’s collaborate with dozens of Indonesian vendors to craft their line of extensive products.
They make two trips to Bali a year in order to work with merchants, share designs, and bring new fashion trends back to the U.S.
Michael and Regina feel it is their calling to help expose the breadth of Indonesian talents to consumers in the U.S. and abroad who are hungry for special, utilitarian designs that are forward-thinking and ahead of the fashion curve.
In short: Agabhumi has unique, one-of-a-kind products, passionate management and fans, international recognition, and a philanthropic mindset.
What do the owners have to say about having so much going for them?
“It’s tiring, but also energizing,” said Regina. “When you come up with something totally different than everyone else is doing and it works, that’s cool. We’ve established a business and lifestyle formula that Michael and I are really proud of over the last 10 years, and we wouldn’t trade it for a thing.”
The couple’s Santa Monica location is at 2665 Main Street.
For more information, visit www.agabhumi.com.