Askar Moniaga shares the story how he and the other co-founders of Kumulo Creative compound strive to revive Jakarta’s creative dreams through a spirit of collaboration and sustainability
It was a cloudy and windy morning when the Prestige team arrived at Kumulo Creative Compound. Since we were about an hour early, we had time to stroll around and admire the area. Fortunately, soon enough, Askar Moniaga, the man I came to interview, came out to greet us and then proceeded to give us a guided tour of the premises while answering my questions.
“Kumulo Creative Compound was born out of the idea to gather all the interesting brands created by local artisans and creative people who have great stories to tell. This is a playground and incubator for them to explore their businesses through endless creativity and by encouraging each other to grow together within a healthy and collaborative community” explains Askar. He established Kumulo Creative Compound together with his wife, Scarlete Moniaga, and in partnership with Paulus Hyu and his wife Natasha Natalia. Their general aim to is gather fun, innovative, and dynamic ideas to create impact. The space itself nestled is inside of The Breeze, a lifestyle centre in the heart of BSD City, with a total area of 4,174 square metres, including a 600-square-metre prefab area. The venue is home to 24 curated micro-shops, which offers includes F&B outlets, lifestyle products, personal care, a nail spa, pet supplies, nurseries and gardening, a creative manufacturing workshop, as well as a Flexspace to hold personalised events. “People are welcome to enjoy the natural surroundings and shop in their favourite store while getting to know more about the various brand philosophies in person. That’s why we are making sure that the owners and shop assistants are able to deliver their brand stories. People can even bring their bicycles and pets here,” Askar, who is also the co-founder of Køkken+, explains further.
The name Kumulo comes from the Latin cumulus, which means a billow of clouds. “We see the dreams of creative people like clouds,” Askar elaborates. “At the beginning we thought about how a single brand can create significant impact. Then how big the impact would be if several brands can be placed in one area and synergize. As the saying goes: If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
Speaking about Kumulo’s unique architecture and design, Askar mentions that construction of the space was helmed by Dua Studio as the architect and Arcossa as the contractor. “We brought forth a modern minimalism concept inspired by Japanese Zen, where simplicity is meant to achieve inner freedom, release unlimited creativity and encourage the brands to grow and to achieve their dreams. This collective energy and synergy are the key elements of this space and what makes Kumulo different than any other place.” Construction and landscaping took four months to complete. What’s also interesting about Kumulo’s construction is the emphasis on minimizing waste, ensuring a minimal carbon footprint and time efficiency. “All of the buildings here cause less pollution because we are don’t cement and sand. Also, the building material we use can dissipate heat. The structure of the space itself uses a concrete floor to avoid soil damage. In general, the materials we use are recyclable in case the building have to be dismantled one day.”
Surprisingly – or perhaps not – the tenants at Kumulo go through a curation process before they can settle in. “This is important to make sure that our offerings are interesting and balanced. We want to lessen competition and emphasize more on collaboration. That’s why there are only two shops in the same category with different needs,” Askar explains. “Each brand has to have an interesting brand story. They have to be able to explain the purpose behind why they established the business, what kind of goods they want to sell, and what kind of materials they are using. Other important aspects include the sense of community and spirit of collaboration.”
During our walk around Kumulo, I noticed that Askar knew each brand owner and shop assistant quite well. He also fluently explained to me about each brand we passed by. “Creating a sustainable business is our main goal and building a good relationship with the brands is how we work. I would regularly ask them how business is doing, how they are doing and if there is anything that we – as the owners of the space – can do to help; That is also why we require brand owners to visit their shops at least once a week, to ensure that they are aware of the latest situation, that they connect with their customers, and that they maintain communications with us.”
After finishing up our tour around the shops, Askar invited us to sit down with him at a traditional bakery as he shares the story of Kumulo’s first days after opening in July 2020 over tea and donuts. “It was at a time when people were at the peak of boredom after staying at home for so long, and then news broke out about this new outdoor space. At first, we thought that it wouldn’t be too crowded as it was still in the middle of the pandemic and people would be hesitant to go outside. But we were wrong. People stormed the place. During one weekend, 6,000 people came in. Some brought lunch boxes, some carried picnic mats, some were doing photoshoots for their online shops, a lot of people were not wearing masks and so on. And it was terrifying because we didn’t want Kumulo to become a new COVID-19 cluster.” For sure, Kumulo went viral, but definitely not in the way that Askar hoped for. “It is okay because we were a new space but that’s not what our goal is. We created Kumulo not only to become Instagramable. We believe in good content and sustainability. So, on the flip side, we have to keep educating people to behave properly in this outdoor space.”
Naturally, the Kumulo team had to figure out how to prevent crowds like that. “And we decided to apply an entrance fee of IDR 50,000 – that’s IDR 15,000 for entry and IDR 35,000 in the form of a voucher that can be used for shopping,” Askar explains. “We were pleased with the outcome as visitor numbers decreased significantly, from 6,000 to 1,500 on the weekends. They become more curious about what can they purchase with the vouchers in each shop. An interesting fact is that the number of people who want to come to shop gradually increased because previously people were afraid due to the crowds. The brand owners are also happy because now, the people who come are those who want to explore and shop. Some of them have since become regulars. To be honest, we were feeling a bit conflicted before because we want the place to be busy but no too packed.
“Previously, in the name of community, we thought we could make everyone happy. But along the way we learned that’s simply not feasible. Not everyone can understand our concept and we won’t force them to. It’s okay even if they turn into haters who comment negatively on social media. We were initially bothered by people like that, but then we realise that this is part of the process and we now keep our focus on the goal which is to create our local ecosystem. We just need to focus on those who understand the concept, who trust us and want to grow together.”
As creative people, we can’t stop learning and exploring. The world never stops revolving and it’s important for us to keep adapting and being innovative
The joy in running Kumulo for Askar and the other co-founders lies in the never-ending exploration. “Discovering interesting brands who share the same spirit with us feels rewarding. As creative people, we can’t stop learning and exploring. The world never stops revolving and it’s important for us to keep adapting and being innovative. That’s why at Kumulo we are always trying to find ways to make it interesting, especially in this situation. Where we used to create gatherings, now we have to find ways to increase the sales without creating big crowds. We are also presenting experiences that are irreplaceable by online shopping: Walking around with your friends, family or pets while enjoying nature whether its sunny, windy, rainy, or cloudy.”
At the end of our interview, Askar led us back to the main area while he talked about his plans for 2021. “Where we are standing right now there will be an architecture installation made using rattan from BYO Living. This upcoming project will provide shade for both sunny and rainy days. In the future, there will be a third phase for Kumulo where existing buildings will get a facelift by a team from [Indonesian architect] Andra Matin. We will add more F&B and lifestyle tenants to make it more enjoyable for all of us.”