SukkhaCitta (SC): What brought you to Bali? Could you share a bit about your story and what drove you to start Gardens of the Sun?
Meri Geraldine (MG): I first came to Indonesia back in 2006. I was studying tropical forestry, and did an internship with a local NGO on the impact of oil palm plantations on local communities. This was at the time where oil palm was more controversial and problematic than it is now, but it wasn’t a mainstream or well-known issue yet. I stayed in remote villages in Kalimantan and Sumatra, and learned about the hardships these people had.
The relationship they had to their lands and to the environment, their way of living, the struggle of poverty... I joined them bathing in a sarong in the river - so many of them did not have access to clean water or sanitary services. It was a big adventure that really opened my eyes by immersing myself so deeply in another culture. I enjoyed the pace of life and the feeling that I was doing something good, so I came back for my Bachelor thesis and then Master thesis. Right after finishing my degree, I found a job as a sustainability consultant and did that for almost 6 years. After a burn-out I realized it was time to move on and we continued our adventure in Bali.
Gardens of the Sun really started as an outlet. I’ve always had creative or physical outlets, or both. I was an avid rock climber before I had kids; training with the local athletes, bouldering and climbing 6 or even 7 days a week. With a husband traveling half of the time for his work and a newborn, I couldn’t do that anymore. So I started making beaded jewelry at home and learning the basics of silversmithing in Yogyakarta, Java. It took several years to find my style and to merge my values for a better world with the business. And it’s only more recently that I feel comfortable letting my day job in the forestry and plantation sector go.
For a long time, I thought I had to do both - making the world better by stopping deforestation on weekdays, and making the world more beautiful through my jewelry designs at night and on weekends. Now I feel that I’m starting to make a difference with my jewelry and that I’m on the right track for using business as a force for good. I think this is where the most exciting part starts!
SC: You talk a lot about self love and acceptance of our imperfections, which came through beautifully in your handmade jewelries. Why is this important for you?
MG: I believe very deeply that a better world starts with ourselves. When you feel good, it’s so much easier to do good. When you feel good, you stop worrying about your own insecurities, and you become more open to others. It allows you to see more than just yourself. I think that empowered and confident women are a lot more likely to achieve change and make a difference. With my jewelry I hope to encourage women to do more, and to go beyond themselves.
What also comes into play is that traditional marketing always tells women that they're not enough. That they’ll be better or more when they buy a product. That they need to fit this impossible beauty standard, which forces everyone to look the same. I think that you are enough, that your imperfections are like unique fingerprints of humanity, and that you don’t need to consume to belong.
SC: What do you think the world needs more of?
MG: Compassion. Hope. And then there's a whole lot I think we need less of!
SC: Could you name a fear that keeps you up at night?
MG: Fortunately this rarely happens - I’m a pretty good sleeper! I think sometimes I just feel overwhelmed with all the change I’d like to see in this world, but there’s no plan of how to get there or I don’t see myself getting there fast enough.
SC: You just had another baby girl - could you share your journey of being a mother while at the same time nurturing your growing team? Any tips for work/life balance you can share for aspiring creative entrepreneurs?
MG: Work/life balance is a funny concept! I don’t think I’ve ever felt to have managed the balance for very long, but rather moments that just feel good or right. I think that as a business owner seeking meaning and change through business, will recognize that when your own values and your work values overlap, something quite magical happens. Work doesn’t really feel like work anymore. It feels like you get to do what you were meant to do, and the divide becomes very narrow.
I’m very intuitive when it comes to being a working mom, but also very privileged. With my second girl, I decided to breastfeed for as long as possible and not pump. I realize for most women that’s not an option. They might not even be able to breastfeed. I’m lucky enough to employ a full-time nanny who looks after my baby and lets me know when she’s hungry. I literally just receive a WhatsApp message. Then I jump on my bicycle and go home for a feed and a cuddle and simply admiring all the little things she learns each day. It’s the perfect break to marvel over my little one. It also means that she joins to work trips. As I’m not the only one in our team who recently had a baby, we’ve had some weekly office lunches where two babies joined. Plus, usually kids are invited to join during our bimonthly team outings.
Being a mom limits me working overtime, so I’ve had to hire more people to help get the job done. It’s been a struggle to make the time to give everyone enough guidance. I try to be gentle in how I manage the team, be vulnerable by showing my imperfections as a human and as a boss, and encourage everyone to grow and keep learning. Because really, no business can grow if the people in it don’t grow.
Meri is the founder and Chief Creative of Gardens of the Sun, a Bali-based jewellery company that aims to make the world a kinder place by inspiring self-love and ethical practices. She lives in Bali with her husband and two daughters.
Meri wears the Silk Flow LAUT Dress.