Myths abound about the paradisial beauty of Bali, Indonesia. But truth be told, on the beaten tracks of Kuta, Legian, or Seminyak, it’s a bit of a treasure hunt trying to find a spot that’s not overrun with doughy tourists in skimpy bathing suits, whooping it up to beach-house club beats. Getting to the island’s heart, Mount Batur, or to Ubud, the soul of its artistic community, often requires navigating bumper-to-bumper traffic, with locals piled three to a scooter. As Noël Coward might’ve said after visiting the place in the 1930s, “There’s far too much Bali in Bali” to get any rest.
Yet near the lush, inland jungles of Ubud lies an oasis of creative calm and pristine beauty that makes it easy to understand why the Canadian artist John Hardy moved here in 1975 to study Balinese jewelrymaking, his teacher an artisan whose ancestors had been goldsmiths to the island’s former royal court. By 1989, Hardy believed he’d mastered enough of the traditional forms to start his own brand—large, silver hammered, woven, and filigree-embellished jewelry of a kind that one rarely saw outside of antiques shops and history books. Hardy not only commercialized the look—at a price—but popularized it at a time when tribal and ethnic-inspired jewelry was becoming all the rage.
Less than a decade later, he began building what the company’s employees now call “the compound”: a series of sublimely beautiful open-air bamboo structures, where workers—mostly Balinese, both Muslim and Hindu, with a smattering of expats—shuffle about in printed sarongs and sandals. The compound includes separate dining halls for Hindus and Muslims, in deference to the two religions’ dietary restrictions. And surrounding the cluster of bamboo buildings are the company’s rice fields, dotted with century-old temples. It is indeed a slice of Balinese heaven if you’re lucky enough to make it here.
But perhaps more important is how this multimillion-dollar company has set the bar for eco-consciousness in luxury goods, prompting the Financial Times to name it one of the top 100 green businesses in the world. While John Hardy inspired his eponymous company’s eco-spirit, he sold the business several years ago, and its new owners, CEO Damien Dernoncourt and designer Guy Bedarida, are, shall we say, the engines behind the recent green push.
The Bali compound is not only completely self-sustaining (thanks to water-purification leach fields, a recycling program, and environmentally friendly production methods), but the company also has launched a project to offset the amount of CO2 it produces each year by planting bamboo trees on Nusa Penida, an island off the southeast coast of Bali. And this month, it’s expanding its eco-efforts further with Hijau, a line of jewelry to be launched at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City that includes a piece designed by earthy beauty Angela Lindvall.
The 31-year-old model and mother of two is known for her environmental advocacy—her Collage Foundation promotes sustainability to young people and supports a biodynamic farm in New York State—and last August, she visited Hardy’s Bali headquarters on a scouting trip for Alter Eco, the Planet Green channel’s lifestyle and makeover show. After four days of exploring the rivers of Ubud, helping plant the next season’s rice harvest, and watching the sunrise from atop Mount Batur, Lindvall says she fell in love with Bali’s natural wonders and with what the company and the Wear Bamboo, Plant Bamboo project were doing to preserve it. “The way Damien and Guy are raising the standard in the industry really resonated with me,” she says.
Collaborating with Lindvall for Hijau was a no-brainer for Bedarida, who came to John Hardy after long tenures at Van Cleef & Arpels and Boucheron. “She is a mother, she works. She is very real,” he says. “She’s the kind of woman who is my muse.” The Hijau line includes bamboo-inspired stackable rings and bracelets, topaz-studded hoops and drop earrings, a pendant, a sizable cuff, priced from $295 to $3,000, and woven organic cotton cord bracelets in green, brown, or pink with a topaz-encrusted silver clasp, which will retail for $95. The latter was the work of Lindvall, and Dernoncourt says he plans to donate the proceeds from the bracelets—and 10 percent of the profit from the rest of the collection—to ForestEthics, a group that fights the exploitation of forests in North America.
Perhaps one reason Dernoncourt and Bedarida can be generous is that, unlike much of the fashion industry, their company is thriving. “We tripled our sales in the past five years,” says Dernoncourt, who speaks as enthusiastically about his employees’ well-being as he does about bottom lines. He tells me proudly that since many of John Hardy’s jewelrymakers are women with families, they’re allowed to work at home, meaning that much of the chain-weaving is done off-site. The company has also sponsored four orphan girls in an apprenticeship program in which they study English and information technology as well as Hardy’s craft.
As for Bedarida, he’s an energetic Balinese dreamer type who relishes the challenge of his company’s dedication to the environment as much as its intricate craftsmanship. “Everything we do here is made by hand, so we can create unique pieces that no one else could imagine,” he says. Pointing to a Japanese painting of a tiger that’s inspiring his next collection, he adds, “I live in a world full of possibilities—it’s really unbelievable.”
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