Dive Deeper: Gardens of The Sun


1. Would you share a bit about yourself and where you’re from?

Hi, I’m Meri and I’m the founder of the ethical jewelry brand Gardens of the Sun. I was born in the Netherlands in the ’80s. Ever since primary school, I knew that I wanted to visit Indonesia and live on a tropical island, away from the rat race. So I decided to study tropical forestry. I left the Netherlands when I was 19 and have never been back for long since.

2. How did it all start?

During my studies, I spent months at a time living with indigenous Dayak communities in Indonesian Borneo. After years of working as a sustainability consultant, I had burnout. This burnout turned out to be my saving grace. I packed my bags once more and moved to Bali. I turned my spare bedroom into a jewelry workshop. As I continued to freelance I found myself drawn more and more to creating beautiful things. But… I wanted to make things that last. And I knew I wanted to combine creating with doing good. I used to work on supply chains, responsible production, and with local communities. So the logical start to doing good was with responsible sourcing of the materials. In 2018, I quit my day job and decided to meet every single person in our supply chain. To see how we can make a meaningful difference in their lives. To make that a reality, a sustainability manager was one of the first people I hired. And we asked ourselves “ethical jewelry, what does that really mean?”.

3. Was it always the intention to become a sustainable and ethical designer?

When I first started, I didn’t have a clear vision. But as my side gig kept growing into something more professional, I knew I had to work on the ethics. My courage grew when I decided to use jewelry as a force for good. Instead of advising other businesses on how to do better, I got to make my own business as ethical as possible. I finally got to work on it from the inside. And that’s when it became really fun!

4. What was it that first raised your awareness on the issue of fast fashion?

I’ve always been conscious of the impact my choices have on the world. In high school I was already campaigning against the bio industry. It was only in Indonesia I saw firsthand how consumerism was affecting people’s lives. I saw how indigenous people were selling their forests and ancestral lands to keep up with the Joneses. This experience, along with my own struggles with burnout and depression, led me to create a brand driven by doing good and giving back.


1. Could you tell us more about your label?

Gardens of the Sun is an ethical jewelry brand, now B Corp certified. I used to joke that jewelry was just a front to plant more trees and help indigenous women. But here we are – over 55,000 trees planted and a gold partnership that offers indigenous women access to finance. We’re actually using jewelry to make a difference in this world.

2. What is the ethos when you design?

To me, “ethical jewelry” isn’t just a marketing ploy, like you see from a lot of brands in it for the cash. It’s a lifelong mission for our team. Gardens of the Sun is known for its one of a kind jewelry with colorful gemstones and a wide range of diamonds to choose from, all created by hand.

3. What have been some of the biggest challenges for you on this journey?

Running a business like this definitely comes with its own set of challenges. Sourcing materials responsibly can be difficult, especially when you source them from all over the world. The last two years have been the most challenging years yet. After years of steady growth, we struggled to make ends meet. We understocked and then overstocked on ethical gold. Our gold purchasing strategy wasn’t sustainable. To push more sales, we ran heavy discounts. But the sales weren’t aligned with our values, and affected the perception of our brand. These discounts weren’t sustainable. I decided to go back to the basics. Our values. Instead of pushing people to buy more, we pushed ourselves to do more good. And just like that, I felt like Gardens of the Sun was back. The truest, most beautiful business I could have imagined. And sustainable again. Despite these challenges, we’re determined to make a real difference. On a larger scale, Gardens of the Sun is about transforming supply chains, connecting people, being honest in our journey and giving back. It’s still a work in progress. The journey for a more ethical jewelry industry is still far from done.

4. What do you want to achieve personally with your brand?

To feel good about what I do and the products I sell. I seek a higher purpose in everything I do. This includes using the jewelry to plant trees, empowering female miners to stop using mercury and supporting victims of wartime sexual violence. Switching from a job where I got to save the rainforest to a business selling jewelry felt like switching from making the world a better place to making pretty trinkets. I wasn’t confident about that switch until I figured out how to use jewelry to do more good. Looking back, it seems pretty obvious. I advised companies to be more sustainable and responsible in their production. Now I get to implement my own advice.


1. How would you explain the importance of brands like yours making steps to become more ethical and sustainable to someone who isn’t well-versed in what that means?

The jewelry industry has a bad rep for being unethical and damaging to the environment. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of mines that destroy the environment and worker exploitation. Plenty of businesses toss buzzwords like ethical, sustainable or responsible around. But they don’t necessarily mean the same thing. A vague statement like “ethical jewelry” without practical action wouldn’t necessarily change anything. Because it’s just words, and doing it is a lot harder than talking about it. It takes extra effort and resources to ensure that everything is really, actually, done in an ethical, responsible and sustainable way. In other words? It’s complicated. We’re trying to change that by being transparent about the journey, and letting other jewelry brands join us for the ride. For example, we’re reselling our ethical gold to other jewelry brands, like Natalie Dissel and Tara Noelle. Because together we can support a lot more women miners than we can alone.

2. For the consumers, what are the easiest ways that we can all be more sustainable in our approach to fashion?

There’s a growing demand for ethical and sustainable products, and the jewelry industry is no exception. People are becoming more aware of the impact their purchases have on the world and are willing to pay more for products that align with their values. However, simply stating that a product is “ethical” or “sustainable” without any practical action to back it up, is not enough to make a difference. Plenty of jewelry brands claim their materials are ethically sourced, but they may not provide any transparency around their supply chain. Or it’s ethical only because it’s made by people who receive fair pay (in a country where minimum wages are already enforced). Or it’s ethical only because they give back a percentage of profits. Or it’s ethical only because they use recycled metals. But each of these things on their own doesn’t make the jewelry or a brand an ethical one. As a consumer, you’ve got to ask what’s behind the buzzwords.

3. In your own eyes, how has becoming a sustainable designer changed your life?

I learned that I could know anything. The foundations for this were already laid when I worked as a sustainability consultant. Sometimes I had to be an instant expert on an entirely new topic. Being an entrepreneur is kind of like that. Problems come up all the time. And to solve them, you’ve got to be curious, learn quickly and pivot fast. It’s like that Pippi Longstocking quote, “I have never tried that before, so I think I should be able to do that.” And I did that.

4. People say that sustainable fashion is too expensive or too difficult to do. How do you usually respond to that?

I understand why some people might think sustainable fashion is too expensive or difficult to do. But think about it. Jewelry that causes mercury pollution and traps people in poverty has a much higher cost. And that cost isn’t calculated in the price consumers pay. That’s a cost paid by other people – the workers and future generations that’ll have to clean up our mess. I think fixing our wrongs is much more difficult than preventing them.


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