We caught up with Electra Gillies about life in Bali, her successful eco business, and how she came to work with Gwyneth Paltrow.
Bali has always had a special place in Electra Gillies’ heart, ever since her parents honeymooned here 47 years ago. Since then she visited countless times, including a backpacking trip whilst she was at university, and eventually set up ‘home’ on the island 10 years ago. The island’s beautiful rituals and deep culture, plus its community of free spirits, are what Electra and her husband Lorenzo and daughter, Talitha, love about Bali.
So, who is Electra Gillies? Explorer. Eco traveler. Designer. Mother. Wife. An all round global gypsy. Her brand The Eco Gypsy is an online eco travel magazine that caters for the nomads who love an off the beaten track travel experience, but who want to visit destinations that are eco friendly. You can also find the Bazaar on the website which sells global gypsy garments that are nearly 100% eco friendly [and mostly made in Bali]. Here we chat to Electra about her love for Bali and what keeps her coming back, and the inspiration behind her successful company.
Hi Electra. So what is it that drew you to Bali,and what keeps you here?
When I decided to leave London, I found myself in Indonesian Papua doing some environmental consulting so I stopped off in Bali to see some old friends. I had not been to Bali in about 8 years but this time it had become more liveable for me – it was more relaxed, natural and bohemian. The island was so deeply connected to its culture, and had not become such a shopping mall culture as the rest of South East Asia. It was natural but there were still good foreign restaurants and places with a very cool, chilled foreign community. My mother is Indian Malaysian and my father Scottish South African, and I was born in Singapore and brought up between there and England mainly, and Bali for me has the best balance of Asian & European, as that is basically what I am!
Eco Gypsy is an online eco travel magazine that discusses environmentally conscious themes, such as places to visit and people who help make the world better. Where and why did Eco Gypsy come about?
I have been a travel writer & Editor for almost 15 years, and I wanted to write about beautiful but conscious travel destinations around the world. Ecotourism has a pretty unglamorous image, so I decided to promote my vision of eco travel to people like me – people who love nature and the undiscovered off the beaten track, and who appreciate great beauty and a little luxury, but also want to know that the money you spend is actually going back into the conservation of the natural environment or communities/tribes you are visiting and not some multinational pocket.
You have lived in various parts of the world, and travelled extensively. What is your all-time favourite ‘Eco Escape’?
That is a really difficult one as I love so many places and everywhere is so different, but Africa always has a special draw for me, especially Tanzania. Lake Manyara Tree Lodge is near the lake pink from flamingos and has private eco luxury tree houses and a natural tribal aesthetic that I love. This area is famous for lions that sleep in the trees by day and you can wander out of the camp on foot, and even though that in my case almost led to being trampled by an irate male bull elephant, a bit of adrenaline was worth getting up close and personal!
Who influences and inspires you to be so environmentally aware?
I did my masters in environmental studies so I took a lot from academics at university and famous conservationists, such as Jane Goodall. But it is travelling and learning from the tribes such as the Maasai and Papuans or sea gypsies in the Maldives and Indonesia who know the land or the sea. They have an inherent knowledge of every type of flora and fauna, the survival of indigenous knowledge is vital to the survival of earth I feel. My daughter also inspires me to do better, you worry about the state of the planet when she is an adult, hence why she is at the Green School!
Do you have any tips on how we can enjoy Bali in a sustainable way?
Bali is a living culture, the environment is not just about trees – it is about the people. Naturally I would suggest staying in one of our recommended Eco Escapes on the website. These are working towards minimal impact on the environment but also support preservation of land and local communities. I think being more aware about Balinese culture (or the culture of anywhere) would help, and show respect for the culture, their land and way of life. Also, support the local! Buy local and eat local – yes we all feel like a burger occasionally and that’s fine, but buy from the artisans and eat the local food.
You have a beautiful e-boutique on the website, selling The Eco Gypsy Ethical Beachwear. Where do you get your products made?
Most of the products I have made in Bali. Everyone kept asking me where I got pieces in my wardrobe from, so I decided to put together a small beachwear line and sell them online. I believe in employing local and I actually knew most of the artisans [and their families] personally before setting up the brand. We are an ethical brand, so we pay a living page [not the minimum] as it is important to me to know that my workers are being rewarded for the work that they are doing, especially as the cost of living in Bali is rapidily increasing.
We source our shells directly from the sea gypsies and they are all certified under international CITES laws and conventions to prove they are not endangered or farmed. We take care with the raw materials we use, like we make peices from sustainable cotton bamboo and have recently started experimenting with spandex made from plastic bottles for swimwear. I never claim to be 100% ‘eco’ as to be honest it is practically impossible but we try our hardest.
You did a collab with Gwyneth Paltrow… Pretty cool! How did this come about?
Much as I have a love/hate relationship with Instagram it was a series of coincidences that ended up on social media. After Candice Swanepoel [probably one of the world’s biggest supermodels for those not in the know!] contacted me for her pairs of ankle cuffs, Victoria’s Secret got in touch to use them for their 2015 Swim Special and a commercial. Alessandra Ambrosio, Behati Prinsloo and Jas Tookes were posting a lot of behind-the-scenes photos wearing the cuffs, and girls in LA started wearing them. Gwyneth Paltrow spotted them on a girl wearing some and uploaded a picture to social media, asking the general public who made the cuffs. Obviously I sent her a few pairs and Goop invited me a few months later to collaborate on a couple of bespoke styles. I started last year to create The Eco Gypsy X Goop for Summer 16 that went amazingly well.
And finally, who would you consider to be an ‘Eco Gypsy’?
In the 70’s the way The Gettys & Yves Saint Laurent lived, or the rock and rollers going to India etc was very Eco Gypsy and a big inspiration behind the brand. I am in the wrong era as me and my friends could still hang out with the naked hippies in Goa and places and not be all over Instagram. These were the original Eco Gypsies. Living free, nomadic and minimal impact lives in some kind of symbiosis with the locals.
I have a small group of wonderful female friends in Bali, some of which think I am mad with my ideas, but are very supportive. We also have this global family of people who very much share the same way of life as us and philosophy.
Electra’s Insiders Guide to Bali
Favourite things to do in Bali? Go to the beach in Nusa Dua or the Bukit, exploring artisanal workshops in local villages, or get in the middle of the bustling Balinese markets in the mornings to buy flowers or fabrics!
Favourite spots to eat? Mamasan is definitely top of the list for Seminyak – it does one of the best creme brulee’s in the world!
Favourite places to watch the sunset? La Laguna definitely fits my aesthetic.
Favourite place to shop in Bali? Periplus book shop. They always have a huge selection of coffee table books on tropical style and gardens, and unique books that you can only find in Bali on traditional myths and children’s stories.
Favourite experience in Bali? Having a snoop around Kungklung Market. It is a treasure trove of textiles, traditional fabrics and crafts from all over Indonesia.
What’s your favourite insider recommendation beyond the tourist experience? Head up north to the National Park and spend a night up there. You can snorkel from your front door, hang out with the deers and monkeys in the park, and the views of the olcanoes is incredible.
For more info, follow Electra on instagram @ecogypsy and visit Eco Gyspy.