On a buying trip to Bali, Sandpiper Imports founder Erika Poulos sat down with the owner of our silver workshop in Bali, Nyoman, to talk about his life, how he learned the art of silversmithing, and what sets his business apart. We hope you’ll enjoy this peek into how our jewelry is produced!
Nyoman grew up in Bali, sharing a small home made from bamboo with his father, a truck driver, his mother, who made money by reselling assorted products to neighbors, and his older brother Made. At age 6, he began working in a silver workshop in order to pay for his school books. He attended school in the mornings, and worked in the afternoons at the shop, polishing silver and taking care of the shop owner’s children. He continued to work in the same shop for 12 years, until he started university, and during his time there, learned the art of silversmithing and how to run a successful business. He says that while his income was very small, he was “paid with knowledge,” and wouldn’t have the success he has now without this first job.
A year before he was due to finish his university studies, Nyoman had the opportunity to start his own business. He had gained a reputation at work as a skilled silversmith, and many of his former boss’s customers wanted to work directly with him on custom orders. He lacked the startup capital to begin the orders and was unable to secure a loan from a bank without any collateral, so he went shop to shop in Ubud, attempting to sell his merchandise and make enough money to begin these custom orders. Finally, he received a small loan from a customer who believed in him & trusted his work and his mother, who had sacrificed so much for him already, sold a treasured piece of jewelry to provide him with the rest of the money he needed to get started.
Nyoman’s first several customers were people he’d met through his old job, and as he gained a reputation as a skilled businessman and the word spread about his workshop, he starting working with more companies. He tries to maintain long-term relationships with his customers, built on trust and respect. He says this keeps his business sustainable, and allows him to provide secure jobs to his employees. Nyoman prefers to start with a small order for each customer, and enjoys helping the companies he works with grow as they learn about what products their customers prefer. As their needs grow, Nyoman personally works with them to build a custom order that fits their brand.
As his business has grown, he’s been able to hire twelve full-time artisans to work in his shop and he has trained several others in his community to help out when he gets larger orders, nearly all of them referred to him by current employees. This referral system has served him well - he now has a team full of employees that he knows he can trust and whose work he is proud of.
Nyoman’s employees are like family to him. He likes to say that “every artist’s pieces are made with love.” He’s built his business on relationships - without even knowing about fair trade before he met Erika (see more about the fair trade principles here), he had built a truly fair trade business - because he believes that that’s how every business should be run. Nyoman has a great relationship with each of his employees. He encourages innovation, creativity, and flexibility in his workshop. He’s a kind and encouraging boss, and a great teacher. Erika recalls once, observing as he patiently re-trained an employee in a particular method after they’d made an error on a piece. No anger, no frustration - just encouragement and assistance. Nyoman’s workshop is peaceful and productive.
It’s important to Nyoman that Balinese children receive an education, and he’s very proud of the fact that every single one of his employees’ children is able to attend school - without working to pay for it themselves. His childhood was difficult, and he wants better for today’s children.
With his business thriving, Nyoman is also now able to support his entire extended family. He’s built a large house where the whole family lives together - his mother and father, his brother, his wife and children, and his own wife and two sons. He feels good about being able to give something back to his family, especially to his parents, who sacrificed so much to support him and help him succeed in life.
We’ve worked with Nyoman since Sandpiper Imports first began. It was truly like fate brought us together. On our first buying trip to Indonesia, we asked an employee at the small bed & breakfast we were staying at if they knew anyone who designed sterling silver jewelry that we could buy in bulk. He said, “a cousin of a neighbor of a friend…” and that’s how we found Nyoman! We knew we were looking to work with an ethical producer, and we were thrilled when Nyoman welcomed us into his home, showed us his products and workshop, and introduced us to his workers. We peppered him with questions about his production practices and working conditions at his shop, and after realizing that he checked off all the boxes of the fair trade principles, we asked if he’d ever heard of fair trade. (He hadn’t.) At the end of the day, when we placed our first order with him, he shook Erika’s hand, looked her directly in the eye, and said, “I trust you, you trust me. We are like family now.” And the rest is history.
Take a look at some of our favorite designs made in Nyoman’s workshop below:
Kasih Grey Pearl Earrings (L): This white pearl earring was a huge hit when we introduced it last year. It is such a unique and unusual style. Erika asked Nyoman to make a similar style with a grey pearl for her wedding a few months back, and he was delighted she wore his jewelry for such a special occasion. (Erika’s reaction? “How could I not?!”) She’ll be adding the grey version to the collection soon!
Kaya Ring (C): We’ve carried this since our first buying trip, and it’s Erika’s all time favorite ring! She loves the unique shape, the detailed design, and the way it catches light.
Saja Abalone Earrings (R): There are a few styles of abalone earrings in our collection, so it’s hard to pick a favorite. We love abalone so much because it’s a little bit like wearing a peacock! Each piece is unique and different with the coloration, but every blend of colors is just beautiful.