The flight between Singapore and Bali is close to three hours long and, already, I’m imagining scenarios of what happens if the plane starts to malfunction. Oxygen masks will drop like hanged men; the steel cabin that we are in may close in, turning into a collective metal coffin. One doesn’t usually start a travel piece with downed plane imagery but when you are travelling with a child who has never flown before, the mind tends to wander into dark territories.
That’s not to say that we didn’t plan ahead. We drafted out a checklist of possible outcomes that our child might end up in during the flight, and preventables: restlessness (a colouring book); blocked ears (a lollipop or sweet to suck on); loud engine noises (headphones that are hooked to a laptop with kid-friendly programmes); hunger (a packet of trail mix). But to paraphrase the Yiddish proverb: “Make plans. God laughs.” Our child, wee but shockingly inventive, found ways to stymie us. After an hour of colouring, he is now fidgety and reluctant to remain in his seat, let alone, be strapped into his seat.
The distractions have lost their powers and we’re left with nothing but hushed threats and calls to reason with this emotional terrorist. My mind wanders. I picture our plane making impact with the side of the mountain.
IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE a getaway. A slice of free time carved out from a busy schedule, a weekend that I can greedily indulge in. It will be spent at Desa Potato Head, a sprawling 226-guest room hotel that’s set on Petitenget Beach in Seminyak. Before we were married, the wife and I visited the site (then Potato Head Bali). I remember spending lazy hours on the daybed at the Beach Club. Now with a child added to the mix, we decided a sojourn at the resort would be an experience.
A lot has changed since the wife and I were last here. The hotel rebranded itself from Potato Head Bali to Desa Potato Head. “Desa”, which means “village” in Bahasa Indonesia is the throughline in which the place operates. This is a creative village where art, music, design, good food and wellness co-exist.
The place already stood out with its eye-catching aesthetics—Liina Klauss’ 5,000 Lost Soles (2016), an installation made out of flip-flops salvaged from the Bali beaches or the Beach Club’s exterior that’s built out of wooden window shutters. If you think the hotel’s Brutalist architecture set against the backdrop of the tropics looks off-kilter, the invasion of new artwork will enthral you. Take Nano Uhero’s “The Womb”, a bamboo sculpture that visitors coming in from the entrance would have to traverse through. There's Future2000’s iconic Pointman standing like a sentinel in the courtyard of Potato Head Studios. Fashioned out of repurposed waste materials collected from the waterways of Bali, the Pointman stands as a testament to the Balinese philosophy of duality—taking trash and turning it into a work of art.
Excited by the appearance of the Pointman, the kid scurries towards the legs, at first trying to scale it but eventually settling on hiding behind them. His voice in a higher register than usual, calls to us to look at the sculpture.
After registration, guests are brought to the Circle Store, where upcycled amenities and merch are sold. We were presented a zero-waste kit, which consisted of an RPET tote bag and a sustainable drinking bottle—you can ask any of Desa Potato Head staff to fill the bottle with water. No extra cost, no waste.
Throughout our stay, we are sequestered in the Oceanfront Studio at the Potato Head Studios wing. The room is larger than imagined. It faces the ocean and is filled with tasteful furnishings by Max Lamb—a recycled plastic desk chair; volcanic glassware and ceramics. The coffee table hides a drinks cabinet. There’s music coming in from the Beach Club. Even with the windows shut, you can still hear the cloth-wrapped notes. The kid is jumping on the bed before his feet make a resounding thud on the floor. The sky looks clear. Time to hit the Beachfront Pool.
THERE ARE LOADS TO DO at Desa Potato Head. There’s live music playing at Potato Head Beach Club or the Amphitheatre. But if you’re looking for a more intimate activity, there’s the Headphone Bar. There, you can sift through the site’s vinyl collection for a listening session.
On the second floor of Potato Head Studios, the Library (Studio Eksotika) is a quiet spot to peruse a variety of curated reading material. In a rare moment to myself, I polished off the entire photo collection of battle jackets by Peter Beste.
Next to it is the spa and gym. Above it, is Sunset Park, a rooftop bar that overlooks the Indian Ocean. Later that evening, we would eat at Tananam, a casual restaurant that serves plant-based cuisine. Taking ingredients that are locally sourced, chef Dom Hammond presents dishes that are creative without alienating omnivores like my family.
We started with a Roti (lightly salted with East Bali sea salt). Brokoli (broccoli that’s finished with coconut and chive oil sauce) dish is next as I carried the kid to peruse the rest of the restaurant. The space is suffused in a violet glow emanating from the lights of their indoor garden. It feels otherworldly, like we’re in a different clime, even though there’s nothing more natural and familiar than its dishes.
Later that evening, the child would fight against the sleep for an hour before succumbing to it. My poor wife thinks she’s down with something and pops two Panadols.
We have tickets to a Sbtrkt gig playing tonight at Beach Club. I’ve wanted to watch him ever since he stopped making music in 2014. But better judgment took over and we slept against the lullaby of electronic music.
DESA POTATO HEAD CATERS TO family, with programmes for the little ones called Sweet Potato Kids. At these sessions, children are kept busy with lessons on sustainability or with exercises like this morning’s workout. The child and I are at Desa Playground where a trainer starts with some light stretching before leading the group on a slow jog around the compound.
We climb the steps all the way to Sunset Park. It’s still early and the staff paid us no mind as they sweep up the place. The sky is overcast and already the sheen of sweat on our skin feels cool against the sea breeze. The trainer tells us that it’s time to head back and my kid gives an audible, oh man. We bound our way down the steps, my child’s energy shows no signs of abating.
With my wife still recuperating, I took the kid to Ijen for lunch. Serving primarily fresh seafood that is caught responsibly in these local waters, we dug into Sardines (crumbed sardines that are served on desa croissant loaf and drizzled with tartar and fermented hot sauce) and Roasted Cauliflower (smothered in keluwek tahini). We have a chocolate desert and, of course, he makes a mess but that’s what children do. He does not have the fine motor skills an adult have. His spills look like atolls and I wiped them up. A small annoyance but one that quickly disappears when he bared his chocolate-stained teeth. See daddy. Look at me, he says.
I take a spoonful of desert and showed him my browned chompers and we both laugh.
RONALD AKILI JUST WANTED A better future for his children.
In 2016, the founder of Desa Potato Head went surfing on the Bali coast with his eldest son. They found themselves surrounded by ocean plastics. In an interview, Akili says that moment pushed him to ensure Desa Potato Head does minimal damage to the environment. “I want to pass on to future generations a better world—something that I think is innate in all of us.”
Under the guidance of Eco Mantra, a Bali-based environmental engineering consultancy, Desa Potato Head’s commitment to a zero waste-to-landfill goal has reached five per cent. It takes a tremendous amount of legwork to get to that level of sustainability according to Simon Pestridge, CXO of Desa Potato Head. As the former VP of Nike, Pestridge has a “never settle” approach. “With this many people producing this much waste, the tourism industry needs to take a serious look,” he says. “One of the keys to making sure that you can get as close to zero waste as possible is to make sure that the waste is separated at the source. When the team separate the different types of organics that would go to the pig farms or compost, it becomes easier the further down the cycle you get. The management team hold ourselves accountable every week. Sometimes we’re at three per cent... sometimes it’ll be at five per cent and we go back to check why that happened.”
Desa Potato Head has 950 staff, at the time of writing, and every day, they adhere to a regimented process where they will weigh the waste, know what to do with it and track it. Suppliers aren’t allowed to deliver their wares in plastic. Cling wrap is banned in the kitchens. Glasses at Desa Potato Head are made out of cut beer bottles.
Dewa Legawa, Desa Potato Head’s assistant sustainability manager heads a tour for guests curious about the site’s sustainability programme. We are privy to the back of the house, where we witness how they manage the waste up until the production line. Legawa scoops out a pile of shredded HDPE plastics. These will be turned into chairs, toiletries and the like. He points out that the caps on the water bottles that we were given are made from them. At the Waste Lab, we see used plastics moulded into planks before they are fabricated into shape.
This is the “do good” portion in Desa Potato Head’s creed, “Good Times, Do Good”. Fostering a sustainability community in the hospitality sector is a long view of giving back to a planet that we’ve all been greedy to take from. But given that hospitality is still the resort’s primary objective, how does one maintain the good times even when the world is on fire?
“I think everybody still wants to have a good time,” Pestridge says. “Even though the world is on fire, I think there’s even more desire for people to have good times. We just want to do so by leaving as few footprints as possible. That’s why we feel good about coming to work every day.“What we’re doing with the waste facility and the waste centre, that’s an open blueprint. Anyone that wants to learn from us—or we can go to them—we can teach them what we’ve learnt. Zero waste isn’t a competitive advantage. It’s a journey that all of us should be on to make sure that Bali or wherever tourists are heading to is thriving.”
Eschewing the whole “do this or else” approach, this scrappy resort put its money where its mouth is and decided to lead by example. “If we can inspire change through our actions, then we’ve moved the world along on a better trajectory,” Pestridge adds, knowing that what they do is a drop in an ocean. But small changes repeated by many over time... that makes a difference.
I IMAGINE THE OBSTACLE BUILDING inside their heads; just the foolhardy notion of reaching that level of waste reduction. I imagine the manhours, the steep learning curves and the mistakes made along the way. But they have managed to do what all these larger hospitality institutions have struggled to do.
It’s the same with raising another human person. While my parents did what they could do in raising me, when it comes to my kid, I wanted to see if I can do it better. Fact of the matter is that it was sometimes exhausting but there were so many moments that were joyful. I hope he remembers the vacation, the good parts of it. Or, at least, be broadened by the experience that will shape him in the future.
One last memory. On our final day, I lay in the hammock outside of the balcony as tropic-laden tunes from Irama Pantai Selatan washed over me. The Indonesian band is performing at the Beach Club’s Live Sunset Sundays session, where a crowd is gathered around them. Inside the room, my wife rests, while my kid has given in to fatigue and is passed out on his bed.
I have a front-row seat to a sky on fire; the brilliant blaze brought about by the sun lazily descending into the ocean. If I didn’t know any better, it’s a picture-perfect apocalypse. My mind wanders.
At the end of the world, there’s no better place I’d rather be than with family.
It was a year ago that Kiehl's recreated a New York City Subway station at ION Orchard—complete with musical performances too. The brand makes a return to the very same spot with another Subway-themed pop-up installation, but this time, as a driver to instil the importance of sustainability as well as to highlight its own efforts in the cause.
The Kiehl’s NYC Subway: Trash To Art installation provides visitors with the full-suite of experience one would expect of a typical Kiehl's pop-up. In addition to a range of activities dedicated to educating visitors on key skincare products as well as a personalised skin consultation, the pop-up highlights Kiehl's sustainability efforts which includes its refillable solutions in its skincare, hair and body categories. Like the name suggests, a number of art installations have been crafted from post-consumer materials—mainly Kielh's-related products, of course—such as the "Kiehl's Super Tree" and the "UFC Waterfall". The latter is positioned right above an empties drop-off point that encourages visitors to discard their empty and cleaned beauty empties. The goal is for Kiehl's to reach its target of collecting 60,000 empties for the month of September.
The brand has taken it a step further. A trio of Singaporean artists were commissioned to interpret trash into art that are now displayed as part of Kiehl’s NYC Subway: Trash To Art. In their own words, they share with us more about the process of recreating something out of trash as well as their thoughts on sustainability as part of artistic expressions.
The concept for the artwork was born from my fascination with discovering beauty in overlooked places. I became captivated by the idea of transforming everyday plastic bottles and containers, such as those from Kiehl's products, into a representation of the iconic Empire State Building, symbolising New York and embodying Kiehl's essence. As I worked on the project, it also made me think about how we often overlook the value of things we consider as waste. This led the artwork to take on a deeper meaning, becoming a statement about reusing and repurposing materials.
The primary challenge in creating this artwork was in the cleaning of the interior of the bottles, as there are often residues left. Additionally, sourcing suitable found wood and metals to complement the sculpture presented another hurdle. The journey encompassed everything from achieving cleanliness to meticulously selecting various types of plastic bottles/containers, ranging from Kiehl's products, to incorporate into the artwork. The diverse array of shapes, textures, and colours further contributed to the complexity of the task. Therefore, this creative endeavour wasn't a linear process, but rather one that opened up a multitude of possibilities demanding careful consideration and decision-making.
Seeing beauty in unexpected places is a big part of how I make art. I think there's something special in things that we usually don't notice. This way of thinking doesn't just apply to one artwork—it's in all my creations. I like to make art that surprises people, using different materials or showing things in new ways.
Every artist should think about using sustainable methods because of the current state of the world and environment. Artists possess a unique way of highlighting important issues in ways that make people think. When artists use sustainable methods to make art, they're showing that they care about the Earth. This can inspire others to do the same. It's like being part of a collective effort to stop problems like climate change and waste—even small changes can add up to a big positive impact.
One sustainable skincare hack that I highly recommend is opting for refillable products instead of purchasing new plastic bottles or containers. By opting to buy refills, you significantly decrease the amount of plastic waste generated. This small change not only reduces your environmental footprint but also encourages companies to offer more eco-friendly options.
I was inspired by the nickname of New York being "The Big Apple" which has become an iconic symbol of the city. I utilised old Keihl’s tubs to create "The Big Apple".
Planning the initial outline and working with Sketchup to design each layer of the apple structure were some of the challenges I faced while conceptualising "The Big Apple". I had to calculate the dimensions of each tub and how many would fit per layer in the structure.
I usually work with found materials or upcycle my previous materials into new works. Sustainability is a big factor in the repurposing of discarded materials, turning them into a language for my art practice.
I think that artists are self-aware and have a deep understanding of the way they engage with the environment and the world. Having respect for the way they treat materials and engage with them should be key components of their practice.
I like using water from rinsed rice as a toner for my skin.
My artwork is inspired by the main ingredient of the Calendula Toner, which is the calendula plant. Starting from the base: As a business owner of Chokmah, I do a lot of importing and therefore have accumulated pellets from shippings. The flowers on the base are from a previous Kiehl’s pop up. The stems are made from fabric rolls that were thrown away—I collected them from Chinatown. The strong base for the stem are made from my kid’s formula cans held by an eco-friendly material called jesmonite, a mixture of the remnants from the workshops that I run. The beautiful big petals are made from the offcuts of my photobooths decorations and dance costumes. The big calendula toner is from the decorations of a previous Kiehl’s pop up too—I asked if they had any past "trash" that they wanted to throw away that I could use to integrate into my installation.
One of the challenges I had was, because my installation was going to be a big artwork, worrying if I'd have enough trash to use to construct it. Thankfully, I have a community who believes in sustainability so when I requested for items to be used, there was no lack of it.
Art and education are equally important to me, therefore I believe in educating the community through my art in the hopes that they will be encouraged to also be sustainable in creating their own art.
I encourage every artist to have an element of sustainability in their art forms. But art is subjective; every artist has a different point of view and I respect that too.
Sustainability in skincare is so important to me that I would research on the ingredients used. That is why I love Kiehl’s skincare because the calendula flower petals are now sourced from a hydroponic farm. This system uses 96 per cent less water and 98 per cent less land than conventional farming, and allows the flowers to be harvested in two-month cycles versus the traditional eight-month cycle.
Interview answers have been edited for length and clarity.
The Kiehl’s NYC Subway: Trash To Art pop-up installation is now running until 13 September at B4 Atrium ION Orchard.
Levi's, the denim giant, has maintained its position at the forefront of fashion's ever-evolving landscape. Just like its utilitarian purpose of being exceptionally sturdy, it has withstood the test of time by staying relevant. As the brand reaches its momentous 150th milestone, it now takes another bold step on a different journey; one marked by renewed commitment to sustainability. And its doing so with a launch of eco-conscious materials that are seamlessly incorporated into its iconic blue denim.
The release pays homage to the brand's illustrious history since its pioneering patent for the groundbreaking design of the iconic 501 model. Founded by the duo, Levi Strauss and Jacob W Davis, the two men had one goal in mind: to create pants that were tougher than nails for everyday wear. That humble endeavour would spark a fashion firestorm, turning denim workwear into an absolute wardrobe essential.
In keeping with today's issues and environmental changes, Levi’s came up with the plant-based 501 jeans that are made up of at least 97% plant-based materials. Slated for release in July, it is proof that it is possible for that a fashion brand can be socially-responsible.
“As a company that has been making 501® jeans for 150 years now, we have an opportunity –and a responsibility – to continually interrogate the process by which these jeans are made”Paul Dillinger, VP of Design Innovation at Levi Strauss & Co
Levi's, being no stranger to collaborations, partnered with sustainable businesses to take their sustainability efforts a step further for their iconic 501® jeans. But it's not just about the look, it extends beyond the surface, with thoughtful details that evoke a sense of sentimentality. The colour of the jeans is a nod to the revered Levi's X80 archival shade, reinforcing the brand's deep-rooted connection to its origins.
Minute details like having patches made from a material that is 100% bio-based and free from plastic, to the pocket bags that are crafted from 100% cotton and adorned with BioBlack TX, a plant-based black pigment derived from wood waste, developed by Nature Coatings.
We are all for corporations to pick up the slack on sustainability. For Levi's, this is a tiny step towards sustainability and we can't wait to see what other eco-initiatives they will adopt in future.
The Plant-Based 501 jeans will be available in-store at Levi’s ION Orchard and online from 25 July 2023.