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Profiling l Johnny Ramli

Johnny Ramli, originally from Sumatra, moved to Bali after studying design in Australia with aspirations of opening his own jewelry business in Europe. But Bali turned out to be the perfect cradle for Ramli’s jewelry and bag creations. His break came thanks to an unlikely fabric; tarpaulin. Combining this ubiquitous plastic with a leather strap led to an eco-friendly, yet chic, tote bag that flew off the shelves of a friend’s store in Bali. Eventually catching the eye of buyers from Australia, Europe, and the U.S., including Barney’s in New York.


This unexpected success led to Ramli experimenting with different bag designs, many made of locally sourced leather. His latest designs evoke elements of Rick Owens and Yohji Yamamoto and feature small details, like antique coins, that reflect Ramli’s eye for combining minimalism with a bit of edge. This was evident when I caught with Johnny at his industrial chic shop, WRKSHP 13, just north of Seminyak.


When you arrived in Bali over 5 years ago you had plans to move to Europe, what happened?

After spending some time here it became difficult to leave, it wasn’t just the beach and the lifestyle; Bali is very exciting from a design perspective. There are a lot of European and Australian designers that are based here and are taking advantage of amazing local materials; plus Bali has become a destination for just the right clientele.


Your shop has been open for over 2 years, when did you finally decide to take the risk?

After buyers picked up my first bag design, I started to make other designs and jewelry that I sold through friend’s stores here in Bali. I setup a small workshop and started to gain a network of stores across Europe, Australia, the U.S. and even South America. In a way, the store was the ultimate experiment to see if it could really work in Bali.


What’s up with the name Wrkshp 13?

It’s actually quite simple. It’s the house number for the workshop I got when I moved here…


I see, well since 13 isn’t really an auspicious number, what do you attribute the success of your store to?

A few years ago I would have been more worried to open a store, because everything gets copied cheaply here. But the tastes of people living and visiting Bali has become much more sophisticated, there’s an appreciation for things that are unique and not mass produced.


It’s been fantastic, people have come in and not only recommended my shop to their friends but many have continued to be clients when they return home and some even become distributors.

You sell to stores all over the world, what keeps you in Bali?

Bali is an easy place to stay creative; it’s not just the idyllic surroundings but also the access to great materials. I like to pick up things on my trips abroad like antique coins or things like elephant hairs, but by and large I get my materials locally. It’s not just where my workshop is located, this place has inspired me to do a lot in my work, from the rich culture to the craftsmanship of the people I work with. People here are so creative, it’s easy to experiment.


Speaking of experimenting, what do you think inspired your style?

I work with the materials I love, I look at the color, the texture, the way the material feels and the effects created when materials are mixed with one another. 


With jewelry, I like to work with different metals like silver, gold, bronze and copper to create rich textures and different finishes. I use a lot of different antique coins or sometimes crosses and other symbols that catch my eye.


With leather, I like to mix hard and soft, exotic skin with normal leather, plastic with leather, and sometimes I wash the material to get a wrinkling effect. Designing is the process of creating something we want or like to see, something new and different based on what inspires us. I’m fortunate that I get to create things spontaneously, depending on what inspires me at any given time, whether it’s the material or a certain detail that catches my eye.


Where do you think you’ll be in 5 years time?

5 Years? Well who knows! I’ll keep doing what I’m doing now and hope to continue to create things that get picked up by shops around the globe.


Ruici Tio

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