Conversations with

Emmelyn Gunawan


Photograph by Emmelyn Gunawan

On our last trip to Seminyak in Bali, we discovered a small gem of a shop called Canaan, which stocked Indonesian wares within the grounds of Katamama, the hotel we were staying in. Katamama itself is a beaut – the midcentury-modern hotel is an ode to Balinese craft, using only artisanal techniques and local materials such as Indonesian teak. The lifestyle boutique Canaan provides a nice foil to Katamama: The store-cum-gallery space is a “dwelling place for sustainable life,” according to its founder Emmelyn Gunawan, who places strong emphasis on promoting Indonesian craft within a contemporary context.

Both Canaan and Katamama belong to PTTFamily, the same group that created the coolhunter’s beach club, Potato Head (which started in Bali and has since expanded to Singapore, Hong Kong, and eventually Tokyo). As the name suggests, PTTFamily is a family affair that began with founders Ron Akili and Emmelyn’s brother, Jason Gunawan. It was at Ron and her brother’s gentle prodding that Emmelyn, a trained weaver herself, designed locally made amenities for Katamama, including the ceramics and indigo pouches woven in traditional Indonesian style that were created to house Katamama toiletries.

The subsequent result of Emmelyn’s collaboration with Katamama is Canaan Bali. After getting to know the artisans in the craft villages of Bali, Emmelyn decided to open a shop that will allow her to continue supporting the craft villages that worked on Katamama. Since its inception, Canaan has become a platform for artisans, designers, and people in the creative industry to connect with each other. We chat with Emmelyn on her love affair with local artisanal craft.

Hi, Emmelyn! Please tell us about yourself.

I am half Chinese half Indonesian, and grew up partly in Australia. When I graduated from university, I decided to return to Jakarta as I was homesick and most of my family and friends were in Indonesia. I worked for my brother for his growing hospitality group PTTFAMILY for a few years until we decided to expand to Bali and I had the opportunity to open a boutique with two of my friends. Our multi-brand store Escalier, which sells mostly clothing and accessories, has been operating for 7 years and I recently opened a homeware store called Canaan in Bali. I currently live in Jakarta, but I do the occasional trips to Bali every month to check up on the stores. Bali is where I find inspiration and meet all my suppliers. I also weave part-time as a hobby.

The exterior of Katamama in Seminyak, Bali. / Textiles at Canaan.

“We believe in working sustainably and so that’s also how Canaan started. By sharing our ideas, we created new designs to fuse traditional and modern elements. This, I feel, is what I want to do for the rest of my working life.”

Why is it important for you to support local artisans in Indonesia?

It’s important for me personally to look into my heritage as a starting point and see how I can contribute to Indonesia as someone who has studied abroad and has all this knowledge which I can share. Supporting the local artisans came quite naturally as I love Indonesian textiles and crafts and I believe there is so much potential to showcase them internationally as well as growing them locally.

I created a series of amenities for Katamama Hotel and met local artisans living in Bali. We became friends from the beginning. The work came slowly and organically; we believe in working sustainably so that’s also how Canaan started. By sharing our ideas, we created new designs to fuse traditional and modern elements. This, I feel, is what I want to do for the rest of my working life.

What inspires your work?

Sometimes inspirations come without me searching for it. I think Bali is a place that offers to anyone who wants to receive many, many blessings. From the nature, the scenery, the fragility of its people and dressings to the simple way of living and the fragrance of incense burning. I get inspired by all of these things, and of course by the colors – the natural, simple colors of Bali.

Do you have a morning ritual?

I wake up quite naturally usually at 7 AM. I can’t quite say I’m a morning person but I do love my undisturbed quiet mornings. I have a huge garden in my house so it’s the first thing I see when i wake up and I think that relaxes me. Unfortunately I’m hooked to my phone quite awfully so I do tend to check up news and posts on social media, urgh! I usually have 2-3 hours of very relaxed mornings and I think this is so important for me so I can start the day energized.

Poolside at Katamama. / Emmelyn’s own weaving.

“Bali is a place that offers to anyone who wants to receive many, many blessings. From the nature, the scenery, the fragility of its people and dressings, the simple way of living and also the fragrance of incense burning.”

What do you recommend for people to experience in Bali?

I always tell my friends who wants to see Bali to visit the Eastern side of Bali which is the Karang Asem area, and there is an area called Manggis which is for me so calm and peaceful, there is a little ancient village called Tenganan which the Balinese believe is where the first settlers are from. They make the most beautiful baskets from orchid trees and the people are so humble. I love staying in Manggis, there is an old Alia hotel there one of the first in Bali, i love just escaping there for the weekend.

Where was the last place you visited?

Flores, which is in East Nusa Tenggara in one of the Sunda islands. I went with my boyfriend who’s a photographer and he did a series of photographs for Canaan. We were in awe of how blue the sky is during the day and how many stars we could see at night as it’s quite impossible to see those in Jakarta with the polluted air. We saw how honey was harvested in the forest, natural honey and we were biting into the natural honeycomb, and the best part of the trip was going to see the sunrise in the Kelimutu national park which has a three intensely beautiful blue colored crate lakes surrounded by mountains. It was so magical so see the sunrise and watching it rise and hike up there was pleasant.


This or that

Shower or bath? Bath. Night or day? Night.Staying in or going out? Staying in. Juice or booze? Juice. Seaside or mountainside? Before, I preferred the seaside but now, it’s the mountainside.

Emmelyn curates the local wares at Canaan Bali.

Where are you traveling next to?

Next would be to take my photographer boyfriend to Sumba or to my favorite Manggis in Bali and spend a weekend there.

What is your favorite travel destination?

Too predictable… Bali!


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *