Inspired by the colour and vibrant life in Bali, Coco & Ginger designer Saffron Pugh-Blaby works ethically to produce her whimsical girls’ clothing ranges. Her modern take on folk textiles sees her collaborating with local artisans to craft pieces that tell a story about the island of Bali, as much as about the little girl who wears them.
Coco & Ginger is about honouring colour, folk art and artistic tradition, while interpreting life in the tropics.
How it began
Coco & Ginger grew from the tiniest of beginnings, after Saffron moved to Bali in 2002 with her chef husband and baby Coco.
“When my second daughter Ginger was born,” she says, “I made her tiny tops to wear with nappies in this hot climate. Then I designed the ‘Ginger’ dress and friends started to ask me about the clothes.”
Saffron, who has a fine arts background, drew inspiration for a small initial collection from everyday life on the flower-festooned Hindu island, where an endless gentle dance between people and nature plays out in the rich culture. She used natural fabrics sourced from Bali and neighbouring Java — and her friends snapped the pieces up.
The Coco & Ginger philosophy
With 12 collections behind her, Coco & Ginger is now an established label with a distinct look and evolved philosophy.
Bali’s palette – emerald, vermillion, indigo, lemon, aquamarine – is reflected in the vibrant prints Coco & Ginger are renowned for. The natural environment of Bali — volcanoes, surf, seashells, butterflies — is meanwhile evoked in the very soul of the collections.
But just as importantly, Coco & Ginger’s clothes are produced in a socially responsible manner on the island. Saffron heavily taps into the accomplished artistic skills of Balinese women: Across the island, her artists gather in small collectives to hand-embroider Coco and Ginger clothes. Saffron doesn’t push people on price, and ensures the artists are paid fairly.
“I don’t like to work with factories. The people I work with have their own family-run businesses,” she says. “There’s only a certain amount we can make each season but I don’t want to take it to the next level.”
Each piece in a Coco and Ginger range is unique. The traditional ikat Saffron uses, for instance, is produced by a woman in the former royal capital of Klungkung. Each piece may have a little bauble here, or a variation in colour there. “It’s those imperfections, what the Japanese call wabi sabi, that make life and art interesting,” Saffron says. “I hope that people see each piece of my collection as a small work of art.”
Coco & Ginger today
The Coco & Ginger design process remains playful and low-tech, with Saffron finalising pieces using real mock-ups rather than a computer. “I play and pick exact hues and trimmings. It’s organic, creative, dynamic,” she says.
Working in the rice paddy-set Coco & Ginger studio, Pak Wayan, the main tailor, oversees the drafting of patterns and samples; Ginger herself gives feedback on crucial aspects, such as how a dress twirls.
Fabrics are hand-printed using old-fashioned screen printing techniques in a Denpasar workshop, while embroidered pieces are chalk screen-printed before being whisked off to the collective for hand-stitching. Meanwhile, tailors visit the studio and cut the fabrics before taking the pieces back to their own work spaces to sew to completion. The final pieces go through quality control and the pieces are hand-washed, sun-dried and ironed; swing tags are attached and they are inserted into biodegradable, Bali-made eco bags made from cassava starch.
Overseeing it all is Saffron’s production director, Ibu Komang, who has been part of the team since Coco and Ginger debuted in 2008; Saffron’s business partner, office manager and accountant Pak Putu keeps it all humming smoothly behind the scenes.
It’s a long process each season, but one marked each step of the way by integrity and respect for workers and the environment.