We caught up with architect and hotelier, Bill Bensley and Kate McCoy, an Australian gemologist who recently launched their new jewelry collection called Nature’s Treasury to protect the forest at Shinta Mani Wild.
We spoke with renowned architect, Bill Bensley ahead of his appearance at The Regenerative Travel Summit taking place from September 23-25th during Climate Week NYC. He will be speaking on “Travel Companies Approaching Sustainability in Unconventional Ways” with his latest collaboration with Kate McCoy being a testament to his innovative and creative approach to conservation. Each piece of jewelry in the collection accounts for the number of days and acres the proceeds from each sale can support the Wildlife Alliance who patrol the Cardamom National Forest against poachers and illegal wildlife activity. Learn more about the collaboration with our interview with Bill and Kate below.
How did the collaboration between Kate and yourself come about after meeting at Shinta Mani Wild?
Bill Bensley: It all sparked from a chance meeting at Shinta Mani Wild when Kate was staying there. She was moved by our conservation work and wanted to help make sure we can keep passing down this nature from generation to generation, which is something I believe in fiercely. Our work with Wildlife Alliance is one of the things I am most proud of and it was just great that she wanted to jump on board too.
How did you go about selecting the gemstones and materials for each collection? What was your inspiration?
Kate McCoy: I work intuitively, hand-selecting each gemstone, and working with shapes, cuts and colours. I get a feel for the shapes, cuts and colours based on the inspiration or muse. It usually comes in a flow state of creativity. In this state, I can see and feel the pieces as visions in my mind’s eye. It’s then a process of working with the gems and sketches to bring that vision into a reality. The inspiration for the collection came from a shared desire (with Bill Bensley) to protect Nature. The project has provided the platform to join our aligned values, expertise and skills to facilitate accountable conservation.
Each piece designed protects a number of acres for a number of days. As a designer, I strive to have a meaningful and positive impact on the world, which made the collaboration with Bill Bensley a complete no-brainer. The name Nature’s Treasury was inspired by my belief that like jewelry, nature deserves to be handed down for generations to enjoy. The inspiration for the individual pieces came from my first-hand experience of Shinta Mani Wild, Shinta Mani Wild is such a special place. Bill’s Design is intentionally so immersive. from the moment you arrive and zip line over the top of the jungle you are 100% present to the environment. Everything is inspiring! Half the challenge was to narrow down the inspirations! Bill’s decor choices, his attention to detail, no space is left uncurated, and yet so much of the hotel sets a stage that allows for Nature’s magic to play out. The experience-oriented activities offered by the hotel are so special and really bring you into the present moment – what we all strive for in taking a break, a sense of space and time!
Each gemstone and diamond has been ethically sourced, can you share more details on what this means?
Kate McCoy: Firstly I think its important to define what ethical means in the jewelry industry. Ethical jewelry is defined as jewelry that has no negative impact on the people who make it or the environment it is made in. This means fair wages and fair working conditions. This is focused on the production of the pieces that house the jewels. When I source my jewels – diamonds and gems – I always seek to buy them first hand. This means buying from the person who cuts, facets, and polishes them. In this way, I can work with the company to ensure that they pay their staff fair wages and their staff work in fair working conditions. As well I seek to work with suppliers who buy their rough from fair trade suppliers or suppliers who employ the Kimberely Process a certification scheme that imposes extensive requirements on its members to prevent conflict diamonds to enter the legitimate trade. Where possible I work with metal merchants who recycle gold. This requires refining to ensure fine gold quality. All our pieces are hallmarked 750 – 18 karat gold. There is also the element of the natural environment and sustainability. Whilst there is certainly a footprint in the making of anything, clothing, vehicles, electronics, it’s important to me as a business to try to offset my impact in some way that gives back to the environment.
In the case of this collection, 100% of the profits go to funding Shinta Mani Wild’s Wildlife Alliance ranger post to prevent an important wildlife corridor from being destroyed by illegal logging and to protect the rare and beautiful creatures within it form illegal poaching. For me, life is about giving and receiving. Creativity is a natural-born talent, gifted to me by mother nature, so its only natural to want to give back in some way. I see the designing and making of fine jewelry as a way of showcasing Nature’s absolute wonder – her rare precious gems, each created in unique and very specific environments requiring key ingredients of minerals, temperatures and pressure. Through the reverence of these rare gems we appreciate how truly special Nature is and invite you to join us in protecting the legacy of Nature through investing in our special pieces.
Each piece contributes to the ongoing work of the Wildlife Alliance – can you tell me more about the direct support that the proceeds from the collection provide and how the funds are distributed?
Bill Bensley: Yes it does and I most definitely can! To give you an idea, a donation of $500 ensures protection for the forest and its inhabitants for up to 10 days. With the resources from a Nature’s Treasury donation, we can expand our team at Wildlife Alliance to patrol more areas, invest in equipment such as camera traps to see which creatures are returning to this part of the Cardamoms, and track down more poachers and loggers. The latter especially, is more and more essential as this unique year continues.
How has COVID-19 impacted Cambodia and the conservation efforts at Shinta Mani Wild? Has there been increased poaching activity since the lockdown?
Bill Bensley: Sadly it has taken a toll. It is widely accepted that the issue of COVID-19 started with consumption of illegal wildlife, and landed us in this mess. China put down strict rules to ban the practice, which has deep cultural roots in terms of alternative medicine and rare “delicacies”, slowing the trade into places like Vietnam and China. However we still encounter 2 issues: the demand is still there, and the price people are willing to pay is higher because it is that much harder. Add to that communities who are struggling intensely due to COVID-19, and can earn over a months wages farming with a single pangolin… They are doing what they need to to survive, and those with wealth are taking advantage of that. Thankfully the WA is still hard at work and we were able to reopen WILD for a time, but there is no denying it has been a tough year. I have committed to this for life, and if that means paying salaries out of my own pocket then I will try my best, but that just keeps our head above water, when we are facing a deluge of illegal activity that needs to be stopped.
What is your hope for the future of the Cardamom National Forest? How can we achieve these goals?
Bill Bensley: My hope is that it will be allowed to REWILD – that the animals will return, the flora will burst forth even more than it does now, and that it can be a haven. A place where continue to set the example for conservation and hospitality working together. For that we need conservation efforts, and the Wildlife Alliance, true warriors on the front lines, are the ones we need to support. I am ever so grateful to Kate for caring, and standing with us in her unique and incredibly beautiful way.