The Art of Letting Yourself Go

By Laura Martínez
Photos: Maria Andreu

Piercing, deep blue eyes, grey hair tied up in a bun and a contagious laugh. These are the calling cards of a woman who emanates her own light and fell in love with the island when it was a refuge for artists and free spirits. She created her family here, the same that makes up World Family Ibiza: the international clothing and accessories brand she began in Las Dalias flea market in 1998.

Merel’s magnetism is that of someone who takes time to stop and learn throughout their lifetime, looking at her surroundings as if she has seen them for the first time. We talked with her about the journey her life has taken thus far and about the importance of family, love and knowing how to be happy.

You’re a native of Amsterdam who moved to New York to be a model, working on campaigns for major brands. Then something changed in your head.

“It wasn’t a sudden change. The only thing I’ve ever done in life is let myself go. I started modelling when I was two years old and I never stopped. The New York period was great for me as a woman in her twenties, eager and ready to take on the world. I married a film producer and had the life that I wanted at the time. But my first visits to Ibiza completely changed me. I don’t even think it was my decision, it was the island that decided for me.”

Alok, your husband, was a suit-wearing real estate agent in Barcelona before you met. Was it love at first sight?

“Totally! I was walking along the beach when suddenly I saw this handsome man all dressed in white, I couldn’t stop looking at him and I thought don’t be so ridiculous, you’ve just got divorced!” It was 25 years ago, no mobile phones, people were meditating on the beach, watching the sunset, singing… When I left Benirrás beach to go to my blue Citroën 2CV I saw the exact same car parked next to it. Would you believe me if I said it was his? It was so crazy that we just stared at each other in amazement. After that, we kept bumping into each other around the island before finally getting together. It was difficult after a 9-year marriage with two children, but once again I let myself go and things worked out great!”

I remember on my first trip to Ibiza, I was shopping with a friend in Las Dalias and I headed straight to your stall, attracted by the explosion of colour, and bought a bag for my mother. Fashion and design are some of the Concept Hotel Group’s pillars. What was it like to make your way in such a competitive world? Especially from your base in Ibiza…
“I don’t really know how it happened. I’ve always liked creating things with my hands. I made my first bag with stuff I brought back from my travels, at the time we had a stall in Las Dalias where we used to sell items that we brought back from Morocco. A lady bought the bag I had made and this gave me a huge buzz. That motivated me to make more and the rest is World Family Ibiza.”

If Ibiza didn’t exist, it would have to be invented, but imagine if it was wiped off the map. Which destination would you choose?

“My favourite country is Mexico. I’m very inspired by its traditions and personality… it’s incredible. But there is still a lot of violence and insecurity. I like to spend some time there but I always come back to the island… It’s my home, and if it didn’t exist I wouldn’t exist either.”

You’ve spent half your life travelling: Guatemala, Nepal, Thailand… You were in Koh Phayam at the time of the 2004 tsunami that devastated everything. What goes through your mind when you survive something like that?
“Ufff… I was pregnant, with my children, Alok and my mother when disaster struck. We were very lucky, we were picked up by a naval ship and they took us to a shelter with other families and survivors they found. It was very hard to see so much pain and we cried for weeks. We had nightmares for a long time, survivor guilt… but in the end, you have to give thanks and carry on.”

As well as selling what you bought on your travels and making your own bags and accessories, you created a famous party known for its good vibes. Where did the idea for Namasté come from?
“We wanted to bring our house to the people. What we do at Namasté with Juanito, the owner of Las Dalias – our friend and ally – is what we used to do at our home gatherings with friends. Music, chill-out, good vibes and beautiful people. We started to decorate the party with things we had at home and as with the brand, it grew organically.”

How would you describe your other love, La Isla?

“Wow, for me it’s an endless source of learning, beauty and inspiration. It is the source of life, but don’t say that out loud….”

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