More than a trend, the movement towards ‘slow’, ethical fashion is a shift in perceptions.
It’s becoming more and more apparent that fast fashion is damaging the planet – after oil the fashion industry is the largest polluter.
Ethical fashion attempts to counter this damage. As far as they can, planet-friendly companies pay fair wages and ensure good working conditions and rights. They address toxic pesticide and chemical use, minimise water use, recycle and consider their use of energy, develop or promote sustainability standards, provide training and resources, and protect animal rights.
Ivana Ojukwu from fashion forecasting platform See Fashion says that designers should ask the question, “How does the design, process and consumption of my product impact the world around me?"
As part of the fashion industry, jewellery companies have also stepped up to the ethical challenge. Ethical jewellery has no negative impact on the people who make it, or the environment in which it’s produced. This means using materials that can be traced back to the source, to ensure they’ve been produced in an ethical way, working with recycled materials, ensuring fair wages and working hours, and not using practices that pollute or impact the environment in a negative way.
We were delighted to see Arlette Gold designers Emma Aitchison, Just Trade and Quazi Design included in the Independent’s nine best ethical and sustainable jewellery brands. As writer Sirena Bergman said in the piece, “Opt for accessories that match your values.”
Emma Aitchison makes refreshingly unusual silver, gold and brass jewellery, based on the weather. Not only does the planet inspire her designs, but she also does her best to preserve its eco-system in her processes. She sources all her materials in the UK, uses only Fairtrade gold and silver, and her packaging is entirely recyclable. She avoids harsh chemicals in her making process and donates 1% of her profit to environmental charity 1% For The Planet. She attempts to be sustainable to the core.
Just Trade founder Laura Cave and her team collaborate with artisans in Peru, Ecuador, India and Vietnam to design and make Fairtrade and ethical jewellery that combines ivory substitute, tagua nut, with brass- and silver-plate. Her employees are trained in valuable skills, and provided with regular work and a living wage in a safe and supportive environment. All her materials are locally-sourced and ethical. For those who want ethical and Fairtrade jewellery it is inspiring to learn about who made each piece, and where the materials came from.
Quazi Design creates innovative jewellery from waste magazines, recycled brass and glass. Founder Doron Shaltiel trains and employs local women in a workshop in Sidwashini in Mbabane, eSwatini’s capital. Artisans are provided with full-time permanent contracts, job security and a living wage, while all the materials they use are recycled. Energy use is kept to a minimum and the team rely on basic, handmade approaches and sunlight. Quazi’s approach to jewellery design is responsible, thoughtful, and ingenious. These pieces made from paper are truly original, and wearing them is like wearing a story crafted into an object.
Other Arlette Gold designers are attempting to be as ethical as they can in their manufacturing processes.
MADE create Fairtrade, handmade recycled brass jewellery.They provide a safe working environment and long term job security to over 80 skilled artisans in their Kenyan workshop, through full-time contracts with benefits, training and education. Their design process is led by the availability of materials and resources, and the skills and strengths of the artisan team. Materials are sourced locally and are recycled wherever possible. MADE proves that ethical jewellery can be fashion-led, of good quality and affordable.
WorldFinds is a member of the Fairtrade Organisation. Founder Kelly Weinberger works with other Fairtrade businesses, small families of artisans, and women’s cooperatives in India and Indonesia. Artisans are provided with an income, safe working conditions, access to education, training, healthcare and childcare. Materials are recycled and repurposed. Resources are natural and often handmade in artisan’s homes, avoiding the carbon footprint of a factory. All packaging is also recycled.
Other Arlette Gold brands are making steps towards sustainability; French designer Melodie Tellie, of SlinkyLinks, makes jewellery from 100% reclaimed leather. She uses what she has cleverly, mapping out designs and using a range of cutting tools, determined to make the most out of each offcut.
Fine jeweller Lauren Griffiths of Little Joy Jewellery is a Fairtrade-certified jeweller and sources her raw materials – silver and gold – responsibly. Materials come from far and wide - from the Birmingham jewellery quarter to a Canadian Fairtrade mine – but Lauren insists on learning about the materials she is using, and highlights the importance of “the history of a piece of precious metal being pure and true and Fairtrade”.
Lia B strives to use high-quality, natural and sustainable materials. Brass, resin and semiprecious stones feature heavily in her work, and she also likes to incorporate gemstones, such as crystals, that are believed to have healing or beneficial properties. To ensure her work is of the utmost quality she sources from local suppliers and manufacturers.
Nyumbani Design is a Tanzanian-based jewellery brand that creates jewellery created from a variety of indigenous Tanzanian trees. For every piece of Nyumbani Design jewellery sold, a seed is planted to restore and support the plantation of indigenous trees for the future. This supports local communities to generate ethical, sustainable and long-lasting forest-based income by selling responsibly harvested FSC certified timber.
The journey towards becoming a hundred per cent ethical company is slow, but by making small steps towards sustainability and keeping the conversation going, designers are taking responsibility for their actions. As we head towards a future where green companies will become the norm, perhaps now is the time to support those pioneers working towards a more eco-friendly, people-friendly world.