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Waste not, want not: the designers driving ethical change

Last month marked a watershed moment as Rosh Mahtini became the first ever jeweller to receive the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design. Mahtini received the esteemed award based on her commitment to sustainability and ethical practices, exemplified by her innovative jewellery brand, Alighieri. 

As the first jewellery designer to ever receive the accolade, she has brought ethical designers to the forefront of fashion talk, proving eco-designs are not just a fad: they’re here to stay. With this in mind, we took a look at the other trailblazers of green, scene stealing jewellery design. 

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Shakti Ellenwood

Shakti Ellenwood blazed onto the stage of eco-forward design with her quirky, handcrafted pieces that proudly champion fairtrade. Known for her ethical craftsmanship, she uses conflict-free gemstones and 18ct Fairtrade gold in all of her creations. 

Her designs are produced using centuries-old artisanal methods, and are then packaged in hand-woven bags that are themselves created with sustainable, luxury British yarn. Even the proceeds from select designs go towards human rights and environmental charities from around the world. No stone is left unturned in her quest to be a supremely eco-conscious brand.

Ellenwood’s star has been steadily rising, and the end of 2019 saw the opening of her first ever studio-store. The store, set in the quaint village of Ashburton, comes in the wake of “cult” online success that her jewellery has garnered since she first launched her designs in 2000. Her ethical wedding and engagement rings have proved popular amongst consumers, while her Native American-inspired animal amulets are a stand-out collection in their own right. 

Edge of Ember

London-based Edge of Ember says that ethical production and social responsibility are the “foundations on which we built our brand”. To create its unique pieces, the brand works alongside artisan groups and small-scale factories, and the results have garnered a number of famous fans. Just this week, Meghan Markle donned its gold ‘kismet’ charm necklace in what was her much-publicised penultimate appearance as a working Royal. 

Edge of Ember’s factories are found across the world, from Germany to Jaipur, Bangkok to Hong Kong. In order to ensure ethical practices are upheld to brand standards, it will go the extra mile and carry out independent social audits on all factories. These audits leave no stone unturned, examining everything from the methods of recycling, to the number of women holding senior roles at that site (it’s Thai factory employs a 60% female workforce). 

As well as ensuring all materials are ethically sourced, Edge of Ember has also launched the ‘RE/Make’ jewellery recycling scheme. The programme encourages customers to send their old sterling silver or solid gold jewellery, and in return receive a £15 credit with the brand. Once enough pieces are accumulated, the jewellery is sent to a Birmingham refinery where it is melted, cleaned and recycled. As the brand continues to make a name for itself, it says its ethical and sustainable production remains “unwavering”.

CLED 

CLED is a sustainable jewellery brand on a “mission” to use waste resourcefully and “upcycle with style”. The Los Angeles based brand is now expanding its presence across the pond, and has established itself as a forerunner of recycled creations. Founder Seulye Jo says that she has “always” wanted to make sustainable jewellery, inspired by a desire to reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry.

The young designer seeks to repurpose her materials, eschewing those that are oft-used by jewellers. Plastics like acrylic, resin and PVC, she says, are commonly used but harmful to the environment, and its weaker quality means it cannot always be recycled, but rather “ends up in a landfill where it does not decompose”. As a vegan, Jo also stays away from animal products, such as pearl, shell or leather. 

Instead, recycled glass is a prominent feature in her creations. It is easy to source and can be “recycled endlessly without a loss in quality or purity”. Wine and liquor bottles from a host of LA restaurants are the surprising source for these “glass gems”, which are often complimented by recycled sterling silver. “I thought it would be great if waste could be turned into beautiful objects”, she says, echoing the ethos of her eco contemporaries.

Ingle and Rhode

Ingle and Rhode are the go-to designers for ethical rings that are free from conflict diamonds, dirty gold and child labour. At the heart of the brand lies a strident ethos of ethical sourcing, with full transparency throughout every stage of its ring production. All diamonds and gemstones are mined, cut and polished by workers who are paid fair wages, working in good conditions, while other pieces use recycled materials, fairmined silver and Fairtrade gold. 

The group is vocal of their vehemence of blood diamonds, and instead sources Canadian diamonds mined under strict regulations, cut and polished within guidelines established by the Council for Responsible Jewellery Practices. The brand says that all diamonds are fully traceable, while coloured gemstones come from small-scale mining cooperatives where the wealth generated by mining is “directly retained” by local communities. 

Ingle and Rhode rightly call themselves “pioneers” of ethical sourcing, and say that upholding the highest standards “isn’t just an option, it’s at the core of everything we do”. And it’s clear that they’re passionate about informing their customers of ethical trade – their website hosts a whole raft of information regarding fairtrade products and practices, as well as guides for finding out if your jewellery really is ethically sourced.

Anuka Jewellery

Cheshire-based Anuka is another champion of transparent, ethical practices at every single stage of the supply chain. It is a Fairmined licensed brand, which means that all jewellery is made incorporating recycled precious metals and Fairmined gold, an assurance label that certifies gold from “empowered small-scale mining organizations”

All gold comes from registered Fairmined suppliers in both Colombia and Peru, and after the materials are obtained, Anuka casts its products using these same suppliers. Each piece is then crafted using “traditional, time honoured” skills and techniques in a Chester workshop, before being packaged in 100% recyclable material, printed using environmentally friendly plant-based inks. 

“Designing and making jewellery that will one day be treasured by someone is what I love”, says Francesca Kippax, owner and designer of the brand. “Ensuring it is made in an ethical and sustainable way makes it much more meaningful and distinctive.” 

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