Like the worlds of conventional beauty and fast fashion, the ethical side of jewelry depends on two main things: the source and the supply chain. Your jewelry is probably the most expensive thing you have in your wardrobe, but did you know that the hefty price you paid comes with civil war, human atrocities, forced and child labour and environmental catastrophes?
The worst part is that most of us consumers don’t even know half of it; we are lured in by clever marketing and hindered by the complete lack of transparency. When looking for ethical and sustainable jewelry, there are many things you need to take into account. Like fast fashion, it’s super complicated and can be hard to dissect. But I will do my best!
If you have read any of my fashion articles you know I focus on a number of factors that include:
Natural or organic fabrics & materials;
Before you put a ring in it, let’s dive into each one so you have a better understanding of the issues and what you can do about them.
Why choose Ethical And Sustainable Jewelry
First, ethically made jewelry can be defined as:
“Jewelry that has no negative impact on the people who make it, or the environment they’re produced in. That can mean: Using materials you can trace back to the source, to ensure they’ve been produced in an ethical way, eg, fair-trade materials and conflict-free diamonds.”
Obviously this is easier said than done! Especially here.
Typically, when I talk about materials, I refer to textiles or fabric, like jute, organic cotton, hemp, modal, etc. In the case of jewelry, the best materials are reused, upcycled or recycled metals like gold or silver.
Usually, we want to be able to trace the material back to the source, which we usually can’t do that with reclaimed or repurposed pieces. However, these are considered more sustainable because we are not mining anything new from the earth.
New materials are almost impossible to properly trace thanks to conflicting laws and regulations within each country where mining occurs. There is a complete lack of transparency because the raw materials come from one country, they are then shipped to another one to be cut then another to be made, and so on by the time that sparkling diamond lands on your finger, it’s taken quite a trip.
There is also a TON of greenwashing in this space. A brand can claim to be sustainable because they use recycled gold, but their workers might be treated like crap. It’s impossible for a brand to say with 100% certainty where and how their raw materials came from.
We can look for third-party certification and organizations that companies are aligned with like Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), The Responsible Jewellery Council, Fair Trade, Responsible Jewelery Council, The Kimberley Process, Fairmined, Institute for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA).
Thanks to some of these initiatives, ethically sourced traceable gold is available. You just have to know what you are looking for.
Mining takes a big toll on the environment. It contaminates soil, surface water and groundwater with large amounts of toxic chemicals. According to Earthworks, one wedding ring will generate about 20 million tons of waste, leaving the surrounding area polluted with lead and cadmium. Wildlife and endangered materials are also a concern and so are toxins and heavy metals.
To say this is a complicated issue would be a gross understatement. Let’s look at gold first. “Blood” or “conflict” gold is often mined through slave and forced labour in countries like Sudan, Congo and the Central Africa Republic. In South Africa, miners are known as “ghost miners” because they are forced to remain underground so long their skin turns grey. This industry is driven by illicit gold brought to the market by criminal syndicates.
Diamonds might be a girl’s best friend, but they certainly are not a BFF to anyone who is mining for them. Remember the film Blood Diamond? Hard to watch, but right on the money. The diamond industry has fueled civil conflicts in Sierra Leone, Angola, Ivory Coast and the Congo, resulting in millions of people being displaced or killed.
Lab Grown diamonds are better, but they do come with some concerns. When choosing a diamond you want it to be “conflict-free” and that’s really hard for most jewellers to prove. It’s why certification matters. Look for these certifications: SCS Global, International Labour Organization (ILO), ISO 14001, B Corp.
To assist consumers with making more ethical choices Fairtrade International launched a certification for gold and silver and other precious metals back in 2013. These initiatives work toward helping to grow the market for smaller miners.
What other initiatives are brands taking? Are they offsetting their carbon emissions? Are they shipping items plastic-free? Do they have other certifications in place that can help you make an informed decision? Are they fully transparent about where and how they source their materials?
The most sustainable jewelry is made up of fairtrade certified metals. Recycled or reclaimed metals, vintage gems and diamonds, lab-grown diamonds, and even second-hand or thrifted are great.
Ethical Jewelry Companies
Arlokea sells everything you need to accessorize like a queen, including earrings, bracelets, necklaces and rings. Arlokea was founded to be a business for good; it’s an ethical business that is designed to “champion activists who are working to fight social injustices in their communities.”
Arlokea makes some of the most affordable artisan sustainable jewelry. When you choose an item on their website there is a little dropdown box for each item that tells you where the item is from, what it’s made from and who made it. I love this feature so much.
Arlokea’s Natural or Organic Materials
Most of their eco-friendly rings and bracelets are made from recycled materials considered waste or used materials like resin, brass, and copper. They also use bone and horns that are a by-product of the food industry to make some of the necklaces. You will also find delicate treasures made from salvaged woods, gold, silver and even Tagua seeds which are grown organically.
All of the reclaimed metals are chemical-free and any gold that is used complies with the EU nickel directive. If you are vegan, you will find lots of cruelty-free options to choose from.
Arlokea’s Ethical Sourcing
Arlokea works with artisans from all over the world, and each and every piece tells a really lovely story. The Tagua Spot Studs are made by hand by Fair Trade Winds an artisan co-op based in Ecuador that works to actively empower women to help them gain financial independence. The Tagua seeds come from the Tague Palm Tree; the seeds are removed from the nut, dried, and tied into gorgeous ethical earrings.
Each bracelet tells a beautiful story too. The Goddess Cuff is handmade using reclaimed brass and produced ethically in India by a female cooperative that bends the thick wire using handheld tools.
The long chain gold necklace is at the top of my list. Want it!
Arlokea’s Corporate Responsibility
Arlokea has three main social branches to their business: health, education and community. They believe health is essential to support the fight against illness by funding research and supporting individuals and families affected by the disease.
Where education is concerned, they use funds directed toward their nonprofit partners in education that are focused on allowing children to stay in school and have an equal chance of receiving a quality education.
Community to them means removing barriers and building bridges through art, sports, and other endeavors.
Spirit of Vera is a small, local Toronto jeweller founded by Vera, who is a ray of sunshine. Vera founded her company after travelling to Mexico where she was introduced to a local Mayan Shaman who showed her the traditional way of working with silver. Her journey then continued to Guatemala where the idea to start a silversmith business was born.
This sustainable handmade jewelry has some of the prettiest rings and necklaces. What I love about her creations is you can layer them, giving them that really boho feel.
Spirit of Vera’s Materials + Ethical Sourcing
Sprit of Vera uses sustainable sterling silver that comes from recycled post-consumer goods like electronics, photography equipment, appliances, security tags, car part, silverware and jewellery.
They source all of their silver from secondary refineries who have reduced their energy consumption by 33% in the last decade. They have also taken steps to completely eliminate toxic solvents from the cleaning process. There is zero nickel, lead or cadmium in any of the silver.
Gold is recycled responsibly (without producing excess CO2 & without the use of toxic chemical agents) in Canada and the USA. Material is in compliance with the responsible jewellers’ council and has the ISO9001 (quality) and OHAS 18001 (health and safety) certifications.
Gold is recycled using an environmentally responsible, and energy-efficient process. Certified by SCS Global Services.
Their gold refining site is ISO14001 (environment) certified. This means that an external auditor verifies legal compliance and the continued improvement of their environmental performance. In addition, their refining site is also a certified member of the Responsible Jewellery Council.
Spirit of Vera’s Corporate Responsibility
In addition to sustainable materials and sourcing, Vera is committed to sustainability in other ways too. Each piece is soldered, annealed and work-hardened to ensure durability, and you also get a lifetime warranty. If your item breaks, they will fix it for free!
kimber elements is a Seattle-based is artisan sustainable jewelry brand that partners with 30 Masai women in Kenya to make the most stunning beaded necklaces, earrings and rings. All of their designs not only celebrate traditional crafts but also promote wildlife conservation. They follow four pillars of sustainability: intentional design, economic & social impact, giving back and protecting wildlife.
I love the way they use traditional textures, colours and patterns, I was born and raised in Africa and looking at these designs make me feel at home.
kimber elements Materials + Ethical Sourcing
kimber elements gives Indigenous women dignified business opportunities “in order to elevate them as change-makers and catalysts for social and environmental change”. They do this by partnering with women in areas where wildlife is most at risk.
The women who make these magnificent pieces are skilled artisans in the ancient craft of beading, but they typically have no access to a consistent market. kimber elements is changing that by connecting them to to a market of socially conscious customers, preserving their craft and sharing their stories.
Gender equality is of the utmost importance for kimber elements. All the artisans are paid fair wages which allows them access to education for their children and at the same time enables them to support their families.
“Artisans are learning business skills and increasing financial security by collectively reinvesting a portion of their wages in sustainable micro-businesses to produce alternative sources of reliable income.”
Wildlife Works eco-factory is located in a wildlife sanctuary in Kenya. Their carbon-neutral factory creates a market-driven solution to wildlife conservation by supplying the local community with dignified jobs that replace unsustainable sources of income. kimber elements partners with Wildlife Works to fashion our jewelry bags from local deadstock fabric (the fabric that is no longer in production) or scraps from their sustainable garment production. Each bag is well-crafted and randomly unique.
kimber elements Corporate Responsibility
Not only do they elevate the lives of Indigenous women, but they also partner with wildlife organizations that are on the front lines of conservation and biodiversity. 10% of every piece purchased is dedicated to their “Wildest Dreams scholarship fund to provide educational opportunities for our artisans’ daughters to study and pursue a career in wildlife conservation.”
Part of their work also includes partnering with Big Life Foundation, an NGO working on protecting wildlife in Kenya.
Ever thought you would be able to buy jewelry created by a 3D printer? Astor + Orion are major innovators when it comes to ethical and sustainable jewelry. The process begins with the design. Once the design is approved, a 3D prototype is sent to their ethical manufacturing facility in Bangkok, Thailand where its cast and finished.
Necklaces, hoop earrings, and studs are just some of the lineup, and the backs of these pieces are just as beautiful as the front! Inspired by the natural world, they favour organic curves and interlocking geometric shapes that can only be created as a part of a hand-driven design process.
Astor + Orion’s Materials + Ethical Sourcing
#whomademyjewelry is a big part of who they are. They use recycled metals in their casting stage and they also make a point of designing their jewelry to be easily recycled again. They note: “This means we don’t use any stones or a whole host of other materials that would prevent the metal from being reclaimed and returned to its resource loop.”
They have also eliminated the need for tons of chemicals by sticking to melting, casting, and finishing metals. Items are designed in Seattle and made in an ethical, third-party certified factory in Thailand. And they are not playing around, adding:
“We chose a manufacturing partner that has put over 15 years of effort towards achieving third party certification in multiple areas and who has a vertically integrated production process that goes from the wax, casting, cutting, polishing, finishing and packaging stages. “
Some of those certification include:
ISO 9001: 2015: This standard governs the Quality Management Systems required to meet the brand’s specifications for their products.
ISO 14001:This standard covers the Environmental Impacts of the factory at the local level.
ISO 45001: This standard covers the occupational health and safety of the workers.
Eco Industrial Town Certificate: Demonstrates further coordination and leadership towards the sustainability goals in their local province.
You can read more about their certifications on their website.
Astor + Orion’s Corporate Responsibility
They are doing some really impressive stuff when it comes to ethical sourcing and manufacturing. Not only are all their workers paid well and work in safe environments, with a low environmental footprint, they also ship everything in compostable mailers, and use recycled cardboard mailing boxes with recycled paper labels.
They have partnered with Seattle-based Ridwell to make sure their hard to recycle items from their offices such as lightbulbs, printer cartridges and plastic films do not end up in the landfill.
To help promote conscious consumerism and support the sustainable fashion community, they are members of the Sustainable Fashion Alliance. They offer a credit for any returned items towards a new piece of jewelry, so they can reuse it and keep the closed-loop going.
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Clean Origin makes ethical diamond jewelry that will certainly hold true to the saying “diamonds are a girl’s best friend”. I mean, I have to admit, receiving a diamond as a gift from my hubby is pretty exciting, and knowing it’s ethical is even better. No matter what your occasion is, they’ve got it— weddings, engagements, bands, stackables, earrings, tennis bracelets and much much more.
Lab diamonds are eco-friendly, ethically sourced, and 20-30% less expensive than mined diamonds! The environmental benefits to choosing lab-grown caught my eye first: not only are the carbon emissions of a lab-grown diamond only 4.8% of a mined diamond, but they also require less than half as much energy for production. Furthermore, the mineral waste per carat of diamond in the lab is only 1 pound, compared to 5798 pounds for a mined diamond.
Clear Origins Materials + Ethical Sourcing
Are lab-grown diamonds real? Absolutely! Although they originate in a lab and not in a mine, lab-grown diamonds are identical to mined diamonds. How is this possible?
Clean Origin, a lab-grown diamond company explains that lab-created diamonds are put through a scientific process that achieves the same quality as mined diamonds. There are two different processes they can undergo: High-Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) and Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD).
The two processes use a combination of heat and pressure to form a diamond. One common misconception is that lab-grown diamonds are completely perfect. However, they are graded the same exact way as mined diamonds: using the 4 C’s. Meaning, they vary in colour, imperfections, and flaws.
All the metals (gold, silver, platinum etc.) they use are recycled and certified by The Responsible Jewellery Council.
Clear Origins Corporate Responsibility
They use carbon offsets and ship in recycled packaging.
I’m in love with every single one of Soko’s designs. From dainty to date night and everything in-between, this artisan sustainable jewelry brand offers rings, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces made from an eclectic array of materials. Soko is female-founded and led, and works directly with a robust artisan community in Kenya.
Soko’s Materials and Ethical Sourcing
No matter what kind of materials you are looking for, you’ll find a range at Soko. The 24k gold plated brass is handcrafted by artisans in Kenya’s traditional techniques.
90% of the brass they use is acquired from local markets and vendors, giving old materials new life in all of their creations. Their silver is created from recycled brass that is chrome-plated for a silver-coloured finish.
All of the beads they use come from Kazuri, a renowned Fair Trade women’s collective in Kenya. These beads are made from clay dug by hand from the rich earth of Mount Kenya, then carefully crafted one piece at a time. Your purchase directly supports their work.
The cow-horn and bone products are crafted from the horn of Ankole Longhorn cattle, a breed native to the Rift Valley of East Africa. The artisans ethically procure this reclaimed material, which is a byproduct of the food industry.
And the wood they use comes from South Sudan and is sustainably harvested. They are currently working towards their ISO 14001:2015 certification.
Soko’s Corporate Responsibility
Soko is B. Corp Certified. They created a “virtual factory” which they explain like this:
“Through digital banking instead of a cash economy, plus accessibility to cell phones, because the entire economy is mobile-driven, we created a simple, commercially viable way to connect local artisans with the international market and industry. We’ve coined this system — a virtual factory.”
Artisans working with Soko earn nearly 5X more than an average artisan workshop. Their Impact Report is impressive, showing how they connect with over 2300+ independent and
distributed artisans and illustrates all the amazing work they are doing. So impressive.
Omi Woods is one of my favourite black-owned sustainable brands. They make contemporary heirlooms that celebrate connections to Africa and her diaspora. If you are looking to nab necklaces, pendants, bracelets, earrings, rings, wedding bands, anklets, stack,s and even ethical men’s jewelry, they’ve got it all.
Founder Alexis McFarlane says her granny is the reason she began making jewelry:
“My Grandmother is the reason I started making jewelry and why Omi Woods is centred around heirloom heritage pieces. Her name means shalom in Hebrew and sälam in Ethiopian-Semitic languages. It translates to peace primarily, but also harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare, and tranquillity. I reflect on these things as I learn about the cultures and histories Omi Woods pieces are inspired by.”
Omi Wood’s Materials + Ethical Sourcing
The jewelry is individually and ethically handmade with fair-trade African gold and globally sourced conflict-free fine metals. The solid gold jewelry is made with fair-trade African gold. The gold is sourced from small-scale artisanal mines that support the well-being of miners and their communities by paying miners a fair wage and contributing to improved health care, education, safety, and living conditions on the continent.
About 20% of the world’s gold is used to fund conflicts around the globe. Omi Wood’s gold and other fine metals are conflict-free and sourced from casting houses that are committed to ethical manufacturing and reducing their carbon footprint.
Omi Wood’s Corporate Responsibility
Omi Woods donates a portion of sales to a local or global non-profit, social organization, charity or cause each year, like AllOneBlood and 8 Billion Trees.
Deux Mains (which means two hands in French) is a brand that offers sustainable and ethical fine jewelry that is all drop-dead gorgeous. They have quite a story. When the devastating earthquake hit the tiny nation of Haiti, founder Julie Colombino-Billingham travelled to the island to volunteer and help after the devastation.
One day, when helping at a food distribution camp, a woman said to her “I don’t want a bottle of water. I need a job.” This was her aha moment, so she quit her job and moved to Haiti permanently with one mission in mind: to “create sustainable jobs and beautiful products to share with the world.”
Deux Mains’ Materials + Ethical Sourcing
All the materials used are reclaimed or recycled from local sources. Earnings are made using a painted canvas that is bold and colourful. Some of their designs feature Haitian majok seeds. Also known as “Job’s Tears,” these seeds grow naturally in Haiti and were commonly used by Mother Teresa to make rosaries. They are one of Haiti’s best organic resources.
Deux Mains built their own 100% solar-powered, women-owned factory that produces ethical and environmentally friendly sandals fashion accessories, and jewelry. This allows them to have full control over the wages and benefits the artisans receive as well as the quality of their products.
By providing great jobs to the talented craftspeople of Haiti, they ensure that workers have:
Dignified wages, Wellness benefits, Health insurance, Paid holidays, Paid Maternity and Paternity leave, Education Benefits and a University Matching Program.
They sell really pretty ethical sandals too, made with up-cycled tired for the soles and responsibly sourced local leather, a by-product of the food industry.
Deux Mains’ Corporate Responsibility
The fact that they own their own women-owned and operated factory is pretty darn cool. The leather tannery they work with has implemented technology that allows them to reduce water use by 30%, recycle 66% of all waste, and use more than 50% of solar-powered energy. PLUS, 100% of their packaging is made with recycled materials.
They invest in education and paid job training with their nonprofit partner, REBUILD globally as they work with young men and women, training them with the marketable skills they need to live a fruitful life.
The most sustainable jewelry are pieces that already exist in the world, so consider a thrift store when looking for fun, chic, handmade everyday choices to add to your conscious closet. For special occasions like weddings, engagements and anniversaries we now have the option for lab-grown diamonds. They are more ethical sources but just want to point out that they can impact the livelihoods of many people who rely on traditional diamond mining as a source of income.
Please, no matter what you do, never ever buy jewelry made with animals. The illegal wildlife trade is booming and we need to stop it. We’ve seen the horrible circumstances of the ivory trade, it’s not pretty. Turelt shells, reptile kins, seashells have no place in ethical jewelry.
And don’t forget about Etsy and The One Of a Kind Show, both have a ton of great eco friendly jewelry brands to chose from.
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