James Rees discusses why we all need to be more sustainable when it comes to our jewellery.
Generation Z is a crucial target market for brands, especially those in the fast fashion space. Stereotypes of teens and early 20-year-olds watching Netflix and ordering delivery after delivery of clothes is what comes to mind for many older people thinking about their key consumer. But, is that actually the reality?
Young purchasers are the consumers brands want to build a relationship with from a young age. However, to do that, sustainability and ethics need to be a part of their mission. Why is this? Because 60 per cent of Gen Z have an expectation that the companies they buy from should take a stance on the causes that they care about. These causes mainly come in two forms: tackling human exploitation and reducing, or even removing, any environmental impact. Gen Z will almost certainly be remembered as the generation who cared.
So with fast fashion on the minds of young and future customers, brands know they need to up their game. But, often, jewellery is forgotten about. You can go into a store, pick up a few items of clothing and you might even throw in a cheap necklace. These items don’t last and they end up landfill in no time. That’s only one part of the problem.
Perhaps you even purchase higher-quality jewellery but you don’t research into the sustainability of the manufacturer or their ethical background. You could then be buying pieces that’s worse for the planet and its people than any item of clothing.
There are a few things you can look out for when you’re hunting for sustainable and ethical jewellery though.
Thinking of recycling and jewellery, the easiest thing to do is to buy second-hand items and encourage people to pass on pieces they’re not using anymore. Apps like Depop are perfect for preloved jewellery.
You can also look for jewellery that is made from recycled materials. Taking a look through independent shops or marketplaces like Etsy will show you a host of crafty ways people have made jewellery. Expect to see recycled tin, bent spoons twisted into bracelets, and even old china plate chunks into necklaces. Creatives are often at their best when upcycling.
In terms of finer jewellery, there are various brands using recycled gold and silver so you can then reduce your impact as there won’t be mining required for them in the first place.
Moving away from recycling, looking at where your jewellery has been sourced from is key. Brands will state if they use ethical suppliers for their materials and if you find one that does, do a bit of research into the brand. You want to look for the following:
- Conflict-free stones
- Good working conditions
- Fair wages
- Recycled materials, where possible
- Transparent supply chain
- No harmful chemicals used in manufacturing
Most people are fairly clued up on what good working conditions are and the importance of recycling. But, chemicals in manufacturing can seem like another language. Almost 1 in 10 budget jewellery items were discovered by the European Chemicals Agency to contain harmful and banned chemicals in high street stores in 2018. The kind found in these cheaper items can be harmful and cause irritation to the skin.
Chemicals used in the manufacturing process can also be harmful if not disposed of correctly. If the factory is not up to scratch, the people producing these products can suffer due to poor ventilation. This can get even worse for those who are cutting gems for jewellery as microscopic particles can settle in the lungs and cause lifelong damage.
In other words, a transparent supply chain just means that you can trace the origins of the precious metals that make up finer jewellery. Sadly, these materials are often coming from poorer countries. If a company openly discusses the source of their products they’re likely to care about the welfare of the people and also the impact they have on the planet when mining for precious metals and gemstones. Businesses now are more inclined to help communities that mine these materials, and people can thrive off the back of the industry. This cost very well may be passed onto the customer but this allows traceability and good social impact for all.
What can you do?
To ensure what you are buying is sustainable, it all comes down to research. Look for Fairtrade logos and read the ‘about us’ pages of brands to see how they make their goods. Reconsider buying cheap, poorly made jewellery that is going to break and be binned, and recycle where possible. Sustainable jewellery can be on-trend as well as being good for the planet and its people.
James Rees is founder of Wales-based independent jewellery boutique, Baroc, who stock a range of brands alongside a variety of homeware products. Baroc continues to stock more brands who are ethical and sustainable to encourage consumers to consider their fast fashion choices.