On February 28, at École supérieure de mode de l`ESG UQAM there was an EcoSession, a panel about ethical jewelry where five participants from local Quebec jewelry and sustainability companies shared their experience and challenges.
We talked about ethics, ecology, transparency, sustainability and other things that are intertwined in this concept. All of them, meaning an effort to make the industry more clean and ethical to all the natural and human resources involved. This topic is not new for the journal headlines; however, it has not fully reached the daily habits of jewelry producers and clients.
Only imagine, around a quarter of all diamonds have the traces of blood in their background. And no one knows which quarter exactly.
This example is the most popular one and, indeed, among the most influential in the jewelry industry. However, the questions of ethics and ecology reach far beyond the expensive precious stones into the lives of jewelry makers and clients. Where does the metal comes from? What is the production process? (For those of you, who are not familiar with jewelry making I only give a little example – we use a lot of water. Does the jeweler simply let the tap water run or stores and reuses it?) And, one of my favourite examples, packaging. Hold the breath. More than 20 mln jewelry boxes per year only in Canada! More than 150 kg of the overall packaging waste per person per year.
I am talking about all this to give a wider prospective of the problem. That it is not only the conflict diamonds – the industry works with many other stones also (by the way, they are much less exposed to such conflicts). But to show that simple questions come with small steps into the life of almost every jewelry lover and maker.
The panel was presented by both, traditional and alternative jewelry companies. Ashley Aucoin, Marketing Director at Ecksand; Patricia Rengifo Hidalgo, Trade Specialist for Canada at PRO ECUADOR – Institute for Export and Investment Promotion; Myriam Elie, Designer and owner at MYEL; Kimberlee Clarke co-founder at Cinderella Garbage and Olga Leclair, the jewelry designer and blogger at LOFT.bijoux and Olga Leclair Jewelry had many things to discuss.
Different jewelry companies adapt the practices in their own way. For example, the traditional Ecksand uses only the fair trade gold and traceable diamonds. MYEL is suggesting a new collection made of fully traceable Montana sapphires. PRO ECUADOR promotes traditional ancestral crafts and alternative natural materials. Cinderella Garbage uses the stones made of compressed and vitrified garbage. Olga Leclair suggests the idea of recycling old jewelry and stones, uses recycled materials.
There are many problems on the way of sustainable and ethical jewelry in Quebec discussed at the panel. I will briefly sum them up:
- The limited choice of local suppliers, providing sustainable materials. No local suppliers of fair trade metals.
- The sustainability certification in jewelry almost does not exist in Canada.
- The clients are not yet searching sustainability (1 in 50!), which makes jewelers slow to adapt the practice.
- Lack of information for jewelers, lack of the opportunities to share the experience.
The speakers also suggested the directions in which we can all move to improve the situation:
- Marketing. It is a very powerful instrument. Once De Beers created with its help the fashion on diamonds. Now only marketing and communications have the real power to make the industry more ethical and sustainable.
- Developing the market of independent, non mass-market professional artists.
- Bringing professionals together more often, sharing the experience, developing the professional community, probably, even creating a special association.
- Promoting the transparency, disclosing all the stages of production process.
- Educating the client.
The talk is only starting. The organizers of the EcoSessions, FEM International & ETHIK Eco-Design HUb, suggested a very nice platform to exchange the experience and work together as a community, to face the challenges and solve the problems.