If you buy jewelry from a major department store, discount store, or chain boutique likely the answer is it is made by people overseas who are underpaid and often working in unsafe conditions. “Who makes my jewelry?” is a question that you should begin asking yourself if you’re not doing so already. For years the fashion industry as a whole has been focused on profit margins and quick turnover (fast fashion) far more than the quality of materials and construction, the health and well being of production workers or environmental sustainability. Happily, that is now beginning to change. We’re finally seeing a groundswell movement of people who care about where the things they buy come from and how they are made.
I’ve been quietly making sustainable jewelry one small batch at a time in my studio for over 20 years- long before there was a slow fashion or sustainable fashion movement. A lifelong lover of jewelry and all things vintage I first starting creating jewelry that was an assemblage of found objects that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill- pieces of old records, credit cards, fabric bits, old plastic toys. As time went on my style evolved but my jewelry always involved using recycled or upcycled materials. About 12 years ago I uncovered a stash of unused vintage beads, chains, and other findings that had been languishing in a dusty old warehouse and knew at that moment that it was my destiny to bring them new life- uttal vintage modern jewelry was born. I combine my vintage components with recycled gold and silver. Currently 90% of everything I make is from sustainable materials and I strive to have it be 100%, including packaging and shipping materials.
In addition to the unsafe working conditions and low pay of jewelry production workers overseas there is also a lot of damage being done in the jewelry industry on the materials end of the equation. Much jewelry is made from materials that do not come from renewable resources- gold, silver, and gemstones. In addition to being non-renewable, these resources are often mined in unethical ways that are toxic to the environment, involve widespread government corruption in developing countries, and are done with little regard to the safety of mine workers or child labor laws.
Today, it is no longer necessary to sacrifice your values and beliefs in the name of fashion. There are many designers like myself who consider sustainability when making every decision in their businesses- from the use of materials in their designs to their packaging and promotional materials. Additionally, businesses like Brilliant Earth only source gemstones from mines that they personally certify as meeting strict labor, trade, and environmental standards.
So, get to know your jeweler. Ask them questions. Find out who makes your jewelry and what they are making it from. Our planet will thank you.
Cebette Uttal is the owner and creative force being Uttal Vintage Modern Jewelry.