This is the forth post in a five piece made in USA style series, featuring pictures of my beautiful friend Mary Beth. This week jewelry is on the agenda.
It is interesting because jewelry is both a sustainability hero and a sustainability zero if you ask me.
The cool (hero) part about the bling we own and wear is that it rarely goes out of style, and if it does, it is likely to come back in a few years, allowing us to wear it with confidence again. Jewelry lasts forever and no one can tell if a piece is old or brand new, making it a very sustainable and eco-friendly accessory to be worn over and over again, and passed down thru generations. Buying second hand clothing can be very intimidating, but thrifting for jewelry, I find is much easier. It is by far my favorite way to add new pieces to my accessories wardrobe. Not only is it the best eco-choice, but there are endless bargains to be made!
Jewelry is such a great way to complete an outfit, to make it feel more festive and put together. For the Made in USA style series, Mary Beth has been wearing artisan pieces she loves, in timeless designs.
Supporting small vendors, local artisans and craftsmen is definitely the next best option to buying second-hand jewelry in my opinion. The Purple Toadstool earrings ($20) we introduced in the first post are crafted in Texas, and the Gleeful Peacock necklace ($32) from the second post is handmade in Oklahoma. Two great quality, made in USA options with incredibly cheerful brand names!
Moving on to the not so great (zero) list of jewelry; at the top spot are diamonds (they’re not this girl’s best friends).
Roughly 49% of diamonds originate from Central and Southern Africa. Some of the politically unstable countries there are dealing with revolutionary groups who have taken control of the diamond mines, using proceeds from diamond sales to finance their operations. This is what is referred to as “blood diamonds” or “conflict diamonds”, which I am sure you’ve heard about (and maybe you’ve seen the movie with my eco-hero Leo DiCaprio).
According to what I have read, blood diamonds only constitute as low as 1% of all diamonds traded (2014 numbers), so buying a blood diamond by mistake is unlikely to happen. The problem still remains though, as it is of relative ease to smuggle diamonds across African borders and there are always buyers.
Diamonds are also considered clean when mined in nations that are not in a state of war or conflict, but whose diamonds have been mined using violent, unethical methods. Every day, more than a million diamond diggers in Africa endure dangerous and unfair working conditions, earning less than $1 a day, which is not enough to feed their families or sustain a healthy lifestyle. That sounds like “conflict diamonds” to me!
With 49% of diamonds being from Africa, it is safe to assume that about half of the diamonds we see at the jewelers in the west are “clean”, but nonetheless unethical, slave labor stones. (Canada is a big producer as well, where I am sure better employment standards are used for diamond mining.)
With the help of Fairtrade International, a fair trade diamond standard is in the early stages of development, but not in place yet. (A Fair Trade (US), or Fairtrade (Europe) Certification ensures that the producers in developing countries get a fair price for their products. The goal of fair trade is to reduce poverty, provide for the ethical treatment of workers and farmers, and promote environmentally sustainable practices.)
Most of the silver in the world is produced in Mexico, and China ranks third largest supplier, after Peru. When it comes to gold, China is the biggest consumer AND the biggest producer in the world. Which brings us to the next zero on this list: gold.
According to Fairtrade International, ninety percent of the labor force involved in gold mining is made up of artisanal and small-scale miners who produce between 200-300 tons of gold each year. Around 70% of this is used to make jewelry, which consumers across the globe spend a whopping $135 billion a year on buying! (Don’t get me started on our overconsumption issues now! Jewelry will NEVER be a “need to have”.)
I do worry about the miners, in terms of fair wages and working conditions, but also about the environmental impact of gold mining. According to Brilliant Earth, by the use of dirty practices such as open pit mining and cyanide heap leaching, gold mining companies generate about 20 tons of toxic waste for every gold ring made (0.333 ounce of gold). And of course, there are also serious health risks associated with improper handling of toxic mercury and cyanide.
Small-scale miners and artisans, are at the end of a long and complex supply chain and for those working in remote locations, it can be difficult to sell their gold at a fair price. Fairtrade Certified Gold is the world’s first independent ethical certification system for gold. The Standards include strict requirements on working conditions, health and safety, handling chemicals, women’s rights, child labor and protection of the environment.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t run into Fair Trade gold very often. And, most of the time, it is impossible to tell by the tag, how and where the raw materials of a piece of jewelry were made. Facts such as these are important to know, and should be kept in mind when one shops for jewelry. Maybe you don’t need another 20 tons of toxic waste on your finger, huh? Everything has an environmental footprint.
Do you have a favorite handmade, artisan, eco-friendly, locally produced jewelry brand? Please leave a comment with a link to it, so we all can get inspired!
There’ll be a necklace again in next week’s post, I assure you, but mostly we’ll be talking shopping and smart outfits for busy moms. Come back and see us!
Read more about Fair Trade at Fair Trade USA