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The jewelry industry has no shortage of talented women who are making their way designing and creating, strategizing and managing, often alongside caring responsibilities at home. Some are also working to drive change and inspire others in areas like sustainability, equality, and philanthropy. A celebration of some of the women designer activists in the jewelry industry today.
Women leading the pack in responsible luxury
“I don’t think of striving to be more ethical and sustainable as anything special – it is simply my responsibility as a human being living on our planet,” says Emily P. Wheeler, a young, Los Angeles-based jewelry designer who endeavors to operate an ethical business. With notoriously opaque and circuitous supply chains, sustainability is not always easy to ensure in the jewelry industry, “but throughout the process of striving for that, you get to know the people you work with, the miners, the cutters – it makes the whole process of creating more enjoyable.”
While sustainability is now largely expected by the end consumer, rather than being a nice-to-have, sometimes it can be hard to cut through the greenwashing to find what a brand is actually doing. Wheeler is a Responsible Jewelry Council member, committed to a sustainable business who works to make sure her suppliers are as clean as possible. Her signature Chubby rings feature ethical stones and fair-mined metals, alongside more unusual materials like petrified palm wood and sustainable ebony, all sourced from suppliers who have signed a stringent code of conduct covering everything from child labor to the environment, via bribery and money laundering.
Integrated sustainability also came naturally to Isabel Encinias, one half of the founding design team behind Paris luxury jewelry house Tejen, whose pared-back elegance and clean lines bely a rigorous approach to ethics, craftsmanship, sustainability and transparency. After working for top names like Boucheron and Harry Winston, Encinias pivoted to focus on sustainability in jewelry, with a spell in Bali as Design Director for John Hardy, the famously ethical jewelry brand ,and helped launch ecological jewelry house JEM. When it came to starting Tejen, with co-founder Mark Kroeker, she wanted to ensure their conscious jewelry brand had sustainability at its core, which she believes is its “power and duty” as a luxury label.
Women smoothing the way for a diverse new generation of designers
Over in London, jeweler and academic Melanie Eddy has grown a cult following for her distinctively architectural bespoke jewelry. The Central Saint Martins lecturer is also a diversity activist and founding member of the Jewellery Futures Fund, alongside fellow designer Emefa Cole and editors Rachel Garraghan and Annabel Davidson, to offer support to young black jewelers entering the profession. The upcoming Fund was one of the initiatives born of last year’s social justice movement, as a way of encouraging young black talents into an industry in which they may not, until recently, have seen themselves reflected. “During the time of reflection last summer, women within the industry with large platforms reached out to highlight the work of black jewelers. One of the blessings to come out of this time has been increased industry connections across diverse backgrounds,” she says.
Around the same time, jeweler and activist Kassandra Lauren Gordon was also setting up her own Fund, as a grassroots action via Go Fund Me. She had written an open letter to the industry eloquently detailing her frustration at the “unique set of challenges” faced by black jewelers in Britain and went on to raise over $35,000 and commission the Black Jewellers Survey (a detailed report to come), backed by the Goldsmiths’ Company. The Fund was eventually able to support 21 jewelers and Gordon is hoping to work with the Black Jewellers Network to build on this momentum and inspire further change, all while running her ethical jewelry business.
Similar action was started in the US by Angely Martinez, known for her nature-inspired jewelry, who last year set up the Jewelry Industry Task Force in a response to the particular challenges faced by black jewelers. “Our skill set and contribution remain valid and equitable to our peers and contemporaries,” reads the Force’s manifesto “For too long, you have been missing our voices, nor have we had equal opportunities.” The statement was signed by black jewelers from around the world.
Women driving philanthropy in jewelry
Queen of philanthropy in the jewelry industry, Joan Hornig launched her first jewelry line in 2003, enabling customers to donate to good causes of their choice as they bought her work. She has recently relaunched Pavé the Way, a line aimed at millennials and Gen Z to encourage giving, part of her drive to empower and “help others have an impact”.
Designer Temple St Clair began her classically influenced fine jewelry line in Florence, Italy,1986 and her early rock crystal amulets have since become an iconic talisman. From deep-sea diving to mountain trekking, a youth spent traveling the world not only inspired her rich designs but also a commitment to the environment. Alongside running her business, St Clair is also an advisor to the Big Life Foundation, which focuses on preserving wildlife and the natural environment for future generations. Her recent donation will fund rangers in the Maasai and help protect African Elephants, while closer to home, she also supports NYC Food Bank and several other cultural and social organizations.
Traditionally a rallying cry for greater gender equality, International Women’s Day is a celebration of female accomplishment. Each of these woman has worked hard to build a business in the jewelry industry, often in the face of gender or race-based assumptions and challenges. Alongside this, they and many more, are using their hard-won platforms to support causes they believe in and issues that impact us all, proving that if you want something done, give it to a busy woman.
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