Ethical. Sustainable. Eco. These words are thrown about a lot in 2020. Taer Jewellery is no exception. But if we really ask ourselves what do they actually mean and how are they being used on us, I'm afraid sometimes we may not like the answer.
Last Christmas, I was browsing the shops with my Mam, looking for a new coat to purchase. I found this beautiful beige wool coat. I looked at the label, it said; made from “100% Sustainable Wool” my interest was immediately peaked, and then I realised... and I smiled to myself. The label was on a lovely natural brown card, plain black ink with the outline of a sheep and 100% in massive font, it looked very... natural. My kind of labeling. Now, there was nothing untrue on the label. The label did not lie. My amusement resided in the fact that all pure wool by its very nature, is already “sustainable”. It grows back. I realised it was a clever marketing trick, sustainable is very 'in' at the moment. So is Eco and Ethical. But what do these words actually mean? The answer is, I'm afraid, they can mean anything. Some meanings are are probably true and others a play on words. Anyways, I bought the coat, it was a lovely coat, wool is sustainable and plus it looked great. But that label got me thinking about everything else I buy that says eco or sustainable. Precious metal being the main thing.
Enter Aisling + eco research and you get; a muddled Irish woman with feelings of overwhelm, helplessness and guilt... If you haven’t already guessed, this isn't the most uplifting read. But if you read it to the end, it does get better. I promise.
So what is eco silver and recycled gold... To me, recycled metal means taking a piece of old jewellery and remaking it into something new. But that's only a small proportion of what the industry sell to us as jewellers. The mining industry is still massive.
Silver and gold have always been recycled; they are commodities and so, are expensive. Silversmiths and goldsmiths have always sent back their 'scrap' metal to be recycled and suppliers have always bought it back, refined it and put it back into the system. The only difference is that now, they split the 'new' and the 'scrap' silver into two, and call the latter 'Eco'! What that means is, nothing has changed really, except a different way of distributing and a slightly higher price for eco silver.
When I was researching whether or not I should use eco silver (I do use it now) a while back, I was frantically looking for evidence that it was having a positive impact on mining. You know, reduced mining statistics, reports that previously mined areas were miraculously now growing trees. Anything!! But I found no such positivity. The only thing that's changed is how it is sold to us. Depressing. Yes.
“There is a dark soul that lurks behind the glamour of what we sell,” says Greg Valerio, a founder of the initial 1997 Fairtrade gold movement. “There’s an elitism in many well-established maisons, they think they are above accountability. It’s a problem.” (Financial Times, 2018)
So why bother with eco and recycled metals at all? I know. I wonder that myself sometimes. What I do know, or think I know, is that jewellery making is going nowhere, the more of us small makers pushing demand on suppliers for eco products, the more of us asking questions of our suppliers, the more changes will be made. In the last 23 years Fairmined and Fairtrade Gold are now a thing. Which means when people were pushed, industries responded. Fairtrade means that smaller mining companies pay a fair wage to their miners. Which means less exploitation. At the moment, this is only available for gold mines, not silver, and there are only a small few of those and until recently not every country had access to it. But thankfully Ireland has access and I have just registered with Fairgold and I am hoping this will finally give me access to Fairtrade gold to use!! Which I am very excited about. I promise to keep you posted!!
So instead of viewing the industry as a 'dark soul' and walking away from the trade I love so much. I choose sticking with it. I choose informing myself. I choose transparency. I choose offering a more conscious alternative. I choose to continually improve how I work. And in the famous words of Ewan Mcgregor 'I choose Life' OK. Yes. That was awful! Forget the Transpotting reference. The rest of it, I meant!
If this has depressed you in any way. I am so sorry. But know this; if you even make one small move to be more conscious to shop local or shop more sustainably, that is brilliant. And saying this to myself as much as anyone else: We are all only human, and we can only do as much as we know and as much as we can afford. And we cannot know everything and we cannot all afford everything. So be OK with doing the best that you can do and I will do the same.
Here are some online shops of people I know who are making and selling local pieces and or working in a more environmentally friendly way in case you don't know where to start...
Grown.ie (Dublin) is an Irish clothing and accessory brand, planting a tree for every t-shirt they sell.
Irishdesignshop.com (Dublin) sells contemporary craft that has all been 100% made in Ireland.
Bebhinn.com (Waterford) makes clothing using Irish linen and wool.
rowenasheen.com (Clare) makes jewellery using Irish Yew wood.
thebiscuitmarketplace.com (All over Ireland) is like an Irish Etsy; full of Irish makers and artists.
twothirds.com (Portugal) Made to order clothing using organic and sustainable fabrics.
I have included some more articles / websites to throw your eye over, if you'd like to do a little more reading on precious metal industry or about where I source my own metal. Some are a little dated but it will give you a starting point and maybe a better insight than I could give.
2009 article from The Ecologist: https://theecologist.org/2009/mar/01/can-silver-ever-be-ethical
2018 article about Lab Gold: https://www.mgsrefining.com/blog/2018/10/09/new-form-of-gold-made-in-lab/
2018 article in the Financial Times: https://www.ft.com/content/25fa5f58-2857-11e8-9274-2b13fccdc744
www.cooksongold.com (UK Company where I get some of my eco silver and gold from)
www.nnenterprise.com (Dublin Jewellery supplier where I get the rest of my eco metals from)
P.P.P.S. If you no longer wish to read my chaotic meanderings. The unsubscribe button is, as always, at the bottom of the page. We wont fall out over it xx