Lately, we witnessed an increase in awareness regarding the sustainable practices linked to the jewellery sector, the negative impact of the commonly utilised raw materials in jewellery making, as well as human rights and the social conditions of all the people involved in the supply chain. Is it possible to produce sustainable jewellery? What is the difference between a sustainable jewellery and an ethical jewellery? What should one look for when buying jewellery? and most importantly, is sustainable jewellery even affordable? These are some of the questions we asked Matilde from matilde.jewellery.
Matilde is a 23 year old fashion connaisseur and future entrepreneur from a city called Setubal, in Portugal. She has been studying, working, and living in London for over 7 years, and considers both places home. After graduating from a Creative Direction for Fashion program at London College of Fashion, she decided to continue her studies at Conde Nast College of Fashion and Design, where she is currently getting her MA Entrepreneurship: Fashion & Creative Industries.
Matilde recently created matilde.Jewellery on Instagram for education and awareness purposes. Her goal was to create a platform that could educate and bring awareness to the jewellery industry, and both the sustainable practices already in place, and the lack thereof. She wanted to discuss any and every aspect of sustainability in the industry – from the technology of lab-grown diamonds, to vintage jewellery, and everything in between. Although the discussion around sustainable fashion is growing, there was a lack of platforms that were jewellery specific.
Besides this tremendous passion for raising awareness in the jewellery world, Matilde has the energy, the commitment, entrepreneurial spirit and business savvy to eventually launch her own sustainable jewellery brand, Matilde.
“I think personally, I have looked for sustainable jewellery brands, or just to educate myself on the matter, and found that although the discussion around sustainable fashion is growing, there was a lack of platforms that were jewellery specific.”Matilde
What is a sustainable jewellery? Is a sustainable jewellery automatically ethical? Do these words mean the same thing?
It’s a complicated discussion to define and separate sustainable and ethical, but I read an article a while ago on Refinery29 that explained it to me really well.
It explained how farmers living in parts of China would joke and say they could tell what colour would be “in” next season by looking at the shades of their rivers. It’s a sustainable issue that rivers were being poisoned, but an ethical one that the people living in those areas were being denied fresh water because of this. Does that explain it?
I think it’s hard to separate the two, because anything that is unsustainable raises ethical issues. Specifically to the jewellery industry, diamond mining is never going to be sustainable, because it has a direct effect on the environment. However, it can be argued that diamond mining can be done ethically, with fair humanitarian practices in terms of working conditions and wages.
What are the challenges currently faced by the jewellery industry concerning responsible sourcing?
The main issue around responsible sourcing in the jewellery industry is the supply chain and its traceability. This stems from the fact that when diamonds, gold, precious minerals and gems are mined, until they get from the mines to the consumer, they have gone through a number of stages and hands, and tracing its origin becomes incredibly hard and near impossible.
Take diamonds for example – they go through the exploration of the mines, to sorting the diamonds, to cutting and polishing, to jewellery manufacturing, before getting to retail. On the other hand with a lab-grown diamond, it goes from the lab, to the jewellery manufacturers, to the customer. This makes tracing the supply chain a straightforward and transparent process.
There are a number of practices in place such as the Responsible Jewellery Council that aim to strengthen the standards for responsible sourcing practices in the industry. Still, there are very few jewellery brands that can successfully provide and assure its customers that their materials have been sourced responsibly.
“The main issue around responsible sourcing in the jewellery industry is the supply chain and its traceability. “Matilde
What should consumers look for when buying jewellery? How can a consumer find and trace information on the type of jewellery they are buying? How does one not fall into the greenwashing tactics used by some companies?
It’s complicated, because like you said some companies use greenwashing tactics and put the word ‘sustainable’ in front of their products without actually practicing sustainability.
Ask whether the gold is fair-mined or fairtrade, if the diamonds and gems were ethically mined, whether they can trace the material back to its source. If the brand can answer these honestly, then even if they aren’t at 100% sustainable or ethical practices, at least they are transparent. If the brand can’t answer these questions, then that is your answer.
With the consumer behaviour evidently changing towards a more sustainably aware one, lots of multi-brand online retailers are highlighting brands which have sustainable and ethical practices. Take Net-a-Porter, they have introduced “Net Sustain” – an edit with brands who fit into the sustainability pillars established by the company. This is a great start, but even here it is important for customers to check each brand individually and what values they hold.
One of the main questions that arises in the jewellery industry is that of affordability. While there is a rising movement in making conscious choices regarding consumption, not everyone can afford to, due to the economic disparities. Therefore, the question of affordability can’t be ignored when there is a conversation on sustainability practices. Is sustainability affordable?
This is a real issue and definitely one that can’t be ignored. The reason fast fashion is so cheap is because it is cheap to make, whilst slow fashion is more expensive to produce, and therefore expensive for people to buy.
I myself struggle with this topic, because I see so many people who want to make better shopping choices but when they look at the options available it is just not affordable. So to answer your question frankly – mostly no, sustainability is not affordable. But I think we are definitely seeing a shift in the right direction.
As I previously mentioned, I want to launch my own sustainable jewellery brand, Matilde. One of my main goals is to create an accessible priced collection of premium sustainable jewellery, which means customers will be able to access these pieces at affordable prices, without having to compromise on quality, and without negatively affecting the environment.
“So to answer your question frankly – mostly no, sustainability is not affordable. But I think we are definitely seeing a shift in the right direction.”Matilde
How do you see the future of the jewellery industry and what are you hopeful for?
Consumers demand social and environmental responsibility from brands and studies show that 84% of consumers expect businesses to practice sustainability. With a rise in activist movements, consumer awareness has increased and will only continue to do so.
Going specifically into diamonds, there is a clear shift in consumer interest from traditional mined jewellery to lab-grown diamonds. With a 25% decline in rough diamond sales and 20% growth in lab-grown diamonds in 2019, I truly believe that consumers are becoming aware of the fact that there are in fact alternatives to these harmful practices, and they can easily make this change.
In terms of what I am hopeful for, I hope not only for an even bigger increase in consumer awareness, but also coming from brands. It would be great to see big household name jewellery brands adopting these sustainable practices and transparency. And of course for this to become accessible to everyone, not only those with a high disposable income, and in every area of not only sustainable jewellery and fashion, but also the food industry.
You can follow Matilde on Instagram at @matilde.jewellery, on Facebook at Matilde Jewellery, and email her with any further questions or comments. Stay tuned for Matilde’s website to launch soon where you will be able to sign up to be the first to see her sustainable jewellery brand.