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Our Top Tips on Shopping for Sustainable Jewellery

Jewellery always has been a great way to express your personal style, and with the current climate of working from home and treating your corridor as your own personal runway, now is the perfect time to experiment with different jewellery looks. 

Yet, we can’t ignore that recent months and events have also significantly impacted the way that we shop. Not only are more of us shopping online, but we are also supporting smaller brands and buying pieces locally. There has also been a conscious shift towards working with your local community and helping out those who are in need. With this in mind, and we think in tandem with this, there has also been a shift towards shopping more sustainably. “Sustainable fashion” has been an SEO buzzword for the past few years, and you can see why. Young environmental activists like Greta Thunberg have created a seismic shift in both the young and old, with many wanting to work towards a greener future. 

One of the best ways we can adopt a more sustainable approach to life is by changing our shopping habits. Whether that is shopping secondhand, buying goods made from recycled materials and supporting companies with ethical practises, prioritising a world with a circular economy is one of the many steps you can take to having a sustainable future. 

Of course, in the world of jewellery, there are many ways you can buy sustainable and ethical pieces. As an antique and vintage jewellery company based in Bristol (a city known for its green and eco-friendly credentials), we offer a sustainable and environmentally-friendly way to shop because we effectively sell second-hand and reworked pieces, each rich in their own history. 


In fact, our supervisor Kaja wrote a fabulous blog post on ethical jewellery a few years ago, exploring the ethical jewellery movement. 

We have collated together some tips and ideas for shopping for sustainable jewellery, from the mindset we employ whilst shopping to the materials to look out for. 


Try Mindful Consumption

It is clear that shopping has become imperative, a world of “buy now”, shopping currently is focused on the fast fashion industry model, where pieces are mass-produced, cheap to buy and focused on trends. Many of these pieces are manufactured in poor countries where cheap manual labour is exploited and is subject to human trafficking and slavery. This industry is simply not efficient, and you can see why. 

According to the World Economic Forum, fashion has become one of the world’s most polluting industries accounting for 10% of all of humanity’s carbon emissions. From sourcing the fabrics to the manufacturing, transportation and even wearing the garment, each stage produces a huge amount of pollution including greenhouse gas emissions, wastewater, and poisonous corrosive chemicals. 

 

Not to mention many of these clothes are quickly discarded after a few wears, simply because they no longer comply with trends. 50 years ago, fashion trends and collections were only a twice a year seasonal affair, yet now brands create at least 2 collections per month, with each new collection becoming quickly outdated. 

In fact, it is also estimated that 85% of all textiles made are dumped each year. People are now buying 60% more than they did 20 years ago, yet they only keep the clothes for half as long.  

 The human extent of this consumerism is staggering. This was fully revealed in 2013 after the Rana Plaza disaster, a devastating collapse of the Dhaka garment factory killing 1,134 people and injuring 2,500. This awful event showed just how ugly the fashion industry can be, forcing POC in third-world countries to work for hours on end in unsafe conditions especially as the owners of these brands are billionaires. 


Of course, it can be easy to buy into trends and cheap clothes. It is important to remember that this industry has helped democratise fashion for the west, luxury trends are quickly capitalised on with cheaper equivalents churned out in high street shops. This not only made new clothing affordable to all but it was a major social change as fashion was once an excursion for the rich. Whilst in many ways this has helped boost economic growth, it is no longer a long-term viable environmental and ethical option.

This is why many people are adopting mindful consumption, but what exactly is it?

Mindful consumption is the intersection of mindfulness, minimalism and consumption. Essentially, it is where you adopt mindfulness-based practises towards the clothes and jewellery that you buy.

For instance, this can include evaluating how much you need the piece of clothing, the materials that it was made from, and the company that you are supporting, as well as cherishing and loving the piece that you buy. Essentially, you end up making a considered, well-thought-out and slower decision rather than the heightened anxiety-inducing emotions of impulse buying. 

To implement mindful consumption in your day to day life, before purchasing a piece of clothing or jewellery ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What company am I buying this from? Are they a small independent business, do they have fair practises?
  2. What are the materials used within this piece? Are they recycled or sourced from mines?
  3. Who made this? Am I directly contributing to better this person’s lifestyle by buying this product? 
  4. How often will I wear this piece? Will I still love it in a few years time?
  5. Can I get this piece second-hand? 

Mindful consumption lends itself to treasuring the pieces that you already own and the new pieces that you buy, making you love and wear them for longer. Not only does this reduce the number of items that end up in landfill, but it also means that you are more likely to support ethical and eco-friendly businesses. 

Research, Research, Research

Other than asking yourself the five questions above, there are other ways you can shop sustainable jewellery. The best way to make an informed decision is to research as much as you can. For instance, look out for the following third party credentials when researching fashion brands: 

  • Fairtrade and Guaranteed Fairtrade
  • Cruelty-Free International
  • PETA-Approved Vegan
  • 1% For The Planet
  • B-Corp
  • Carbon Neutral Specifications and Carbon Trust Standard
  • Forest Stewardship Council Labels 
  • Rainforest Alliance Certified 
  • Global Organic Textile Standard
  • Soil Association Organic
  • The Responsible Jewellery Council 
  • Ethical Making Resource
  • Jewellery Industry Summit
  • National Association of Jewellers
  • Fair Luxury
  • Kimberley Process 

These credentials not only affect both the jewellery and fashion industry but they can also be applied to furniture, food, drink and any other products that we consume. 

With this in mind, if you do see a piece of jewellery or item of clothing that you love but you aren’t sure of the brand’s sustainability practises and credentials, don’t be afraid to email them and contact their customer service team.


Of course, some people veer away from buying ethically because they are afraid of how expensive it will be. However, in fast fashion companies, there is an estimated markup of 71% on the product, whereas in slow fashion companies it is only 23%.

So, with this in mind, if you adopt the slow fashion option, you end up buying a piece that is inherently worth more. Plus, sustainable fabrics and ethical practises are generally more expensive, but that is for a reason because fabrics and materials created both quickly and cheaply are severely detrimental to the planet.

When you are looking for that special sparkling piece, one of the best ways to find an environmentally friendly version is through shopping from local independent brands, Etsy and Instagram are great places to start as you can find a myriad of small brands at your fingertips, (including us!)

Another great way to educate yourself is to research just how much impact buying new jewellery has on the environment. For instance, the No Dirty Gold campaign launched by Earthworks focuses on reforming gold mining operations to respect both human rights and the environment.

Gold mining is one of the world’s most destructive industries. From displacing communities to contaminating drinking water, risking human lives and destroying natural ecosystems with mercury and cyanide, it is believed that producing enough Gold for one wedding ring alone generates around 20 tonnes of waste - a long-lasting environmental impact.


One of the best ways to reduce both the ecological and human impact from mining is to purchase second hand and recycled Gold. Plus, companies should impose tighter restrictions within mining operations to limit the excess and poor treatment of waste and prevent unsafe working conditions. In addition, recycled Gold does not intrinsically lose its value. Interestingly, recycled Gold is more commonplace than you would initially think. According to the Alliance of Responsible Mining, in 2017, 261 tonnes of Gold went into jewellery fabrication while 326 tonnes of Gold were recycled in Europe. 

If you are thinking of buying or commissioning brand new jewellery, it’s important to find out where the jeweller or brand sources their materials. For instance, you need to question the following:

  •  Which mines do they source their materials from?
  • Who is employed to do the mining?
  • Is it safe?
  • Are they paid fair wages?
  • How environmentally destructive is the mine?
  • Is the surplus waste material efficiently dealt with? 

Of course, as it is highly unlikely that you will be able to visit or see the mine, it can be difficult to ascertain how honest brands are. Which is why checking to see if they are approved by any of the third-party credentials above is a great place to start. 

Shop Small Brands

Generally, small brands tend to have more transparent production lines, ethical manufacturing processes and are more responsible when it comes to purchasing and using environmental materials. What’s more, shopping at small brands is actually giving back more to local economies by creating more jobs. So, simply put, it's a no brainer!

As jewellery requires handcrafted artisans, you can easily find many handmade pieces from local sellers. Simply a quick search into “recycled Gold ring” on Etsy and you can find a myriad of options. 

Think Outside the Box (The Pink Lillicoco Kind). 

One of the great things about buying jewellery is that you are investing in pieces that you will wear forever, but it's not just the jewellery you have to think about, what about the packaging too? We package our jewellery within the cutest pink boxes, fitting snuggly within bubble wrap and cushioning. These materials are designed to keep your jewellery looking tip top for longer, as the gemstone’s and precious metals won’t scratch. So, don’t just throw away the Lillicoco packaging when you receive one of our precious pieces, store your lovely item within it to make it last for many more years. 

Antique Gold Engraved Earrings - Lillicoco

Shopping sustainable takes work and will mean that you will have to think outside the box at all times. For instance, you will have to consistently question the choices that you make, but soon enough it will become second nature. 

We pride ourselves on offering sustainable solutions throughout our business. Buying vintage and antique jewellery itself is better for the environment because virgin materials are not used and human labour is not compromised. The majority of our pieces are timeless classics, so you can be assured that they will never go out of style, yet we do have some rarer more esoteric pieces too, making that discovery of something you love that little bit more special.

 We also love reworking and converting antique and vintage beauties into brand new pieces. For example, we stock a fair amount of Victorian and Edwardian stick pins, a style of jewellery that is rarely seen today. Although many antique aficionados like collecting these, we offer stick pin conversions to charms, pendants and rings, using the Gold from the pin itself to make jump rings and ring bands. So, you get an entirely new piece of jewellery with nothing wasted!

Shop Second Hand, Vintage and Antique Jewellery

Okay, we are biased but shopping second hand, vintage and antique is perhaps one of the best ways to shop for jewellery sustainably simply because it contributes to a circular economy. 

Vintage and antique jewellery has that je ne sais quoi feel about it, especially as it has a great story to tell. How can you resist Belle Epoque Diamond creations, or Georgian foiled gems? Many antique and vintage pieces are timeless classics too, especially solid Gold chains, Gold rings and the gorgeous antique Gold findings. 



Of course, with any form of purchasing, there is going to be some greenhouse gas emissions emitted. Unless we grow and make everything ourselves that we put both on and in our bodies, it is inevitable that some emissions will be produced. Yet, just being aware of how much is generated from buying new, and consequently how much can be saved from buying both less and vintage or antique can really make a huge difference. For instance, transport emissions will incur, but the emissions and pollutants created for a new piece altogether is far greater.

We find that once you make the decision to shop sustainably, it can be hard to just go back to normal. As with many things, the more you educate yourself about these matters, it is easier to stick to better habits, and soon enough it will just become the norm. 

If you have any questions about our wonderful pieces, feel free to get in touch with us enquiries@lillicoco.com.

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