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Top Tips on Shopping for Sustainable and Ethical Jewellery
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Top Tips on Shopping for Sustainable and Ethical Jewellery

Top Tips on Shopping for Sustainable and Ethical Jewellery

Jewellery always has been a great way to express your personal style, but over recent years shoppers have become more conscious of how their fashion and accessory choices are impacting the wider world.

There has been a conscious shift from fast and cheap fashion to a desire for better quality and more sustainable choices. In this blog we explore sustainable jewellery in more detail and offer some guidance on how to make more eco friendly choices.

A protest for climate change

Fast Fashion vs Sustainable Fashion

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. 

 

Sustainable Jewellery

Although not as highly recognised as the clothing industry, the Jewellery industry is also hugely impacted by fast, throw away fashion.Yes cheap jewellery comes with a very appealing price tag, but poor quality of fast fashion jewellery combined with a short life span only means you will be buying that favourite pair of low cost hoops over and over. Not to mention behind the scenes the mass production of cheap jewellery releases toxic chemicals into the air and oceans causing harmful effects on our lovely planet.

Of course, in the world of jewellery, there are many ways this can be avoided as you can buy ethical and sustainable jewellery. 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. 


A hand holding antique rings and pendants

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

We have highlighted some of the impacts that jewellery production can have, and our team has collated some tips and ideas for shopping for sustainable and ethical jewellery to help you make more conscious decisions about your accessories.

Sustainable vs ethical jewellery: is there a difference?

Yes, there is a difference between sustainable and ethical jewellery. Whilst these terms are often used interchangeably, they do have their own meanings.

Ethical jewellery refers to the people and processes involved in making jewellery. 

Ethical concerns include: 

  • Child labour
  • Human displacement
  • Environmental changes impacting way of life
  • Dangerous working conditions

 

If jewellery is ethical it should be fully traceable, from mine to market, and not have a negative impact on the people who made it.

Ethical jewellery can include the use of sustainable materials, as this ensures that it leaves minimal impact on the people and environment in which came from which in itself is ethical. 

In comparison sustainable jewellery is about the effects manufacturing a piece of jewellery has on the environment. 

Environmental concerns:

  • Pollution
  • Deforestation
  • Destruction of ecosystems
  • Soil degradation

 

Sustainable jewellery production

There are of course some materials which are more sustainable than others, but there are also some production methods which now have less of an impact on the environment. 

For example, Fairtrade gold ensures that smaller scale miners get a fair price for their gold and the producers will often invest back into communities to support locals and their environment. 

Lab grown diamonds and gems are becoming increasingly popular as they cost less and are created using a process similar to that of naturally produced stones, but in a fraction of the time and without the need to mine.

Recycled jewellery is the process of taking an existing piece of jewellery and using it to create new pieces. This stops materials from going to waste whilst the quality of the stones are not compromised.

 

How to shop for sustainable and ethical jewellery

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.

A net shopping bag

 

 

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. 

Hand holding antique rings, necklaces and pendants

Do your research on sustainable and ethical jewellery

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.

Antique pendants surrounded by flowers

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!)

Hand holding Turquoise rings and wearing Gold bracelets

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 affecting areas such as the Amazon Rainforest - 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. 

Antique Gold necklaces

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 Jewellery 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 earrings

 

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.

Consider recycling existing jewellery pieces

At Lillicoco we 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!

It may also be that there are some cherished heirlooms within your family, such as a Gold signet ring or antique chain that is soon to be yours. This is the perfect way to come into possession of sustainable jewellery not only does it carry no carbon footprint, it also carries sentimental value that will be passed down for generations to come. 

Antique stock pins

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. 

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.

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? 


Victorian Gold chains

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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