Are we ethical? Are we sustainable? What are we? Our founder, Naqiyah, sits down to discuss this in more detail.
This is a long overdue discussion from us here at KASHKA. Before we start, we would like to note that everything written within this post is reflective of our own thoughts and views.
We’ve been making a lot of changes at KASHKA recently and, as a result of these changes, we’ve had to ask ourselves how are we really ethical and sustainable? Is it one? Is it the other? Both or neither?
The dictionary definition of ethical is “relating to beliefs about what is morally right and wrong”. When applied to business, ethical means to be equitable, fair and dealing with people that, although pragmatically flexible, conforms to self-imposed high standards of public conduct.
Our first approach to sustainable metals was in 2014, where we used Fairmined Silver until earlier this year, in 2018. It was in this year that I got thinking about what I wanted to achieve and what personal key issues I had to address whilst building an ethical jewellery business; was it the human cost in mining and manufacturing practices that got my knickers in a twist or the impact on the environment? Was it fairer wages, but higher environmental costs?
Let me give you an example. If we were working with fairly but freshly mined material, this would need to be flown across the world. At the end of the day, we need these materials to get to us, but their movement largely impacts our carbon footprint. So then we ask ourselves, do we use locally sourced recycled material and continue our fair-making practices? If we used the artisanal mines, what would happen with supply and demand should the current mine’s be depleted?
Companies have woken up to the idea of “sustainability” and have realised it’s profitable. Some of these companies use green washing and white washing, which enables them to cash in on this so-called “trend”. This occurs across many industries – not just fashion – and articles appear every day discussing the troublesome terminology that surrounds ethical fashion, such as this one from Forbes. Ethical fashion. Conscious fashion. Sustainable fashion, Eco fashion… the list goes on.
These terms, amongst others, are becoming increasingly common and are often used interchangeably, but their meanings can either closely align or widely differ depending on the perspectives of the person saying them, and the person hearing them. Since no universally agreed definition for “ethical” or “sustainability” really exists in today’s day and age, I had to come back to the drawing board and ask myself what does it really mean to be ethical and sustainable? Are we any of the broad terms?
Hand on my heart – and perhaps somewhat naively – I balk at the fact that we are having these discussions in 2018. Considering the modern world is all about freedom, I don’t think we should even need to sit down and discuss what is and isn’t ethical or sustainable. In an ideal world, everything should be fairly sourced and fairly made. To be able to do this, we need access to innovative thinking and the correct technology, which we have, so why are we not all practicing ethically and sustainably?
It’s not the 16th century where ownership, consumerism and world discovery were just waking up. Nevertheless, with fast consumption and modern lifestyles, certain responsibilities, actions and awareness have taken a back seat until now. We are aware and making the changes, though I must note ironically the word ethical was first coined circa 1600-1610 so really, if society then had woken up to the ethics and morality conversations then we today have no excuse.
Since our launch in 2014, ethical jewellery has come a long way thanks to the consumers asking ‘who made my jewellery?’. This has been supported by the Fashion Revolution movement in the last couple of years and, in more recent years, further marketing and educational I DO campaigns have been run by Fairtrade Gold. These campaigns have helped to get customers asking the right questions.
Having said this, I do believe that ethical jewellery is a double edged sword and doesn’t have just one layer to it. It has a multitude of umbrella terms but, for me, the two key elements that I would like to discuss are environmental vs Social.
History of ethical jewellery – the environmental vs Social elements:
This is not a shiny new concept. Conscious consumers have been asking for transparent supply chains since the late 90’s, and a handful of jewellers and designer makers have provided the best solutions possible. Thanks to the movers and shakers within the industry such as Greg Valerio, my own colleagues and industry peers at Fair Luxury, the ethical jewellery industry in the UK has slowly grown – and will continue to grow.
I am not here to wax lyrical about the ills of this trade. I want to explain to you, the customer, how we ensure KASHKA is a responsible luxury jewellery brand that has considered any one – or many – of the facets of harm that could result from our business processes. We have taken the relevant steps and put in place established policies to minimise – or even eliminate – that harm.
My personal obsession started when I enrolled at GIA back in 2007. I first learned about mining practices and the true cost of what goes on behind these mining practices. One thing that is glaringly obvious to me is the fact that jewellery is actually an extension mining. If you are in this trade you are part of the mining industry.
Our demand for precious raw material that can be manipulated into a beautiful piece of jewellery, regardless of whether it has been freshly mined or recycled, begins with needing to be mined. This extraction process can be devastating and uses dynamite to explode apart the land. After that, piles of crushed ore are sprayed with deadly cyanide, which helps collect all of the gold and silver. This process is heavily repeated and creates dangerous amounts of toxic waste. As a consequence, this toxic waste can seep its way into neighbouring habitats.
In a report by Earthworks and Mining Watch Canada, Troubled Waters states that, each year, mining companies dump in excess of 180 million tonnes of these hazardous mine wastes into rivers, oceans and lakes. That’s more than 1.5 times the amount of waste that US cities send to landfills each year.
What started out as an environmental obsession quickly became a stark realisation that there is a human price to be paid too.
Socially, it can fund vicious cycles of violence, abuse and terror. It can also displace communities.
The 2006 Hollywood film, Blood Diamonds, and Kanye West’s song, Diamonds from Sierra Leone, helped to create widespread societal awareness of what actually happens within the diamond trade. Moreover, the film and song helped to provoke the beginnings of reform within the sector.
Contrary to people’s belief, sweatshops don’t just exist for fast fashion and the garment industry. Sweatshops also exist for the accessories trade, which covers a broader range of jewellery than you may initially think; these can include costume jewellery, fashion and fine. Traditionally, jewellery has been seen as a more durable purchase when compared to clothing, but a number of changes in the market now indicate that the concept of fast-fashion may be coming to the jewellery industry too. This change, in part, is a response to customer expectations but, more than anything, is reflective of technological changes. Slow is the way forward, but if you need something fast, then perhaps you can ask the question how were you made and at what cost?
I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not calling for a boycott on precious metals, stones or mass manufacturing jewellery factories.
I fully acknowledge – and believe – that everyone has a right to a livelihood. For many, mining is the only livelihood they have. We are demanding changes in the way that metals are extracted and jewellery is produced. All too often, jewellery is produced at the expense of communities, workers and the environment. We are demanding alternatives to “dirty” – or irresponsibly produced – metals and stones.
As for us at KASHKA, we apply the overarching term of ‘responsible’. We are, by no means, perfect, but we are working towards it. We would like to celebrate and maintain that our supply chain will be sourced fairly, regardless of whether our materials are recycled or artisan-ally mined.
This statement is not just restricted to the materials we source either, but covers our production processes, wages and working conditions. We want to ensure that the individuals within our wider workforce are happy, treated in the same way we would want to be treated and have hopes, dreams and desires – just like we do; we want to ensure that these staff members are paid fair wages that they can live on; lastly, we want to ensure that the working conditions are safe and enable them to achieve their goals. We never want our staff to feel in despair, but feel proud of their livelihood and enjoy being apart of our story.
We believe that it is our responsibility to work towards a better future and sustaining individuals, communities and animal life. It is our promise that no matter how the business changes or grows, we will always look at all options available to us to find the most socially, environmentally and culturally responsible sources for you and and our beautiful jewellery.
Thank you for reading my interpretation of ethical jewellery.