“Sustainable” remains a vague, amorphous term in fashion — and particularly so in the jewelry industry, where brands continue to face multifaceted challenges in responsible sourcing for metals and gems.
Just ask Melissa Joy Manning, founder of her eponymously named sustainable fine jewelry company, a California-based brand that practices a zero-waste design process, incorporates recycled metals, sustainably sourced diamonds, precious gems and handcrafted jewelry in her green-certified studio in Berkeley. Manning’s aesthetic is striking, and her pieces stand out through the use of uncommon stones — think of pink Montana sapphires or watermelon tourmaline — complementary colors and textures, and limited-edition pieces, such as recycled 14-karat gold earrings with mismatched blue opal and mosaic turquoise that contains a matrix of copper mineral, creating a “wonderfully imperfect” look. Yes — wonderful indeed.
Manning told WWD that when she founded her brand back in 1997, being “sustainable” was so rare it served to be her key differentiator in a competitive industry. “Sustainability has impacted some dynamics of the luxury jewelry market, but, unfortunately, we still have a long way to go,” Manning explained. “In the last 20 years, I have definitely seen an increased interest in responsible metal sourcing. It used to be that no one cared what metal you are using — now people are debating the benefits between fair-mined and recycled. We’ve come a long way in that respect, [but] store sourcing remains challenging. Unless you are at the top of the game, access to responsibly sourced gems is still hard — the prices are high, and the resources are little.”
It helps that today’s consumer is genuinely engaged — and eagerly participating — in the greening of an industry. “Customers are much more educated about the challenges that face responsible jewelry and come in the door asking the right questions: ‘Is this metal recycled? Are the stones fair-mined?'” But Manning said that as an industry, while end consumer education has notably increased due to green marketing, the workers have essentially been “left out” as a result of lasting attention on raw materials. “I think the people component is being left behind. Most of the focus is on raw materials, and we need to include people in the discussion. Who is making the jewelry? Who is cutting the stones? Who is mining the metal? We can’t just focus on the environmental piece — we need to think about the human piece as well.”
Manning continued, “In sum, I believe that some portion of designers are not only sourcing better materials, but they are telling more focused stories about the process, the materials and the work. I think we are making informed decisions, and sharing what we learn in order to forge new paths for a more sustainable future.”
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