This week we asked the wonderful Katie Wallace from Katie's Bike, to explain more about her experience with becoming a 'fairly made jewellery' brand and the changes she had to make in order to achieve this.
I make jewellery out of used bicycle chains I collect from independent bike shops across the UK. The foundation of my entire brand is built upon this humble bit of bike chain rubbish (you wouldn’t believe how many of these things get thrown away). I also use inner tubes and old magazines for my packaging. My market display is made of all things I’ve found or bought second hand. That is to say, I’m a pretty eco-friendly designer/maker.
I’m a young brand but I’ve worked with over 20 stockists in my brief existence. The Lost Lanes were the only one to require, or even ask, that my jewellery be fairly made. And fair play to them!
Well that’s not gonna cut the mustard now is it?
Fair trade in the jewellery trade is a really tricky one, the challenge set to us by The Lost Lanes is this:
“Due to the lack of official certifications and ease for metals and jewels to be split and resold, guaranteeing jewellery is fairly made is essentially impossible. Due to this the sellers confirm that they have made every effort to ensure that the jewellery components they use have been sourced from reputable suppliers with strong ethical policies. They may rely on site visits and documentation gathered by these suppliers about the factories involved regarding their fair working practices.”
Fortunately, The Lost Lanes launched a forum called Ethical Makers, where sellers can discuss ethical suppliers and their experiences. From the list offered, only one of them had all the silver plated findings I use. Unfortunately the silver plated jump rings they sell (an integral component for all of my designs) aren’t strong enough for my hard wearing jewellery customers. In my journey to fairly made, my questions then became do I have to choose between quality and durability or ethical and fairly made?
With no solution in sight I had a little breakdown, stress ate a box of organic double chocolate biscuits, then got to work. After a few more long nights of research, I found a US based supplier that could supply 90% of the findings I needed with the strength I was after, all made of stainless steel. The option of steel is actually a better choice for my more industrial style of jewellery (classic road cyclists say ‘steel is real’).
“We find their quality is much better than findings bought from China, and we prefer to keep the business in the UK where we can so over 90% of our findings are sourced from UK factories.”
I spoke to a few other brands on the Lost Lanes who have gone through the process of becoming fairly made.
Carley Chiu is an Illustrator, Designer & Maker whose unique collage style makes fun and quirky brooches, necklaces, and collar tips. We discussed the issue of ethics and quality and agreed that in many cases, a stronger ethical policy led to higher quality components.
Carley said, “When I first started making jewellery I didn't think about if the materials were ethically produced. I ended up making some terrible choices with some suppliers because the quality of the materials were not great. After researching about ethically sourced products, I have changed where I buy my materials and suppliers.”
Beads Unlimited, one highly regarded UK fair trade supplier, are passionate about the association between fair work and good quality: “Understanding the production process gives us the edge in quality control and getting new designs out to you, our lovely and loyal customers. We operate an informal fair trade policy where possible. Happy, smiling workers make happy, smiling beads. Overbearing bosses overseeing downtrodden workers do not make suitable suppliers.”
Carley’s advice to other makers is to do your research before you make a decision.
Nicola Box, creator of Innabox, echo’s Carley’s point on doing your research. InnaBox is about a year old, making cute and quirky items, made up of adorable animals and clever puns. Until recently, Nicola relied heavily on eBay for sourcing components:
“I wasn't sure where they were ordering their stock from. All I knew is that they were based in the UK which told me nothing really as far as the sourcing of materials goes. They could have been ordering from different countries and I would have been none the wiser.
Don't be lazy and rely on eBay as it may be easier/beneficial to you as in the long run you want to be selling the best product possible that you know has been fairly made. I was so excited to make jewellery and rushed into doing so when finding the parts I needed on eBay. But now I use much better quality materials and I can be even more proud of my work!”
A lot of work is going has gone into this and, if you ask me, it’s about time. The more of us who require our suppliers to be more ethical, the more attention those suppliers will pay to their manufacturing chain.
Raquel at The Lost Lanes feels our pain but sees a big bright light at the end of the tunnel: “Jewellery is proving a tricky little thing isn’t it? I guess everyone has been focused on the garment industry and this seems to be sneaking past without anyone realising/caring… hopefully, we’ll all help to change that.”
As for me, my fairly made journey isn’t over. I’m glad I’ve moved to fairly made stainless steel, but not too happy about air shipping my components from America. After all, we make steel in the UK! My next task is to find an ethical wholesaler for stainless steel components here at home. As with all aspects of my brand it’s about continuous improvement of every aspect. We will never ‘get there’ because we’ll constantly evolve to be better.
For those who are on the same journey, the following suppliers have been recommended by various sellers at The Lost Lanes on the Ethical Maker Forum: http://ethicalmaker.boards.net/board/4/jewellery
My last piece of advice, when approaching these and other new suppliers, it’s always good to double check that your specific items are responsibly sourced. This helps to start a dialogue with your new supplier and reinforces that this is a requirement for more and more designer/makers.
Guest Blog Post
'Becoming a Fairly Made Jewellery Brand'
by Katie Wallace
Creator of Katie’s Bike