I’m not an expert jewelry maker, chocolate roaster, or fashion designer. I have some cursory knowledge about the bad stuff that goes on in these industries, and some rudimentary ideas of what makes a conscious company better.
But it occurred to me that the person most qualified to dish on the juicy (and disgusting) secrets of the conventional industry, would be the person who learned so much (too much) about their industry that they felt compelled to found a company that does it better: cleaner, higher pay, more local.
So I turned to Orange Harp, an app that let’s you shop conscious designs while you stand in line at the store, and asked them to get me in touch with their makers. I wanted them to tell me the dirty secrets of what goes on in the world today, and reveal what they do to break the cycle.
Read on for a solid education in shopping better.
The thing you should know about the conventional jewelry industry is that it’s big. Big ‘n’ dirty. In the United States, jewelry is a $71.3 billion a year industry. That’s a lot of jewelry, and every piece of it — every karat, every inch of metal chain, every gorgeous chunk of turquoise–must be mined from the earth. And mining is, of course, profoundly destructive to the environment. Even in the United States, where laws that protect the environment are actually a thing, the metals mining industry releases more toxic chemicals than any other industry–that’s 47% of the total toxic emissions from all industries in the US, and 3.93 billion pounds of persistent, bio-accumulative, toxic waste in 2010 alone. Once extracted, purifying and processing metals and gems requires chemical processes with their own environmental impacts.
In countries with less stringent emissions restrictions, the effects are that much more severe: the river that runs through Xiaojin, in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, literally runs red, purple, and blue with the byproducts of unregulated processing of semi-precious stones. And in 2013, the Ministry of Environment Protection in China confirmed the existence of the “cancer villages” that had been previously reported by environmental activist Deng Fei and other news outlets. Even most handmade jewelry is put together from components that are conventionally mined and made in China.
Lovehewn is different because each piece is made of recycled, repurposed, vintage, or sustainably sourced materials, to eschew conventional supply chains. We use 100% recycled metal wire for all of our wire-wrapping and handmade findings. All of our metal chain is vintage or repurposed, except for our sterling silver chain, which is recycled. Our semi-precious stones are from vintage or repurposed jewelry. Our terrarium vial necklaces are crafted from little glass bottles reclaimed from the veterinary industry, where they’re used to carry the sterile diluent to deliver vaccines. (This has an added benefit, too, in that the bottles are shatterproof!) We also use old wine corks, which we whittle down to tiny town to cork the terrarium vials. We use a wind-powered web host. We use 100% recycled packing materials.
– Christina Catania of Lovehewn
The thing you should know about the conventional chocolate industry is that the goals are consistency and low cost. It’s a miracle of manufacturing that a candy bar can be so inexpensive and taste exactly the same as any other one. Chocolate is just like wine or coffee, and the terroire and processing techniques of each country we source our beans from influence the final flavor of the bar as much as the processes we do at our factory. Also, traditional chocolate makers roast their beans more heavily.
Dandelion is different because we make small batch, single origin chocolate with only two ingredients: cacao beans and sugar. Our Bean Sourcerer travels to each country where we source and meets the people processing beans so we can understand their processes. We sort to find the best beans, roast them lightly to highlight the natural flavor of the beans, crack them, winnow (separate out the paper outer husk), melange (mix the beans and sugar while refining their partical size), and temper to create hand made bars.
– Jennifer Roy of Dandelion Chocolate
The thing you should know about the conventional lingerie brand is that it often does nothing to empower women. Lingerie is often marketed in a way the objectifies women and girls–panties printed with inappropriate sayings and overly sexualized marketing images.Naja is different because we have a program called Underwear for Hope. The way it works is that for every purchase you make, a percentage of it goes toward supporting our entrepreneurial sewing program for women through the Golondrinas Foundation. And for every bra purchase, you contribute directly to the employment of a single mother. When you buy a bra, Naja gives you a lingerie wash bag, which is made at home by one of the women that we employ. A part of our mission is also to make women feel good about themselves. Our products are characterized by unexpected attention to detail—the kind of detailing usually only found in luxury brands. We use memory foam cups that won’t break or crack and mold to the body. We put prints on the interior of the bra cups, and funny or inspirational quotes inside of all of our panties.
– Bianca Pinedo of Naja
The thing you should know about the conventional jewelry industry is that they tend to go with
lower prices over everything else. They usually order completed pieces to sell from China or India
that are made there less expensively. They can also have findings (parts and pieces of the
jewelry) made in China or India for less than the cost of the same pieces in the United States. These
pieces are generally of lower quality and tend not to hold their luster for as long as higher quality pieces.
Love & Piece Jewelry is different because I consciously buy only findings made in the US, preferably
locally. I search out local higher quality findings at the best possible price for some of my pieces. I
also design and carve my own findings out of wax and cast these wax molds into recycled silver. Then
I have the silver pieces overlayed with 14k gold, which is commonly described as gold vermeil (pronounced
– Bonnie Corre of Love & Piece jewelry
The thing you should know about the conventional beauty brands is that they can contain sulfates, parabens, synthetic perfumes, fragrances, and phthalates. And people can have allergic reactions to these synthetic fragrance, colors and dyes. Many other ‘Organic and All-Natural’ brands may use high-quality ingredients, but the preservatives they use can be toxic and harmful.At Pura Botanica, we source certified all-natural and organic ingredients for all products. We use essential oils to create a natural fragrance and use recycled or recyclable packaging. All products are proudly made in USA, cruelty-free and free of sulfates, parabens, synthetic perfumes or fragrances or phthalates. It is challenging to stabilize the formulas without using synthetic ingredients, but well worth our well being, today and for the future.
– Christy Hierholzer of Pura Botanica
The thing you should know about the conventional fashion and accessories industry is that most goods are created to be worn for a single season.
Zelma Rose is different because I am committed to creating quality goods that–while unique and notable in style–remain classic staples of your wardrobe. As a designer, this means two things: creating collections that stay on trend but also reflect the quality and enduring design that makes a tried and true classic. It also means having close relationships with my customers. If my customers have questions, want an extra chain, or have a special request, part of the commitment to creating designs that endure is being accessible. This relationship is what really sets being a maker apart from being a manufacturer. I answer most customer emails myself, which usually surprises people. It’s a good amount of work, but I feel that approachability and stellar customer service sets me apart from the machine that can be the fashion industry.
– Lisa Shaffer of Zelma Rose
The thing you should know about the conventional big name clothing companies is, in general, they manufacture overseas. They are not committed to a healthy and safe place for their workers.
Tradlands is different because each and every garment is sewn in the United States. We have garments sewn in downtown San Francisco, and are now doing most of our manufacturing in Fall River, Massachusetts where the workers are unionized. They have great benefits and the facility is beautiful. We are proud to have our shirts sewn by dedicated craftspeople. In addition, we ensure well-crafted details that allow us to guarantee our products. Sure, our profits are not as great as if our shirts were sewn in China, but we get to make a product we stand behind and also provide good jobs to our workers. This benefits us, our employees, and our customers.
– Sadie of Tradlands
The thing you should know about the conventional fashion industry is that fast fashion has secured it’s place within the industry operating on a business model that emphasizes low quality and high volume. With weekly delivery drops at low cost foreign production prices, it becomes almost impossible for the smaller quality conscious companies to compete.
Jessica Faulkner is different in that our focus is on providing livable wages in elevated working conditions to support families and job promotion here within the USA. We have built a foundation of care and respect for our employees. We are a family, not a commodity. We promote the concept of quality goods over quantity, because clothing should not fall apart after one or two washes, nor should it become “uncool” after one month. Our relationship with clothing should become more long term, and we want to share those values with our customer.
– Jessica Faulkner