Every once in a while you come across a 22-year-old that makes you feel very unaccomplished.
Lauren Shoff is one of those people. At the age where I was drinking myself into oblivion, making bad decisions about men, and wondering how to extract myself from a terrible job, she’s already started a line of sustainable made jewelry. Pretty, sustainably made jewelry that I would actually wear!
She started out studying Fashion Design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, when her Accessories Design professor recognized her talent for jewelry design and encouraged her to focus on developing her craft. Now she lives and works in Minneapolis, MN, where she is working toward her Graduate Gemology and Associate Jewelry degrees at the Gemological Institute of America.
I got her on the phone to grill her about her jewelry’s sustainable pedigree, hear more about the sustainable scene in Minneapolis, and find how one gets a degree in pearls.
EcoCult: Where do you source your materials and gems from?
Lauren Shoff: We don’t use any newly mined metals. We get jewelry that is broken or antique and we recycle the metals on site. All of our metals are from vintage jewelry, some even is antique silverware–your grandmother’s silverware could end up being in our pieces. The diamonds and precious stones from those pieces go into our pieces. The only new stones that we use are dinosaur bone and fossilized woolly mammoth ivory. Those we responsibly source from within the United States, and ensure that there’s no impact on the environment. Everything we source that isn’t coming from us, like our packaging, we make sure is eco-friendly and responsibly sourced.
When I started my company, it was really important to me to be eco-friendly, American made, but also jewelry that doesn’t necessarily look eco-friendly. I wanted it to have that fine jewelry aspect.
Tell me more about the packaging.
We have simple black paper boxes that have our logo in black made from 100% recyclable materials. Even our press materials are post consumer paper and 100% recyclable. We have downloadable press materials on our website to minimize the need for printing.
Do you make the jewelry yourself?
I make them with a team that is five minutes away, they are a small family business that has been in business for over 40 years. They are my manufacturer, but we work very closely together. I’ve been trained in it, but their quality is so much better. They hand cut the stones that aren’t repurposed.
What kind of woman do you envision wearing your jewelry?
I envision the Barney’s client–the woman who shops at Barney’s who also shops at Whole Foods, who is more conscious of the environment, but also likes to travel. I have a lot of international and New York clients. I also am growing my men’s side, which has been getting a lot of response too. So for that, the man who reads GQ and likes the funkier things, like our dinosaur bone cufflinks.
You have your pearls degree and you’re working toward your graduate gemology and associate jewelry professional degree. What do you learn in these courses?
With my graduate pearls degree, that was my shortest degree, it was only six months. It’s everything that involves a pearl. The pearl industry, how a pearl is created, the makeup of pearls, the genetic structure of pearls, every single species of pearl, and mollusks, and bivalve mollusks. It’s fascinating to me, because I’ve always been very interested in science and jewelry.
My graduate gemology degree will actually take a few years. That’s composed of, I believe, six classes. I finished my diamonds course and I’m on my second diamonds class. It’s composed of diamonds and colored stones—it’s dissecting every little bit of each industry and each gem. It’s a lot to learn, and you can always learn more, and that’s what I like about it. And I like that I can find out ways to make it eco-friendly.
So do you learn about some of the issues with sourcing these stones?
They definitely touch on the environmental issues. When I was doing my pearl degree, we talked about how certain environmental aspects affect the industry. Pearls are grown in the water, and obviously our water isn’t the greatest right now. Something has to be done. I mean, a lot of industries are being affected right now. They kind of touch on it, but I think they could touch on it more.
I’ve heard Minneapolis is a pretty progressive and sustainable city.
It is. It’s actually said to be one of the healthiest cities. Although it’s very cold here, it’s a very green city. A lot of people are really responsive not only to the fact that my jewelry is eco-friendly, but the fact that we are American made. People like that here. They like organic products. We just appreciate the home-grown aspect of it. We like to support our own.
Surprisingly, there is a lot of restaurants, there’s more and more eco-friendly stores opening, or stores that are offering sections of both American-made, or eco-friendly and American-made. There’s a store that I know that is only eco-friendly products. People tend to ask for eco-friendly products. It’s been like that for a while here, especially in the restaurant industry. You can find farm-raised meat and organic food, especially because the farm country is right here.
Can you give us a restaurant recommendation?
There’s a restaurant I really like called Common Roots Cafe. They have a garden in the back where they grow their own vegetables in the summer, and they source as many local ingredients as possible. It’s all organic food.