This post is generously sponsored by Mela Artisans. As always, EcoCult only accepts financial support from companies we believe are doing good things to improve the world. Support EcoCult by supporting them!
A couple years ago I was shopping for a music festival and came across a site that purported to sell ethically sourced global jewelry. I decided to buy an Indian headpiece, a complicated thing with lots of shiny, dangly bits. It seemed a little cheap for something ethically made. But I was so into this idea of wearing a headpiece, I swallowed my qualms and bought it.
As soon as it arrived, it broke, two whole sections comprising at least eight links tearing away. I took it to a jewelry store in Williamsburg, nothing fancy – just a place that sells handcrafty jewelry, to see if they could fix it. The guy told me that he would charge $5 per link repair, which would make the repair more expensive than the necklace itself! As much as I wanted to save it, I declined. It would probably break again anyway.
"It's definitely made by hand; you can't make this by machine," he said, studying the complex linkage. "Something this complicated would take many hours. I don't see how it could possibly be that cheap if someone was being paid fairly." I emailed the company, but their answer wasn't helpful. They said they trust their supplier, but they hadn't gotten around to visiting that particular workshop yet. I decided I wouldn't buy something that complex and cheap again. I would go for the real thing.
India has a rich tradition of handcrafting luxury jewelry and objects, and no, not all of it is headpieces and nose rings. In fact, India is a richly varied place from region to region, with many different languages, religions, and aesthetic cultures. With so many different traditions, there is definitely a necklace or serving tray from an Indian artisan that will appeal to you, and not just for wearing to an Indian wedding or music festival!
If you don't have any plans in the works to travel all over India, then you can explore its different styles through Mela Artisans, a social good company that brings together an array of luxury, Indian, artisan fashion and home goods on one website. It's actually some of the best artisan style you can find, in my opinion. And you know when you shop that no one was exploited in the process of making your item.
You can shop by collection – the Chantilly line, made of intricately carved bone and brass detailing by Muslim artisans in the Sambhal region of India, is my favorite. Or you can just peruse the extensive home and jewelry collections, looking for something that catches your eye, then learn about the history of the regional artisans which made it.
In addition to supporting the artisans as business people, Mela gives 1% of their revenue to the artisans, providing medical camps for healthcare checkups, vision exams for eyeglasses or to address cataracts, and solar lamps. Learn more about that here.
I still love the look of the headpieces and nose rings, but this feels a little more grownup and long-lasting, not to mention less culturally appropriative and more respectful. I'm absolutely in love with my matching necklace and bracelet – I'll be able to wear these versatile pieces and the earrings both with evening wear, or to a more casual summer party where I want to make a statement.
The ultimate respect to a traditional art, in my opinion, is to wear it not as a costume piece, but as a core piece to your wardrobe. Even more so if it's helping to preserve a tradition. Mela Artisans makes that easy.