A while ago, the term ‘artisan jewelry’ was mostly associated with either a) “crunchy” design, or b) what I think of as a ‘pity purchase.’ It was common practice for brands to market their fair trade jewelry in a way that sold (aka guilt tripped) consumers into making a purchase simply because it was made by an artisan in a developed country and not because it was something that person would actually love to wear. Although I’m sure these brands had great intentions, this isn’t exactly a sustainable way of doing things. It can promote unnecessary or unwanted consumerism, not to mention, neglecting to prioritize design and quality is probably not the best way to go about expanding operations to empower even more artisans. If you genuinely love necklaces made of rolled paper beads, that’s great—but that type of design can’t exactly compete with the massive conventional jewelry industry.
So I’ve been excited to see the rise of brands that have raised the bar when it comes to artisan jewelry. The brands curated below not only use their companies to empower (primarily female) artisans around the world, but they are creating beautiful, desirable pieces, too.
What to Look for in Ethical, Sustainable, Artisan Jewelry
Fair Trade Practices: The brands below have put fair working conditions as one of their highest priorities, working to empower artisans to rise out of poverty and support themselves and their communities. Many of them go even further by giving a portions of their profits right back to their communities or providing additional benefits like micro-loans to the artisans they work with.
Recycled Metals: Mining virgin metals from the ground can be quite damaging to the environment, and it often involves slave labor and/or child labor, too. So, recycled metals is a much more eco-friendly and ethical route to take. Most of the brands below use all or partially recycled metals in their jewelry.
Cultural Reverence: Instead of just giving the artisans a pre-made design to replicate, many of the brands below work in conjunction with artisans in a way that empowers them to use their own creativity and bring their own cultural experience into the creation process.
Beautiful, Timeless Design: Look for pieces that you can see yourself treasuring for years to come—pieces that you can feel good about wearing not only because it helped to employ someone else but also because the design truly represents you and your style, now and forever.
Here are our favorite brands creating and curating jewelry that empowers artisans around the world:
ABLE is a brand that invests in women. Their jewelry is handmade in Ethiopia and Peru by women transitioning out of sex work. Their wages are transparently published on their website in order to protect the women makers and empower consumers.
By employing technology to provide equal access to opportunity, SOKO works with artisan entrepreneurs every day to build their businesses, improve production capacity, and sustainably increase income. Their team believes that heritage practices can be employed sustainably, so their artisans use locally-sourced and eco-friendly materials whenever possible, such as recycled brass and reclaimed cow horn and bone.
Lovia is a Nordic brand turning waste materials into artisan made accessories with full transparency. Each product has a unique DNA, so you can find out where the materials came from, who made the product, and what was paid for each step. Lovia’s jewelry is made with mostly recycled bronze base by a goldsmith in Helsinki, Finland. Through the transparent pricing, Lovia’s artisan made quality accessories can be bought affordably. The brand also sells multifunctional and timeless bags made of leather waste.
ARTICLE22 began working with the village of Naphia, Laos in 2009 to provide citizens with work making Peacebomb jewelry out of metal from old bombs. Artisans earn at least five times the local hourly minimum wage, providing them with the disposable income for books, school, fuel, and medicine that their subsistence farming livelihoods cannot. Plus, your purchase contributes to MAG (Mines Advisory Group) to safely and expertly clear some of the 80 million unexploded bombs contaminating the land in Laos.
Accompany curates unique, handmade and artisanal goods from around the globe. Every brand sold by Accompany uses fair trade practices and has a philanthropic practices woven into the brand. You can find out more about the origin of each product on its product page.
A sustainable fashion pioneer, People Tree has been partnering with Fair Trade producers, garment workers, artisans and farmers in the developing world to produce ethical and eco-friendly fashion collections for over 25 years. You can find out more about who made your jewelry on each product page.
Nisolo jewelry is ethically made by independent artisans in Kenya, where everyone earns fair wages, healthcare, and a healthy working environment. They also partner with Ecosphere+ to offset carbon emissions and protect forests in the Amazon.
Kaight is a Brooklyn-based curated boutique specializing in sustainable and ethical fashion. All items have the one or more of the following criteria: locally produced, zero or low waste, made from organic or reclaimed materials, or fair trade. Kaight celebrates the slow fashion movement and aims to help consumers cultivate a more thoughtful wardrobe.
Akamae connects creatives and refugee artisans. Together, designers and artisans work to co-create exclusive capsule collections. Their base is in the jungle of northern Thailand where they live and work with refugee artisans displaced from ongoing conflict in Burma.
Made Trade is a curated online shop with a wide selection of products that are eco-conscious, fair trade, vegan, and/or made in the USA. On each product page, you can find out a lot about the brand’s values and ethical practices, materials used, etc., so you can be an informed consumer (without spending a bunch of time researching).