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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.
Each LEJ piece is handcrafted in Los Angeles out of recycled and ethically sourced metals. You can find out the origin of your piece by the location symbol etched into it. LEJ pieces are designed to be beautiful, but also worn throughout all of life—they can be dressed up or down, and are created to withstand wear and tear, discoloration, and tarnishing. You are free to sweat, swim, and shower in your Laura Elizabeth Jewelry!
Inspired by Senora Anita (as she is fondly called by her community), Fair Anita is a fair trade company based in Minnesota that works with 8,000 talented women around the world. Artisans create pieces out of recycled, upcycled, and locally-sourced materials, and earn 2-4 times the minimum wage, while also receiving health insurance and education stipends. They also offset their carbon footprint by funding and supporting anti-climate change initiatives alongside their artisan partners around the globe.
Leismo Jewelry carries a curated selection of minimalistic, artisan-made, and recycled jewelry. You can find out exactly where your piece came from, how it was made, and the unique story behind it. Each brand they carry ensures ethical working conditions for their employees through fair trade practices. Plus, they donate 5% of your purchase to a non-profit organization of your choice, at no extra cost to you.
Arlokea’s goal is to use ethical fashion to tackle social issues surrounding health, education, and poverty. Their pieces are ethically made by artisans in places like Ecuador, Mexico, India, and Vietnam out of eco-friendly, upcycled, and locally-sourced materials. They have a variety of really beautiful pieces, whether you’re looking for a minimal, everyday pair of earrings or a statement necklace.
Akola means “she works” in the Ugandan dialect. The artisanal jewelry company employs women exclusively, helping them keep their families above the poverty line. They create pieces using local, sustainable materials such as palm leaves, agave plants, and cow horn. The designs are inspired by their home town of Jinja, on the banks of the Nile, and incorporate layered textures and intricate techniques.
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.
MatrikaMala uses Fair Trade gemstones to create consciously designed malas made individually in Eureka, CA. The brand works with small designers, artisans, and women-owned businesses to source their handmade silver and vermeil beading elements and GOTS-certified materials. Fifty percent of the profits from a line of upcycled malas are given directly back to local non-profit organizations and it’s also committed to 1% for the Planet.
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).
Inspired by Liberian culture, Delaware-based Gwanyan Barker founded Kpelle as a way to celebrate her African lineage and culture by designing handmade gold, brass, and silver jewelry. The designer locally sources her supplies to create her handmade designs.
Aziza is a made-to-order jewelry brand designed by founder and artist Aziza Nicole out of her studio. It draws inspiration from Aziza’s multi-layered cultural heritage creating everything from cuffs to cuticle rings. The designer has been making one-of-a-kind creations since childhood, thanks to her mother encouraging her to explore her talents.
Inspired by African culture, indigenous designs, and cosmic geometry, Candice Cox established her Oakland-based artisanal jewelry and home decor line in 2011. Each piece is handcrafted utilizing various chains, an assortment of metals, semi-precious stones, and recycled materials.