When Vanessa Lianne first emailed me and I saw her designs, my reaction was, “How did I not know about you before?”
Good question. Vanessa’s fine jewelry – handmade items in gold, silver, brass, and kohl, plus diamonds and other precious stones – is so beautiful you would think I would have picked up on it by now. Especially since she sources ethical and sustainable materials and forges her jewelry right in Brooklyn. It’s been featured in Vogue, RackedNY, Refinery29 and most recently Cosmo.
So why this oversight? Well, even if I had seen her work, I would have ignored it, thinking it was conventional and therefore not my thing. Typical fashion websites won’t talk about sourcing or materials, because they don’t care whether designers are sustainable or not.
But I do. I care a lot. I shout it from the rooftops.
So I popped over to her apartment/studio to talk with her about how she make her jewelry sustainable, what frustrates her the most, and how she gets inspired.
What kind of girl are you designing for?
The VL girl is basically me. Someone who is understated but looks for quality and wants things that are keepsakes, not throwaway jewelry. Our customer is also someone who cares about fashion. They follow trends. Our stuff isn’t really trendy, but it’s fashion forward. I’ll see something on the street and think it looks cool and see if I can translate it into jewelry.
What’s an example of that?
Sometimes I’ll see a woman on the subway – I’m really attracted to the way women’s necks are – so this piece [points to collar she’s wearing] I designed as earrings, but I thought it would look beautiful on the collarbone, if it followed that line.
I have a bubble ring that I designed years ago before I even went to school, I still wear it five years later. It’s one of my favorite pieces. I don’t wear it all the time; I’ll put it away and pull it back out. The pieces are meant to feel really fresh, but are meant to be recycled.
It’s minimal, but I’m also attracted to texture. I love concrete. We were just in Austin and I saw this really cool graffiti wall, and it had layers and layers of paint, and it was bubbling and growing out of it. I’m inspired by those textures, so I end up using that in my work. There’s a lot of that burnt metal torch technique that I do.
Everything looks handmade and that is something that is important to me, because that’s the type of jewelry I’m attracted to. This was a branch that I found that I ended up turning into a ring. There’s a lot of imperfection in my work, like that element of ceramics that has that artisan feel. I want my stuff to have a bit of warmth to it. It’s still delicate and pretty, but it has a raw feeling.
Your jewelry is sustainable. Do you bring that sensibility out to the rest of your life?
I’m from Vancouver, so recycling and sustainability has always been a part of my life. My boyfriend and I are definitely conscious about what we buy in terms of fast fashion and the food we eat. We make those choices. Sometimes they’re more expensive choices, and might not be as attractive. But it’s important what we put in our bodies, and what we put out into the world.
The jewelry industry doesn’t always follow the best practices. There are lot of things that are unknown about how gold is mined and how we get our stones. It upsets me when jewelry brands say they are 100% recycled and sustainable, because I don’t think it’s possible. If you say you’re 100% then you don’t know what’s going on. Then you’re just using it as a slogan.
And this whole idea of recycled gold? Jewelers have been recycling gold since the dawn of time, because nobody throws out gold! You sweep up the scraps, you melt it down, you remake it. That’s the way fine jewelry has always been made. Now this thing about recycled gold is popular. Which is great, it should be that way. But using resin, yeah, it’s better than gold, but the pollution. There’s a lot of different levels.
It’s really important for consumers and artists to put pressure on the chain to be more transparent.We feel like we don’t have any power, but as a collective the way you spend money is your power.
But don’t you every wish they would level the playing field so all jewelry makers have to be sustainable?
That would be amazing! But I guess I’ve never thought of that as a possibility, because so much is made in China, so much is made the cheapest way possible, and money is the only thing they care about.
I work with a lot of jewelers on 47th Street. I make all my own pieces but sometimes I need help finishing it. For instance our platers – there are definitely cheaper platers but we use the ones that are the most environmentally friendly, who do the heaviest plating. Because that’s important to me. I want to make jewelry that lasts and that is sustainable as possible.
Has that been an evolution for you?
It’s definitely been an evolution in finding the right vendors. And also growing. When you say, “You can only use this type of silver when casting my jewelry,” you have to have a good enough relationship that they’ll be like, “OK, yeah.” It’s something that I’ve been able to fine tune over time. The jewelry industry is very old, it’s all based on introductions and relationships. You can’t google “Best Plater.” That’s been an evolution of finding people, talking to people, and building trust.
So much of it is based on trust.
It’s the final and best day of EcoCult’s Week of Freebies! To enter to win a ring from sustainable jewelry designer Vanessa Lianne:
1. Sign up for EcoCult’s email list. (If you’re already signed up, great! Move on to step 2.)
2. Leave a comment below the article.
This giveaway closes at 8 am Sunday morning.