21 January, 2015

How do luxury and ethics comfortably share a bed

by Harriet Kelsall, a designer and the founder of Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery.

Even if your personal ethics are important to you, it can still be difficult to stick with them in your business life. It becomes even more tricky when working with luxury goods but paradoxically more important. 

Luckily, within the last five years, we have seen huge changes and improvements in both jewellery and business practices.  These have made it easier for us to keep ethical options at the forefront of one of the country’s leading bespoke jewellery companies.

The first, and most significant change, was the introduction of the Fairtrade gold licence.

When Fairtrade first started with products like chocolate and coffee, I think it took a little while for it to find its feet and be acknowledged as a reputable indicator not only of ethical production, but also of quality.  But over time any quality issues have disappeared and now the Fairtrade Foundation involves the right quality of producers from the start.

When the decision was made to introduce Fairtrade gold, the Foundation carefully selected 20 of us who would give a good quality cross-section of gold designers.  And since the launch in February 2011, not only have the number of jewellers dealing in Fairtrade gold has more than doubled, but the really forward thinking businesses (including ours!), are also using Fairtrade silver and platinum as well as ethically sourced gemstones.

The second change is more to do with the perception of luxury. I think that the modern definition of ‘luxury’ is changing. 

True luxury is no longer about the conspicuous consumption and demonstration of wealth. I believe it’s now considerably less about exclusivity and much more about inclusivity – about a connection between the authenticity of materials and your own personal story.   

 HK ring

To our customers today, it feels luxurious to have their own personal story designed into a one-off piece of beautifully made jewellery but also luxurious to be able to choose for that piece to be made from Fairtrade gold.

At no point is this more true than when you are getting married. The ring is the part of your wedding that stays with you – a symbol of your relationship and the life journey that you have taken to reach that point. Many of our customers find it so much more emotionally comfortable to know that the gold in their ring has not caused harm to people in the supply chain, but has often even helped people in the mining communities.

And from the other side of the world and economic spectrum, I have spoken to gold miners in tears, so delighted with the opportunity that Fairtrade gold has given them, their families and communities.  There is absolutely no doubt that it has been life-changing for them.  It’s also been life changing for me to be talking to these miners myself face to face, seeing their emotion and hearing their story. 

When we describe the benefits that a customer can offer to the gold mining communities by spending perhaps just the price of a fish and chip meal extra on a wedding ring that they will wear for the rest of their lives, it’s an obvious choice.  How fabulous to not only be committing to your own future but to know that you are making a positive contribution to other families on another continent at the same time.

So where to now?  Obviously, we need to see a continued growth in education of the important part that Fairtrade plays both among the industries and the customers who buy the products which have a Fairtrade alternative.

I think that my hope for the future is that all of us involved in Fairtrade will collaborate much more. It might sound a little strange, but I’m pretty sure that I have a lot of customers for Fairtrade gold who, for example, might not know about Fairtrade flowers and vice-versa, but don’t they perfectly fit together?

We know that there are still a lot of people who haven’t heard of Fairtrade gold but love Fairtrade chocolate or coffee.  

So let’s bolster the work of the Fairtrade Foundation by collaborating and initiating promotional work that will increase the reach of the Foundation as well as benefit the businesses within it. There are over 400 companies across the UK all making a stand for Fairtrade in their own categories. How much more powerful would it be if we got together a little more often to spread the word? 


To read more about Harriet's work, click here.


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