The term Fast Fashion is getting thrown around a lot lately and with the way things in the world are looking, it’s no wonder why. Sustainability and ethicality are becoming major concerns with consumers today and rightfully so. There is no planet B. But I feel like there is a major hole in the conversation around fast fashion and its impact on the environment and the communities where it’s being made: fashion jewellery.
Fashion jewellery, or costume jewellery, falls squarely in the category of fast fashion in that it’s inexpensive seasonal jewellery that is mass manufactured. It sounds harmless enough and the sparkle might be enticing, because who doesn’t love a sparkle, but the lasting negative impact that fashion jewellery has is significant. The reality is that fashion jewellery isn’t made to endure the tests of time, it’s made to be cheap. Which means that it’s made using cheap materials that aren’t always good for the environment or the people wearing them and it’s made by people who are working in unsafe conditions using harmful materials and chemicals, and who are not being fairly compensated for their labour. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t always the case. Many local and international jewellers make ethical fashion jewellery, but by and large, that really isn’t the case.
In most cases, fashion jewellery is made using base metals like brass, copper and pewter which are plated to look like real gold or silver jewellery which can be an unhealthy process. In some cases, it’s made using toxic metals like cadmium which can cause health problems for the people wearing it and more importantly, can cause major health problems for the people making the jewellery. And then on top of that, plastic stones get glued into the jewels to give it that sparkle that’s so alluring. As someone who loves restoring and repairing jewellery for people, the most frustrating thing is having to tell somebody I can’t fix their fashion jewellery. Unfortunately, it isn’t made to be fixed. I always, without fail, watch the client whose fashion jewellery I can’t fix promptly throw their broken chains or rings or earrings into the bin. And then I picture all those plastic stones and cadmium jewels hang out with all the plastic bottles in the landfills. Fashion jewellery isn’t environmentally friendly and it isn’t made ethically.
But fear not dear reader, you can still don that sparkle that we all adore while still being ethical and sustainable. The most important thing to do is research what you are buying. Speak to the brands and designers behind the jewellery you’re wearing and ask them those important questions like who made this and where did these materials come from. Jewellers that are being ethical can tell you exactly who made the pieces they’re selling and that is so important because it means that they value the lives of the people making the jewellery. They won’t be using materials and chemicals that are unhealthy and they will ensure that the makers are working in safe conditions.
They should also be able to tell you exactly where the materials they use came from. So many jewellers today are using metals and gemstones that have been recycled from old jewellery, even bigger brands like Pandora. JoyBerry Jewels does too. Wherever possible, I use recycled metals and gemstones. Where I can’t, I use suppliers who can verify their material’s chain of custody to ensure it meets strict regulations. This means that my suppliers can guarantee that the miner’s human rights are being honoured, that the materials are conflict and corruption-free and that no child labour is being used. I know that the stones and metals I use are obtained ethically and that is the most important thing for me.
But let’s be real. The easiest and most effective way to ensure that you’re wearing ethical jewellery is to buy jewellery that is made to last by small local designers. You can meet the people making the jewellery and find out all the details about where the materials came from. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune. There are options to have quality and fashionable jewellery made inexpensively. Not only that, when an item of jewellery breaks, it can be fixed so it doesn’t end up in the bin. We research everything we buy these days to make sure that we’re buying things that align with our values and jewellery shouldn’t be any different. Reach out to the brands you love and ask them those burning questions. I can guarantee that we can answer them for you. I know I can.