My Journey into Jewellery: Style with Heart
Earlier this year I contributed to a new online ethical fashion resource, Style With Heart. The site founded by Gillian Osrin, brings together a range of designers that fit into fair trade, organic, eco-friendly, vintage and recycled.
My jewellery label has a page on the site, where you can find out about other great ethically minded brands.
I wrote the story of how I created by jewellery my jewellery label, and how I made it a label with heart. Below is the article as you can find it on Style With Heart.
People often ask me how I ended up setting up a jewellery label, as my background was in Politics and International Development. There are two things that happened to me that marked this change of direction, the first was a realisation that fashion has the power to change lives, and the other was an accident I was involved in that gave me the chance to think more about how I wanted to spend my time.
As I recovered from the dalliance with the four-wheel drive pick-up truck that literally ran over me, I started to understand that I needed to do something creative and political. Sometimes an accident can free you from expectations on what you think you should do. I started painting, making clothes and jewellery. . I had always been interested in the beauty of gemstones, and how they really can change how you feel, and so wanted to create a label that allowed you to enjoy this and look stylish. So that’s where it came from.
When I went to India with my family, I realised there was an opportunity to make the collections out there and in the process learn more about India, the country where my family is from. I found a small workshop in Delhi where I started designing. I had only made a few pieces before which I had given to friends. It was a strange and alien experience at first. After a couple of days of sitting there wondering what to do, I sat down and found that the designing process just flowed through me. I designed the collections Elegant Rebellion and Raw-Cut Dreamer on that first trip.
Each piece is named individually relating to the design and the meaning of the stones. So Tender Wonderlust, is named this way as the Wonderlust relates to the style which is a really long, below the waist necklace and the Tender relates to Rose-Quartz which is the stone of unconditional love. Similarly Whispered Melody is named this way as the Whispered relates to the way it hangs on your neck, like it is being kissed, and the Melody relates to the purple and green thread with being a harmonious and balancing influence.
I knew I wanted to set up my own jewellery label, in a socially conscious way. I wanted people to see the value in buying a really beautiful piece of jewellery that they would treasure instead of buying a few things to just wear until they break. I decided that I wanted to donate 10% of my profits to charity, half to charities that focus their work in the UK, and half to charities whose work in focused all over the world. I wanted to create something with real meaning.
I didn’t know about the ethical fashion movement which was happening in London then, and would become a massive part of my life. It was about four years ago, and the Ethical Fashion Forum had just brought together a group of around 14 pioneering ethical designers who were challenging the issues facing sustainability in the fashion industry. I didn’t understand all of the issues at that point, I had just finished a politics degree and was interested in the issues relating to international development and consumerism with fashion. I couldn’t find any information about ethical jewellery. In fact, back then designers didn’t share their sources like they do now. Now there is a feeling that we all need to work together to really change things.
Over 80% of fashion is made in the developing world. This doesn’t have to be seen as a bad thing, in fact it can provide a real opportunity to create positive change. Sadly as you will know there is a lot of work to be done to make this happen. The latest revelation is that factories in the UK are paying far below the minimum wage. But the work that designers and retailers within the ethical fashion movement are doing gives us hope that one day all style will be with heart.
When I started my label, I thought about everything; Where would the raw materials come from? How would it be made? Where would it be made? How would it travel across the world? How would I get my customers to want to treasure it? How would I package it? How would I use it to draw attention to important things happening in the world? There were many questions, and I had to work out the answers for myself. What I quickly learnt is that you can’t do everything perfectly at once so each designer has to decide on their own priorities and then keep re-assessing their sustainability goals with every new collection.
For me it was important to work with silver and semi-precious stones in part because of style but also because they don’t have the same negative issues surrounding them relating to mining and conflict as gold and precious stones do. However I worked on a couple of collections, such as my Mayan Seas and Elipical Seeds that were joint with an Indian designer Rahul Popli. This was as I was new to designing; I was still developing confidence in my work. I wanted to do some pieces that were made using different techniques, and I met Rahul, a great designer who taught me a lot. On three of the pieces we used materials outside of what I had originally chosen; gold plating, sapphire and coral. Through the collaboration, I was convinced that these were the best things for the designs, but quickly realised that I didn’t feel comfortable with these materials. I feel that I am literally learning more every day when it comes to sourcing, and so now I make sure that I only use silver and semi-precious stones, which still come with their issues. Over the past few years ethical designers such as Fifi Bijoux and Cred have been doing great work, and now it is possible to get fair trade certified silver, and if you don’t use this, you can use recycled silver which is what most Indian silver is made up of. There are no fair trade gem stones available yet, but there will be someday in the near future.
That is the reality with this journey, it is about what we can all do little by little, as designers, but more importantly as shoppers. I was always very sensitive when it came to how people were treated and how things were made, but setting up this label opened me up to a whole host of new issues. It showed me that so many of the things that we enjoy in this world are built on practises that are incredibly damaging to people and to our environment. And so it is worth seeking out those labels who are challenging this and those pieces of fashion that are made with heart.
You can see more of Amisha’s beautful jewellery at www.amisha.co.uk.