Being an eco-conscious consumer is one thing. Being bold enough to actually commit to eco-fair ethics with your company, no matter the costs, is way more challenging.
…Let’s meet a Berlin-based eco-fair jeweller.
YES, in time for Christmas.
NO, this post is not sponsored (they never are, but I think I want to point it out).
On my mission to show that just like organic beauty & skincare or ethical fashion, eco-fair jewellery comes in all shapes and sizes, let’s look at a Berlin-based company that I’ve discovered during this year’s Heldenmarkt Berlin: bijohly.
Spoken “be jolie”, this is a reference to the name of its founder and designer Ingeborg Ohly.
I fell in love with the ethereal and yet pure designs that bijohly showed at the Heldenmarkt event, and was very impressed by the founder’s work ethics, rooted in honesty – and transparency:
✅ all raw materials are from socially responsible and ecological small mining projects;
✅ only a few conventional ready-made elements like closures and chains made in Germany since they can’t be produced from eco-fair gold in the moment;
✅ truly ethical gemstones are hard to come by, and bijohly purchases stones faceted in Germany to exclude child labour;
✅ there are no diamonds in the bijohly collection in the moment because the small mine they purchased stones from before has been sold to a conventional corporation;
✅ some bijohly designs include coloured glass as an eco-friendly gemstone alternative;
✅ workshop power supply, bijohly website hosting even business cards come from eco-friendly providers/suppliers.I love that bijohly designs are timelessly sleek and pure, delicate and yet powerful.
I decided to ask Inge a few questions about the business life of an eco-fair jeweller in Berlin, about the industry and about her own Quest. One isn’t born an eco-fair jeweller, right?
Dear Adventurers, please meet:
Inge Ohly is bijohly
Q: Inge, why did you decide to work with fair-mined gold and silver? Was there any particular light-bulb moment that you can share with us?
A: I’ve always felt the need to value nature and environment and to advocate their protection, which probably stems from my upbringing. But there was something of an aha moment indeed.
There were more and more documentaries about drinking water contamination, lifeless “moon landscapes” on gold mining sites, the horrible accident with the Baia Mara (Romania) cyanide spill in 2000… causing doubts about my choice of profession, worries about my own responsibility.
Then there was the moment when I heard, for the first time ever in 2008, about a pioneer goldsmith, a woman working with eco-fair gold since 2003. I immediately began researching this, which lead to me selling all of my remaining metals to conventional goldsmiths, to buying eco-fair gold and silver, and ultimately to launching my eco-fair jewellery company, bijohly, in 2010.
Q: You’re based in Berlin, is it by chance or by choice? Does Berlin offer networking infrastructure, promotional and retail opportunities?
A: Berlin and its wonderful, inspirational creative potential have been calling for a while but I had to fall in love to actually decide that I wanted to move here and live here. Networking opportunities are many, but the key thing is that you’ve got to really take your time to network, also avoiding being bound too locally.
So there is some exchange among German “green” goldsmiths, a group of some twenty people, who purchase their eco-fair metals from the same source as me; we meet irregularly, exchange information and update each other on important changes. In Berlin there are too few of us.
What is missing here as well is a market for fair products, a showroom or a gallery for fair products, opportunities to show your work generally. Apart from the Heldenmarkt event such opportunities are either mixed with conventional or happen online. And from the price angle, fair vendors can’t compete with conventional.
FOR THE CURIOUS READER:
Faire Edelsteine, a group of mining engineers,
geologists, gemstone experts and goldsmiths
in Germany offers gemstones, gold, silver to
goldsmiths and collectors.
Q: Don’t your customers find bijohly because they’re looking for “greener” jewellery?
A: This is the case with wedding bands and also with heritage piece redesign. Apart from that, the demand for ethical jewellery is not really strong.
Not An Industry Trend Yet
Q: The big players of the jewellery industry haven’t all embraced the eco-trend. There’s Tiffany & Co. who seem to take the matter seriously for all collections, while for example at Chopard green effort is geared towards the media-catching red carpet pieces. We all know about the impact of gold mining, diamond mining and so on. So why are the ecology and social responsibility issues not tackled by the whole industry?
A: There’ll be several factors coming together:
1. The customer demand is not strong enough to motivate the industry – the notorious “vote with your money” thing.
2. Working with eco-fair materials means more research, way more effort is needed to obtain and to provide production transparency.
3. Eco-fair mining can’t cover the industrial demand: you need quite a few kilograms of gold to start a chain making machine.”
Q: Is recycled gold or silver an alternative for you?
Q: Let’s talk about the business of green jewellery. Is the eco-fair aspect a real USP today? Do customers see it as such? What should happen to raise the awareness for eco-fair jewellery, at least to reach the level of eco-fair fashion?
A: It’s a USP for wedding rings. Generally for jewels – here it’s only about what the customer likes. So the eco-fair aspect might only be interesting for those who want custom-made pieces, but not yet for everybody.
To raise awareness I think we have to educate people, to portray goldsmiths, to optimise the presentation, to work more with blogs and magazines… Documentaries reporting the poor working standards and the ecological problems linked to conventional mining miss going one step further and showing the public that eco-fair alternatives do exist.
Celebrity ambassadors beyond the red carpet could be considered to break the bias of ‘eco is not sexy’.”
Q: How “green” is your personal lifestyle actually? 🙂
A: Always as green as possible, I oppose any dogma. I appreciate the process; a readiness without pressure or guilty conscience.
Q: To wrap up the interview, let’s talk about what’s next for bijohly. Where can we admire your work this Christmas and in 2016?
A: Well you can find me – and my collection – the whole year long in the joint workshop hope & glory (Emserstr. 126, 12051 Berlin-Neukölln).
On December 12-13 you’ll find me at the Christmas Design Market KAOS.
In 2016 my work will be shown at the femme exhibition (Women Museum Bonn, Germany) in April, and at Herzensdinge in Braunschweig in May. In November I plan to show at Heldenmarkt Berlin again.
Thank you, Inge!
P.S. Eco-fair jewellery is now a fixture in the BEAUTYCALYPSE world with its own, brand spanking new tag BEAUTYCALYPSE Jewellery Brand To Watch.
In the past, we have discussed dirty gold, we’ve seen one of a kind pieces from NY and, with Amalena – an eco-fair gold brand that empowers female goldsmiths in Colombia, and you guys have had the opportunity to win eco-fair silver earrings by m of copenhagen. As a former luxury and jewellery editor, it’s a real pleasure for me to look for and to find eco-fair jewels that have the style and the quality that of conventional pieces – but such a sweet good karma!