When a small student shop in Durham stacked the first ethically responsible goods on the shelves, promising the farmers and workers a fair and steady price for their yield, they could have had little idea just how far this trend would spread. Today, supermarkets are literally bursting at the seems with fairtrade goods and today’s shopper is much more concerned about where their food comes from: did the people on the farm get a fair wage? Were they slaves? If I buy this product, am I directly funding a government which has a poor human rights record? I think we’ve all been there in the fruit aisle, tortured over the decision over whether to buy Israeli or Palestinian oranges (the satsumas were a more politically neutral bet in the end).
This genuine concern about where our food comes from has caught on and now we pay more attention to where our clothes come from too. We all know about sweat shops for designer brands, and abhor any kind of slave labour especially if it involves children. But what about non-clothing items? The headlines have been dominated by the blood spilt over diamond mines at the centre of brutal civil wars, but the last thing you’re ever meant to say when someone has very kindly bought you some diamond jewellery is “Thank you darling, but are they fair trade?”. But then again, this depends on who is giving you the diamonds: if he’s an African warlord, then it pays to be suspicious. Naomi Campbell: you might want to write this down, it could make your life much simpler…
While blood diamonds catch headlines, sometimes we forget that there’s a whole word of exploitation in gold and silver mining out there, especially since their values on the stock market have risen dramatically over the past few years. So when I felt like treating myself to something shiny, I decided to see just how easy it was to shop (and invest, don’t forget that all fine jewellery is an *investment*) with a clear conscience.
Well, as a woman of fine taste I naturally gravitated towards the more expensive end of the market. I was pleased to discover that style and self-righteousness can go hand in hand when it comes to the bespoke jewellery market. I immediately fell in love with some of Jana Reinhardt’s designs at Ingle & Rhode, Mayfair, whose jewellery is all ethically sourced and all diamonds are guaranteed conflict free. Ingle and Rhode’s jewellery could easily bought with a clear conscience, but may also leave you with a complimentary clear bank account (the website does not mention prices…). Such a high-end purchase would be more of a serious investment than a feel-good impulse buy, so if you’re in the mood for frivolously splashing out and treating yourself, then looking somewhere where prices are lower may be a little more enjoyable.
With this in mind I decided to try to find a jewellery company which was not only producing ethically sourced goods, but also connected to a charity. I was very pleased to find out about Pink Lotus, whose shop stocks a fantastic array of shiny things produced by artists in Nepal. Part of the profits from every purchase go into their DCWC charity, which aims to establish direct and reliable trade with communities in Nepal as a way of stabilising and improving the people’s living conditions. There’s also a great influence on developing education for children, and they support artists who learn on the job and create most of their finer pieces for sale (you can read all about their charity work here). I was particularly attracted to their work because of their support for exiled Tibetans and the publicity which Joanna Lumley has drawn towards the poverty in Nepal, and for her successful campaign on behalf of the Gurkha veterans.
After browsing the Pink Lotus website for an evening (there really are so many lovely things!) I settled on a stunning pendant made from Tibetan silver with coral, turquoise and lapis. Then I went through the checkout and played the waiting game for the postman. I was so thrilled when it arrived: not only was it beautifully packaged in handmade paper, but there was also a complimentary box of incense (which was divine!). I got the impression that the sellers had really gone above and beyond with the level of care taken in the presentation of the jewellery. And the pendant itself, well, it was really striking. I’m also really happy that my purchase was for a good cause: it not only adds that something special to an outfit, but buying it has also done some good in the world. I am so thrilled with my lovely new necklace, and can’t wait to shop there again!