Like us, if you are attempting to navigate a more sustainable life, the first step is to build a solid understanding of the terminology.
‘Sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ seem to be the buzzwords of the decade. Brands all around the world are tacking on a few keywords for marketing purposes, making it more difficult than ever to separate the fact from fiction, the genuinely sustainable from the misleading. It’s all too easy to quote the concepts without backing it up. But, to help us out, a growing number of considerate e-tailers are outlining pillars to value a labels’ worth against, including locality, minimal waste, transparency and fair trade. From there, we can start to build a more rounded understanding.
What does sustainability mean to us?
For starters, it’s a genuine consideration for the environmental impact of one’s business undertakings and an effort to minimise these effects. Sustainability is not an after-thought to boost customer base, PR and good vibes, but the basis on which a label is built. Practically, this could include reducing plastic waste, using natural dyes and traceable materials, and eco shipping options.
Longevity is also crucial. Our throw-away culture has us wearing items once, striking an Instagram pose, then quickly discarding. The onus is on each of us - as both brand and consumer - to change our thinking; buy once, buy better should be the motto we live and breathe. We’re seeking timeless and well-made pieces that won’t fall out of style (or fall apart) in an instant. Let’s yearn for items we can pass down for generations to come – creating more circularity and avoiding landfill.
A label’s ‘ethical’ nature then centres around human involvement. Consider the makers, workers and farmers: Are they paid fairly and working under safe conditions? Does the label promote gender equality? How are the surrounding communities impacted?
Although the apparel industry rules much of the ethical manufacturing conversation, it is equally important when it comes to jewellery. We are well aware of synthetic fibre’s negative impacts, but it is lesser known that 30% of global mercury poisoning comes from gold mining. In Asia, Africa and South America, the use of mercury in extraction is standard practice, wreaking havoc for both miners and the greater community. Mercury enters waterways and, inevitably, the food chain whereby it is ingested by humans - with a detrimental impact on health. For an industry so outwardly wealthy and slick, the methods of getting there can be astoundingly dirty.
At Westhill, these words are not just a quick-fix additive but sit at the very core of the label. While no brand is 100% sustainable – inherently, consumption is ‘unsustainable’ – transparency, information, and an honest effort are required.
All pieces are locally made in Sydney using either recycled or fully traceable materials, standing proudly against these unethical and unsafe practices.
Design plays a significant factor too: these are pieces made for heirloom status. Classic styles and skilled workmanship make for jewellery that is built to last and stand the test of time. Plating is eschewed in favour of solid gold and sterling silver. And, in the case your tastes change, these can be 100% recycled back into the system; it’s the planet-friendly “one man’s trash is another’s treasure.”
Sadly, many brands will add one of these keywords to their ‘About’ page and reap the sales of those hoping for a greener future. ‘Greenwashing’ – giving a false impression of “green-ness” – is rife.
Without an industry watchdog in place, this leaves much of the work in our hands as consumers. Ask yourself: How much information is this brand giving me? If sustainable is but a quick mention with no evidence or story to back it up, challenge those claims. Do further research, reach out to the brand and ask the tough questions. Hold them accountable. Look for labels that are using high-quality materials and will offer repairs or maintenance should the need arise.
Are these words meaningless? We like to think not, but it’s time we reclaimed and relegated ‘sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ to their original, pious nature. It’s a work in progress, but we’re in this together.
By Hannah Cole