Fast Jewellery: The True Cost of Costume and Where to Find Ethical Pieces

Fast Jewellery: The True Cost of Costume and Where to Find Ethical Pieces

When we think about fast fashion, we think about clothing. Anything made from fabric, we generally feel familiar with its social and environmental implications.

However, as Tansy Hoskins’ new book Foot Work doubles down on, there are many fashion categories that have yet to reach the public consciousness in the ethical fashion movement. Beyond shoes, there is another item we wear that isn’t often included in the sustainability discourse, and that’s jewellery. I’m not talking about fine jewellery crafted from gold, silver and diamonds, but costume jewellery. Think £5 Instagrammable statement earrings made with acetate and glue. £10 multipacks of brass rings picked up on impulse at the till on the high street. £7.99 ‘silver’ pendants made from zinc that fall apart in a week and turn our skin a not-so-Instagrammable shade of green. Hit up any fast fashion retailer and you’re spoilt for choice with covetable costume jewellery, requiring very little financial or emotional investment.

Rewind just a few decades and jewellery was a keepsake, an heirloom passed down across generations and cared for with precision. It was seen as something of an embarrassment to wear ‘fake’ jewellery made from glass beads in place of precious stones, or gold plated charms rather than the real deal. Now there is a much more democratic view of jewellery, enabling everyone to express themselves no matter their budget. We’ve moved beyond the gaudy diamante bling of the early 2000s and instead embraced both bold, colourful statements and delicate, minimalist styles for the masses.

Ethical Costume Jewellery
Edas Koori Hoops are handcrafted with wood and acrylic beads.

In fine jewellery, particularly with investment pieces like engagement rings, areas like conflict-free and lab-grown diamonds as well as modern slavery in the precious metal supply chain are hotly debated. There’s also the even greater question of perceived value and wildly unethical retail markups, an issue recently explored by the podcast Articles of Interest. If we’re lucky enough to afford fine jewellery for everyday wear, supporting sustainable luxury brands like N-UE is an excellent ethical alternative to the traditional jewellery trade. But what about the cheaper side; can we still buy costume jewellery on the high street without a guilty conscience?

In my exploration into the impacts of ‘fast fashion’ jewellery on people and the planet, I was instantly struck by the lack of information available online. Transparency is an ongoing systemic problem in the fashion industry at large, with brands failing to supply even the most basic information on where their products are produced, in what conditions, and using which materials and chemicals in the manufacturing process. I spoke to buying and sourcing consultant Emma McIntyre to try and get to the bottom of this.

“The majority of high street fashion brands work directly with the manufacturer or supplier. Traditionally agents were used, however the trend has been more towards a direct supply for increased transparency and improved costs, ” says McIntyre, referencing Korean-owned factories in Qingdao, China as major exporters. Brass is usually sourced from Korea, sterling silver from Thailand and Vietnam, and embroidered or embellished items from India.

Related Post: 5 Fairtrade Engagement Ring Styles for 2020

In terms of the ‘true cost’ of this costume jewellery, my concern is that fast fashion brands are only able to make jewellery so cheap to the consumer by squeezing the price of labour. McIntyre explains: “The reason the jewellery is so cheap is to do with the margin that the retailer has and the economies of scale. It’s also important to look at the base material when comparing prices – mid-market retailers may use brass, whereby value retailers will generally use zinc.”

Fast Jewellery- The True Cost of Costume
Handcrafted U-shape pendant in recycled and sterling silver by Akvile Su .

Responding to my trepidation, she reassures me that many retailers are signed up to sustainable supply chain initiatives such as the Sustainable Apparel CoalitionGreenpeace’s Detox campaign, and the FSC for packaging. McIntyre has also noticed a surge of interest in utilising more sustainable and natural resources, citing recycled zinc, terracotta stone, wood, bio-plastic and recycled polyester as materials on the rise in costume jewellery manufacture.

Despite this progress towards more conscious collections, ultimately fast jewellery by its very definition is about quantity over quality. With ‘drops’ of shiny new pieces every week and prices lower than a cup of coffee, we’re lured into the familiar trap of hyperconsumption. Our broken tortoiseshell earrings and tangled pendants simply pile up in landfill, soon to be replaced with something more worthy of the Instagram like button.

“The disposability and poor quality of fast fashion jewellery means that it is not designed to last and will ultimately end up in the bin and in most cases not recycled,” says Ebba Goring, director at the Incorporation of Goldsmiths. She spoke about the lack of integrity in social responsibility statements on many jewellery brand websites, reminding us that we need to demand more evidence of ethical values. Jewellery can be rife with greenwashing jargon, so watch out for terms like ‘handmade’ which are not sufficient markers of sustainability – remember that by its very nature (unless it is 3D printed) all jewellery is handmade.

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So how do we make sure we’re buying jewellery responsibly without splashing the cash? Ebba recommends that we shop from “independent designers with ethical credentials – your purchase has a more personal connection and you are also supporting small businesses and local economies too.”

If you’re looking for brands and designers who create ethical and affordable jewellery, these small independent labels offer stylish, sustainable and fairly priced pieces to adorn you and your jewellery box with treasures you can be proud of.

Svnr, prices from $40 USD

Leigh Elizabeth, prices from £12 GBP

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Introducing the dreamiest new colours ? . As part of the new collection, i’ve added some of your absolute favourite pieces in some incredible new colours ?? Say hello to “Lime” and “Pink Pearl” ? just two of the five new colours that will be added on Sunday! ? . ? “Pink Pearl” is a beautiful, irridescent pearl shade with subtle pink undertones – the perfect shade for wearing in all seasons ? . ? “Lime” is a dreamy, soft pastel green, a totally wearable shade if you’re a little afraid of a vibrant green shade! It will absolutely brighten up your Summer looks! . For this collection, I’ve taken into consideration which pieces you all love the most and added them in some beautiful new colour options which I know you’ll just LOVE! I’ll be sharing more over the next few days before the launch on Sunday night! ?

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Yala Jewellery, prices from £40 GBP

Edas, prices from $40 USD

Wolf and Moon, prices from £18 GBP

Paper Chain, prices from £15 GBP

Akvile Su, prices from £35 GBP

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Feeling so grateful for the influx of orders I had this week! I am one woman operation, so each like, comment and purchase helps me greatly to keep this tiny business alive. Eternally thankful for my supportive customers and anyone who cares for my jewellery. Don’t mean to sound dramatic, but this crisis is making me appreciate anything I have 10 times more. I never imagined that my usual work and life could change withing weeks with no clear picture of what’s waiting in the future. Last week I was feeling pretty devastated after finding out that I am not eligible for self-employed support scheme. So many of you forwarded information for different support options and it means the world ? Most importantly thank you for each and every key worker who are making sure that the rest of us are safe. Check out the link in my bio to support #rainbow4nhs, a fundraiser helping to buy PPE equipment for Scotland’s NHS ??

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Ara the Altar, prices from £20 GBP

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Recently @mckennareidmurphy sent me a little stock pile of 925 sterling silver jewellery that she was looking to repurpose, and together we embarked on a custom project to transform her existing silver into a different form of adornment, for her to wear and treasure? ? I am so grateful for McKenna’s trust in this ongoing project. The first treasures to materialise were these delicate molten earrings, accompanied with recycled silver earring posts & scrolls ? ? The circular nature of precious metals is one of the reasons I choose to work with only solid recycled silver and gold. This way upon reaching the end of its life, a piece of Ara adornment can be melted down and repurposed, completing the loop and beginning a new life ?

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Rosa Pietsch, prices from £8 GBP

Kate Trouw, prices from £15 GBP

Beth Lamont, prices from £20 GBP

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Cover image of Wolf & Moon Cecilie Earrings from Spring 2020 collection.

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