Fairtrade Q&A: Arabel Lebrusan

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The jeweller on keeping a balance between desirability and ethics.

Professional Jeweller’s March 2013 issue takes an in-depth look at the development of Fairtrade Fairmined gold in the UK, from client demand through to supply chain issues, pricing and marketing. Arabel Lebrusan runs her own-name ethical jewellery brand using recycled and FTFM metals. She explains the realities of working to create desirable jewellery that is also sustainable, and the need for a code of practices for designers and retailers to work to.

Professional Jeweller: As a brand specialising in ethical jewellery, how is demand faring for Fairtrade Fairmined metals?
Arabel Lebrusan: It’s becoming increasingly important to our customers, especially for the wedding and engagement bands – ours are all recycled gold and Fairtrade and Fairmined bands. We still have a very long way to go before it has the same response from people, as with, say for example, the fur trade. With jewellery it tends to be more of an ‘added bonus’ to a purchase as opposed to a deal breaker, though I think this will change in time and it should be down to the jewellery industry itself to set the tone and not wait for the tide to turn.

PJ: With the arrival of Fairmined silver and platinum to the UK, will you get on board with using these metals?
AL: We already use recycled silver in most of our collections, and so we’re very excited about the arrival of Fairmined silver. We are currently looking to introduce Fairmined silver and platinum to our collections later in 2013.

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PJ: You now produce jewellery under your own brand name, as well as bespoke designs. Describe your average consumer – are they aware of FTFM?
AL: It’s a particular kind of consumer that is very conscious of what is or what isn’t Fairtrade with regard to making purchasing decisions, though with the prevalence of Fairtrade merchandise in supermarkets it’s definitely less niche, so if it’s something that a customer doesn’t care about, most do seem to know about its existence. The average person who seeks out Fairtrade products, in particular, for jewellery, does tend to be younger, say 20 to 35 years old, a lot of the men we have visiting our site looking for engagement rings cite it as an important factor for their fiancées.

PJ: Where do you think the Fairtrade Fairmined offer could improve? Are there supply chain issues?
AL: For me, it’s important for me to balance the ethical with what I can sell to my clientèle. I think it’s not disingenuous to be very concerned with running an ethical jewellery business and also be realistic about what is going to be desirable with your audience, especially when the industry itself isn’t currently engineered towards Fairtrade as a priority. Currently I’m finding it difficult to source decent sized Fairtrade gemstones that I can work with from a design point of view and that has a good enough price point that it’s going to be attractive to my customers.

PJ: You were in the audience at the ‘What is an ethical standard’ discussion at The Jewellery Show last month. What do you think needs to happen to increase demand and awareness of Fairtrade and ethical practices when it comes to precious metals?
AL: Firstly, there needs to be a greater sense of responsibility within the industry. It is not front of mind for a lot of major jewellery brands and this is making it hard to overturn a lot of archaic practises involved in the production of jewellery that would otherwise feel pressured to change as they have been to a greater extent within the food and clothing industry.

There is a growing awareness amongst consumers, and we shouldn’t be in a position where their demand for ethical jewellery dictates our actions. We should be leading from the front with regard to creating sustainable ethical practises and letting the consumer know that we do care about supporting the need for good environmental practises and fair treatment of those working across the mining industry.

I think also, we need to look at how we can produce in the UK, particularly with regard to sterling silver – right now the price points here are such that is just not viable for the majority of retailers to produce a silver collection in the UK. A code of practise needs to be in place for the jewellery industry, and one that can enable us ethically minded designers and retailers to source responsibly and create great jewellery without resorting to outsourcing unnecessarily.
 

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