IN DEPTH: Mined the Fairtrade Gap

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Discover the demand for FTFM metals & the growing need for marketing.

Two years since the Fairtrade Fairmined gold mark was launched in the UK more than 50 jewellers have achieved licenses. With silver and platinum now certified Kathryn Bishop hears from jewellers about demand for the metals, the need for marketing initiatives and what silver and platinum can offer in 2013 and beyond.

On Valentine’s Day in 2011 the official mark for Fairtrade Fairmined gold was launched. The event, complete with Peruvian miners flown to London to tell their story and a host of leading UK jewellers given Fairtrade Fairmined licenses, was cause for celebration, heralding a new era for the UK jewellery industry.

But two years on, the industry’s view about the development of Fairtrade Fairmined metals remains mixed. While a number of jewellers have enjoyed mushrooming enquiries and an increasing few are making large bespoke designs in Fairtrade Fairmined metals, others have described the struggle to translate the premium price of Fairtrade Fairmined metal to their clients.

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Fairtrade Feedback
At the 2011 launch, 20 companies were given licences to work with Fairtrade Fairmined gold, ranging from independent jewellers such as Jon Dibben, Oria and Harriet Kelsall through to larger companies such as Garrard and Weston Beamor. In the time that has followed a number of high street jewellery retailers, including Ernest Jones and Beaverbrooks, have come on board with the initiative, as well as manufacturers such as Brown & Newirth.

Each has done their bit to place Fairtrade Fairmined gold before a more mainstream audience and the number of UK companies now licensed to use the Fairtrade Fairmined gold sits at about 50.

The Fairtrade Foundation is yet to publish any official statistics regarding Fairtrade Fairmined gold sales or demand for the metal in the UK, but says it plans to run a survey to gauge market awareness after Fairtrade Fortnight, two weeks of promotional Fairtrade events that launched on February 25 and will run until March 10.

But what kind of reception have the designers, brands and retailers working with the Fairtrade Fairmined gold received? Largely, the feedback is positive, but mostly at a designer-maker level.

Designer Anna Loucah, who works under the brand name Annaloucah and has produced collections for Vogue blogger and green campaigner Livia Firth, says interest has increased since the mark’s launch. “I have definitely seen an increase in commissions and opportunities," she says. "A lot of it has come through recommendation and referral from ecologically focused websites or through friends in the ethical fashion world."

Online Research
Many designers report that clients happen to discover them through seeking out ethical jewellery, and reading about them online. Often, this is also the client’s first exposure to Fairtrade Fairmined gold.

“We get a lot of clients coming to us who have found us purely by searching for ethical jewellery and the demand is increasing,” explains jewellery designer Hattie Rickards, who gained her license back in 2011. “Even if the clients have never heard about Fairtrade gold before, as soon as they do, all [their] repeat purchases are produced out of Fairtrade gold.”

Hertfordshire jewellery Harriet Kelsall echoes this, saying that clients will often opt for Fairtrade Fairmined gold over standard 18ct when presented with a choice. “We have quite a few customers who come in especially asking about [Fairtrade Fairmined],” explains Kelsall. “Other times we offer the customers options, such as standard gold or Fairtrade gold at different prices, and they very often choose Fairtrade gold over standard gold.”

Arabel Lebrusan was one of the first jewellers to be given a license in 2011. At the time she co-ran jewellery company Leblas before opting to go it alone, creating her own-name brand of jewellery made using ethical metals. She explains that interest has grown in Fairtrade Fairmined gold but that industry attitudes towards the product remain somewhat dated. “It’s becoming increasingly important to our customers, especially for the wedding and engagement bands, though we still have a very long way to go before it has the same response from people as, for example, the fur trade,” she says. “With jewellery [the Fairtrade element] 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.”

While consumers are beginning to grasp the concept of a Fairtrade option in fine jewellery – many licensees note that their average Fairtrade customer is aged between 30 and 50 years old, well educated and often from more artistic backgrounds – the jewellery industry and the Fairtrade Foundation have been criticised for not doing enough to boost the profile of Fairtrade Fairmined and thus the sales of the gold itself.

Some companies that took on Fairtrade licenses last year, such as Charles Green and Ernest Jones, have discontinued their Faritrade offer owing to low levels of demand from customers. But the main criticism of Fairtrade Fairmined gold is, unsurprisingly, the issue of cost – in particular the premium that jewellers have to charge for Fairtrade Fairmined gold.

A Question of Price
Promoting luxury goods during a recession is not easy, especially when the product in question demands an average premium of 15%, as Fairtrade Fairmined gold does. The early marketing from the UK Fairtrade Foundation likened the price difference of buying Fairtrade Fairmined gold to ordering a takeaway rather than a having a regular home-cooked dinner. But at the thousand-pound level such a simplistic notion has been difficult to translate to consumers.

Stephen Webster launched its first bridal collection in Fairtrade Fairmined gold last year. It has chosen to absorb the premium that the customer would pay, so as not to discourage sales of Fairtrade Fairmined gold designs with higher-than-anticipated price points.

Stephen Webster, the brand’s founder and director, believes that the price structure of Fairtrade Fairmined gold should be reviewed. “We don’t pass onto the consumer the premium that we have to pay for Fairtrade gold, but it definitely is something that needs to be taken into consideration. A client is happy to choose Fairtrade gold and support the miners but the decision can be more difficult if the price jumps by 15%.”

This view is upheld by Loucah, who says that pricing has become enough of an issue that some clients actually change their mind about buying Fairtrade, which no doubt raises concerns about the accessibility of the gold. “A lot of customers are really up for buying Fairtrade, but with the price of gold being so high already they sometimes back out when I quote and reluctantly go for regular gold,” she reveals. “I don’t want anyone to feel awkward about not doing it based on price alone and usually try and work something out so everyone is happy.”

Vivien Johnston, founder and designer of ethical brand Fifi Bijoux, says the price issue is exacerbated by the current high price of gold. “I think some work still needs to be done to address that and allow licensees to remain competitive,” she states.

But should jewellers who are offering an ethical product have to adapt how they price their designs to fit their target clientele’s budget? It begs the question as to whether Fairtrade Fairmined gold is as accessible a product as it aspires to be, and whether the price structure is actually making it a no-go for the clients it hopes to reach. As a result, the premium added to Fairtrade Fairmined gold could mean that the miners and their communities at the beginning of the traceability line are losing out on the money that should come from sales of the very product they have spent time sourcing.

The Fairtrade Foundation’s business development manager Victoria Waugh concedes that pricing is an issue but says this is something the Foundation is working on to improve, with the aim of reaching a balance for all parties. “[Consumers] love the concept, however we need to work on the model to ensure that it works for them in terms of cost,” she states. "We are currently carrying out a review of the standards. The second round of consultation will take place in March.”

Increasing Awareness
While price remains a central issue for jewellers working with Fairtrade Fairmined gold, feedback also suggests that, two years since the mark’s official launch, marketing of Fairtrade Fairmined gold has fallen below expectations. Many of the designers Professional Jeweller spoke with – including Webster, Loucah, Rickards and Kelsall – describe how they often have to fall back on the examples of coffee and bananas to explain Fairtrade gold simply because consumers are unaware of it.

“Too many people still don’t know that Fairtrade gold exists,” states Rickards. “If we can all spread the word more, people will understand and start to help making a difference which is so desperately needed.”

The designers and brands working with Fairtrade Fairmined gold believe there is a need for a high-profile advertising campaign or otherwise endorsement through a high-profile ambassador. Just as Gemfields last month announced actress Mila Kunis as a global ambassador of its ethical emeralds – an announcement that generated global mainstream press coverage – the Fairtrade Foundation could consider such a move to build instant buzz around Fairtrade Fairmined gold and its jewellery.

Sculptural jewellery designer Ute Decker, who works with recycled gold and Fairtrade Fairmined Ecological gold, says more needs to be done to make the metal desirable, but recognises that marketing budgets are an issue. “If we had the money for high-profile advertising campaigns, Fairtrade gold would soon be on everybody’s wish list,” she explains. “But Fairtrade does not have the financial power as, for example, DeBeers, which made the diamond ‘a girl’s best friend’.”

But Decker believes that it is not just down to the Fairtrade Foundation to promote the metal, but also the jewellers themselves. “I believe it is up to us jewellers to offer customers the choice and especially to explain the concept and importance of being part of this change,” she states.

Lebrusan agrees, and states that smaller jewellers should drive the promotion of Fairtrade Fairmined gold to consumers, to ensure larger jewellery companies using standard gold understand the need for change. “[Jewellers] 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,” she explains. “There needs to be a greater sense of responsibility within the industry. [Fairtrade Fairmined] 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.”

For Webster the story behind the sourcing of Fairtrade Fairmined gold is a key selling point, and something he believes jewellers selling Fairtrade Fairmined products should use to boost consumer understanding and product desirability. “It’s important that consumers are aware of the journey their purchases have taken; particularly in jewellery where almost all jewellery is given to mark emotional occasions and an expression of love,” Webster explains.

Johnston agrees and says that more should be done by and also for smaller companies that have fully committed to Fairtrade Fairmined gold to help position it as a mainstream choice. “I’d like to see more promotion of the smaller jewellery brands like Fifi Bijoux, and a strong and focused marketing campaign from Fairtrade to reach consumers and drive the demand required to take Fairtrade Fairmined gold to where it should be – visible, accessible and supporting ASMs [artisanal small miners] and small businesses to grow strong together.”

But despite the industry’s marketing concerns, the Fairtrade Foundation has in fact run a number of consumer-facing campaigns to build awareness of gold, though these are sometimes wider initiatives involving other Fairtrade products. Its recent Valentine’s Day promotion, for example, encouraged consumers to Share the Love of Fairtrade products such as wine, flowers and chocolate. It teamed with jewellers Jon Dibben, Cox & Power and Cred to promote precious metal products designed for Valentine’s Day.

The Fairtrade Foundation has also run several digital campaigns that it says have generated a very positive response from the public, resulting in “an increase in product sales”. Its current Fairtrade Fortnight campaign is encouraging jewellers and consumers to Go Further for Fairtrade by buying certified metals.

Waugh explains the benefits of licensees self-promoting: “Licensees and campaigners have done some great promotional work. For example, Chichester cathedral covered its weather vane in Fairtrade and Fairmined gold, and certified gold was used in a brooch given to the Queen to celebrate her Jubilee.”

The Future for Fairtrade
While Fairtrade Fairmined gold might been difficult to promote during a time of tighter consumer spend and rising gold prices, the recent additions of platinum and silver to the Fairtrade Fairmined offer should help to increase promotional power and sales.

In December the world’s first Fairtrade Fairmined platinum was launched, with the Fairtrade Foundation and the Alliance for Responsible Mining teaming with London retailer Cox & Power to promote the metal. Both platinum and silver are by-products of the Fairtrade Fairmined gold manufacturing process and are now available for jewellers to use.

“The introduction of Fairtrade platinum and silver is going to bring some interesting opportunities for raising awareness,” says Loucah. “It brings all the metals together into one clear message and brings it to a far wider audience as silver is so widely used and the cost of platinum and gold are becoming closer, making platinum a good option in the wedding market.”

Loucah has already been working with Fairtrade Fairmined platinum, as has Rickards who has already created a bespoke men’s wedding band. Meanwhile Kelsall and Johnston have been using pre-certified Fairtrade platinum for a number of years already.

“We have been waiting in anticipation for the platinum to come online, as pre-Fairtrade Fairmined gold, the majority of our work was in platinum,” says Dibben, who has already accepted a commission for a pair of platinum wedding rings.

Decker, meanwhile, has placed an order for “a kilo or two” of Fairtrade Fairmined silver, a metal that is being wholesaled to UK jewellers through Cred Jewellery. “It is so exciting to have silver now join gold in this certification, made possible through the increasing demand from consumers for ethical metals,” explains Cred director Alan Frampton.

For Waugh the limited availability of Fairtrade Fairmined platinum and silver makes the metals all the more special in terms of how they can be marketed to consumers. “Introducing the Fairtrade certification for both of these precious metals will provide the consumer with more options to become involved, which will hopefully increased demand,” she says. “Perhaps it will even give us the opportunity to create Fairtrade gold in lower carats.”

Two years on from the Fairtrade Fairmined mark’s launch, the initiative has made an impact among jewellery designers in the UK but there are still many more goals and projects that could be put in place to increase the demand for Fairtrade Fairmined metals at the average consumer level.

With the arrival of silver and platinum the trinity of precious metals is complete under the Fairtrade Fairmined umbrella meaning more rounded promotion potential and design prospects for socially conscious jewellers, brands, manufacturers and shoppers in the UK.

This feature was taken from the March issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the edition in full online, click here.
 

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