Image courtesy Dara Gerson/Alkemie Jewelry
Shiny, sparkly, pretty jewelry. Sustainable? Hardly. Unless we're talking vintage, heirloom gems or new ones made from repurposed or recycled materials like those from the uber-cool, Cali-based Alkemie Jewelry. The philosophy behind the eco-conscious, socially responsible company is built upon creating good-looking ornaments using 100 percent reclaimed metals, drawing inspiration from organic themes and nature's muses—especially their latest collection: The Maiden Voyage. Its fairytale-like designs like birds, serpents, sea creatures and leaves are a perfect meld of modern and boho-chic. Check a slideshow of the collection
Though the designs might feel a little more ephemeral and fairytale, Alkemie Jewelry didn't fall from thin air. Hard working owners and designers Dara Gerson and her husband Ashley Lowengrub are firmly planted in reality, aware of their trade's less fairytale, more eco-criminal aspects and are ready to reform it.
We think they've already taken a huge green step in simply conceiving Alkemie Jewelry and its noble mission so we were very enthusiastic to talk to Dara herself and get the scoop behind the stylish and eco-sensitive line.
How did you get into this line of work?
We've always had a love for the process of handcrafting designs. Prior to starting Alkemie, we each had successful jewelry lines that were carried in major retailers and doing really well, and we both used fine metals and gems in our designs. However, as we started to learn more about the industry and the really startling harmful effects of mining for metals and gem stones as well as the social issues, like children working in dangerous conditions to mine and mount stones, and environmental issues, such as toxic chemicals from mines seeping into the surrounding environments, we knew it wasn't a trade that we could continue to support. But we both felt such a passion for designing beautiful jewelry, and that's when Alkemie was conceived.
What was your "a-ha" moment?
When we first stumbled across a manufacturer who told us he could craft our designs completely from recycled non-conflict bullet casings. This was something really exciting and totally unheard of at the time. We loved the process of creating beautiful jewelry—pieces that are so unique and special that it really feels more like art. Working with reclaimed metals enabled us to do that while breaking from the really harmful effects of the trade. As our demand increased, we transitioned to a manufacturer who sources our metals from scrapyards—sterling from old silverware and coins, copper from electrical wires, and zinc from zincograph sheets used in printing—where there's an abundance of these materials left unused.
Who is your green hero?
We feel really inspired by Leslie Hoffman Executive Director of the Earth Pledge Foundation for the groundbreaking work she's done for the industry with her FutureFashion initiative. She is committed to making sustainability a way of life without sacrificing design, and has developed an amazing program that helps the fashion industry make the transition to more sustainable materials.
What is your ultimate green goal?
What is your motivation?
For us, it's really about walking the walk and showing our children (daughters Sophia, 3, and Sage, 9) that it's important to play your part. As a society we have a long road ahead of us, but we really want to set the example and show them that they can make a difference. Even if it's just a small one, collectively our actions all add up into something really big.
What is most important to you, ecologically speaking?
We feel very passionately about moving away from fine metal and gem mining. These industries are so polluting and displace communities, contaminate drinking water, hurt workers, and destroy pristine environments. With Alkemie we are proud to be offering an alternative to jewelry made from the resources that come out of these mines.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
We are completely family-owned and operated, so juggling work while raising our children can get tough. Our kids always take priority, so we always seize the opportunity to make it fun for our kids and a learning experience, too, like teaching them about the different animals that are in whatever design we're working on. We love raising our children and feel that it's a true gift, so we just try to take it day by day.
What is the most rewarding?
The true pleasure we feel from creating unique pieces and seeing the impact it has on our clients has continued to really fuel our creative energy as designers—wearing something environmentally and socially responsible that also looks amazing just feels different! For a woman, self-esteem can be tied to feeling good about how she looks, and we hope that with Alkemie we can help women feel confident about themselves. Feeling good about oneself is paramount to how you interact with others, and the kind of energy you end up putting out there.
Of the people you have worked with, who impresses you most?
Mathew Gerson, founder and owner of Econscious Market (and my little brother), is doing something really incredible and was one of our biggest motivators when we were starting Alkemie. He put together an amazing online marketplace that sells ecologically and socially responsible products (including Alkemie), donating up to 10 percent of every purchase to a different non-profit organization each month.
What green thing do you do everyday?
We drive a hybrid; have our own organic garden; buy organic, local and eco-friendly products; reuse and recycle whenever possible; use canvas tote bagsbags for groceries and refillable water bottle; and so on. We also love vintage clothing and furniture and make a point of investing in garments that are timeless, well-crafted and that will still be beautiful in ten years.
What do you wish you could do?
It's always been our dream to travel the world and visit different communities, bringing things like pencils, books and school supplies to those in need, and at the same time learning a little bit about each culture and way of life.
What is your biggest eco-sin?
For us, flying to and from tradeshows a handful of times each year is a necessary evil. And since we choose to live in a canyon just outside LA, anytime we need to visit our warehouse it means getting into the car. However, we are steadfast about driving a hybrid and carpool whenever possible.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
We need to end the mentality of conflict and war. Period.
What is your best green advice?
Greening your life isn't about trying to do everything—it's easy to get overwhelmed by all the changes you feel you want to or need to make, and then end up doing nothing. Think about what changes can be easily incorporated into your lifestyle, and do just one thing at a time—maybe that's buying local produce, bringing your own bags with you when you shop, or supporting an eco-charity. It's really about taking small steps, and realizing that everything you do does make a difference.
Got a tip or a post idea for us to write about on Planet Green? Email pgtips (at) treehugger (dot) com.