What does it take for an independent jeweler to obtain the most coveted sustainability certification around? Since January 2022, Shakti Ellenwood has been one of only four artisan jewelers in the world to hold the B Corporation label, and the first goldsmith in the UK to make the grade. She makes Fairtrade gold amulets and gemstone rings in her studio on the edge of Dartmoor, England, with a meticulous approach to ethical jewelry that earned her a B Corp score of 113.7 and Best for the World 2022 status.
“It’s becoming increasingly hard to run a jewelry business without an ethical approach. People look for it now,” she says. “Even the fact that some companies feel they need to greenwash shows there has been a shift. I hope consumers will continue to support small businesses, ask questions and push for more transparency.”
Shakti is hopeful for the future of the consumer-led movement towards greater sustainability and is encouraged by agenda-setting measures taken by industry leaders like De Beers. She believes ‘things have moved on hugely” since she first started working sustainably back in 2011 and began using Fairtrade gold four years later.
Perhaps however, it’s best-in-class sustainable jewelers like herself from which the rest of the industry should be taking their cues. Maybe we should all think a bit more like Shakti, and help make jewelry businesses a force for good. Here’s how she does it.
What first drew you to jewellery?
When I was younger, I spent a lot of time in India. Asia was where I realized I was creative, I played around with leather belts, made string necklaces – I think I was consciously looking for a creative outlet. Then I got sick, and an Israeli goldsmith who was living on the top floor of my guest house in India nursed me back to health. I would watch him sitting in the corner, creating amazing pieces with gemstones and I had a lightbulb moment, I was fascinated by the intricacy of it all.
Your work draws on rituals and diverse world cultures. What is your biggest inspiration?
I am very inspired by my travels. I went to Mexico and hung out with artisan silversmiths, then took jewelry classes in San Francisco. When I began researching, Egyptian and Ancient jewelry drew me in straight away, I love its spiritual significance. My work retains that ancient look.
My Thunderbird and Rainbow Serpent amulets were born of visions I had while taking tribal medicines during rituals in Mexico. The thunderbird is a mythological creature that is revered for creating the rainstorms needed for harvest, it creates booming claps of thunder, lightening bolts out of its eyes, and has the strength to lift a killer whale. My Deer with a Peyote Button necklace was also inspired by a Huicholi Indian legend, I’m fascinated by the folklore and mythology behind symbolism.
What is it about gold that you enjoy so much?
I love the color, texture and warmth of 18 carat gold, it’s like butter to work with. From a spiritual point of view, gold has purity, carries a high vibration and can be used to transmit energy, which is why it is seen in churches, mosques and other religious places.
I’m a healer as well as a goldsmith I’m conscious of the energy I’m putting into my bespoke work and will often put healing codes into my jewelry, so a particular piece can be used like a key to unlock happiness, protection and blessings. I even sing mantras while I’m working on pieces that aren’t made specifically for certain people, or say a prayer for the jewels. Indian mantras carry healing vibrations within them, all indigenous tribes connect to the ancient feeling of spirit. It’s really important to me that the jewelry goes beyond what looks pretty.
Why is an ethical approach so important to you?
There’s a level of integrity that comes with trying to approach a business from a holistic point of view. I felt strongly that jewelry was what I was meant to be doing, so I was upset when I heard of the atrocities in the mining world. I knew I had to find alternatives, I came across Fairtrade gold and it all went from there.
For me, an ethical approach to jewelry-making comes from compassion for people, animals, and the environment. Specifically, I want no suffering to be part of the production of my raw materials and I think that vibration carries through to the final piece.
You achieved B Corp certification with an exceptional score, did you expect this and to what was it due?
I was unexpected, I was actually worried whether I would be able to pass at all! The whole process took a year, with the help of an independent B Corp jewelry consultant. I recently found out that I’m in the top 5% in the world for my area of expertise, which makes me Best for the World B Corp 2022.
My score also reflects the high donation on my income; 2% of sales go to social and environmental causes, and I am part of 1% for the Planet, which encourages businesses to give away 1% of sales whether or not they are profitable that year.
Tell me about some of the ways in which ethical jewelry can have a positive effect on the planet and its inhabitants.
Buying Fairtrade gold ensures that people who work along the supply chain can live properly. Miners can often barely afford to feed their families, children are forced to work with mercury in dangerous mines, it’s very difficult to regulate. If you buy a piece of Fairtrade jewelry, you know miners have been paid a fair wage, that safety and security are in place and the mines don’t poison the environment. They receive a 10% premium from Fairtrade, which allows the whole community to thrive – they can buy computers or build schools with it, for example. Fairtrade also invests in local artisanship by working with organizations like Turquoise Mountain, which supports artisans in Afghanistan, Myanmar and the Middle East.
Choosing the right stone supplier means you can see what’s going on at each mine and what they’re doing in that country. I source my ethical diamonds from Candamark, which works with indigenous people to protect the wildlife near their mines. I use rubies from Greenland Ruby, which supports research into polar bears and climate change, through their Pink Polar Bear Foundation.
What three measures would you recommend for designer-makers, to make their businesses more sustainable?
1: Join an organization like the Fair Luxury Collective in the UK, with a shared vision for responsible mining and a sustainable future. It’s great to feel part of a community working towards the same goals, sharing ideas, information and research. I also took the Fair Luxury Pledge: once a year, the organization invites people to make a pledge to improve their business biz socially and responsibly over the next 12 months.
2: Look at your materials, investigate sourcing and look for alternatives if you’re coming up against dead ends in terms of traceability. Botswanan diamonds are all now traceable, but Africa is so huge and corrupt it’s extremely difficult to ensure an ethical approach all the way through.
3: Go onto the B Corp website and start filling in the assessment to identify areas of your business that could be improved. It’s very specific, and a very thorough approach – especially around gold mining.