Jewelry should be about self-expression, embellishment, and adornment that lets the individual shine as brightly as the pieces they are wearing . The last thing anyone should worry about when clasping a necklace or donning a ring is whether or not another human being or the environment had to suffer for fashion. Sustainable designer Melissa Joy Manning stands as a shining example of eco-conscious artistry in an industry dominated by fleeting fads and questionable supply chains. As a member of the invitation-only Council of Fashion Designers of America, she has been recognized as an outstanding contributor to her craft. The fact that she employs a host of environmentally and socially responsible practices throughout a successful company is as an important reminder that luxury and beauty can exist alongside an ethic of respect and responsibility.
Ecouterre was fortunate to sit down with Manning and ask a few questions regarding her inspiration and motivation behind her line of ethical jewelry.
Why is it important to use ethically sourced materials in your work?
As an artist inspired by nature, I believe it would be incredibly disingenuous of me not to protect the environment while pursuing my craft. It is my hope that through using ethically sourced materials we will minimize our own impact.
Designers are leaders and problem solvers—it’s important for us to start a conversation about thoughtful consumption and how industry can create proactive, cumulative change through responsibly made products.
What processes or techniques do you employ to reduce waste and ensure a fair supply chain?
All of our jewelry is made in our own studios in California and New York. Our California studio is certified green by the state of California. Our New York studio employs the same production methods. From waste treatment to energy usage, our studios are responsible. In addition to this we are a zero waste manufacturer. This means that all of our metal scrap is sent back to our supplier for refining. Any extra stones are warehoused and used in future design rounds. Because we make everything to order in we can assure that our manufacturing is sustainable and meets our high standards of responsibility and quality.
Aside from our production, we continually push ourselves to lessen our impact on the environment. When opening our New York store we invested in eco-heating and -cooling, non-off-gassing paints and recycled building materials. All back office operations utilize recycled materials, we have a recycling manager in house, printing is done on recycled papers with soy based inks, plastic water bottles are discouraged, and we carbon offset all of our shipping as well as corporate travel.
All of our raw metal is 100 percent recycled and is purchased from a certified green refiner in the US. Our machine made chain is made of 25 percent recycled metal and is also US produced. The majority of our stones are sourced from trusted vendors and all of our precious gems follow the Kimberly Process.
We strive to build relationships, where possible, directly with mine owners so that we can ensure a fair supply chain. So far we have done this in India, Australia and the US. Recently we discontinued stone usage from several Chinese sources that did not meet our expectations. In addition, we have just required that all of our diamond vendors sign a pledge that all of their stones were mined fairly and free of the blood trade.
Where do you see sustainable accessories within the sustainable fashion movement?
Accessories are tricky- a lot of what is happening in fashion is disposable and non tenable for the environment. We live in a culture of fast fashion and consumer consumption. I think it’s up to luxury designers to lead by example and create beautiful, thoughtful and responsible design.
Fine jewelry customers can afford to pay slightly more for a sustainable product. If designers demand better quality raw materials suppliers will have to make them. It is my hope that this creates a shift in the supply chain wherein more responsible raw materials are readily available. I think this is an important step in the movement and one that accessories, and jewelry in particular, can lead.
Why do you feel it is important to support a community of in-house artists in your studio?
I studied jewelry design and sculpture. When I graduated I couldn’t find a job. NAFTA pushed all artisan jobs off shore. For me, part of having a business has always been about supporting my community.
Our country is rich with manufacturing history. We are great at it and I believe it’s time to bring it back. Creating jobs and supporting artists is as important to me as environmental stewardship; the two go hand in hand.
What are the sources of inspiration for your overall aesthetic?
I am a visual person and am constantly processing my experiences and environment. My inspiration can be as varied as travel, architecture, people and art.
I am a glutton for beauty and am forever taking mental snap shots of what inspires me every day. They come out constantly in my work.
How do you feel your work expresses your sense of style and commitment to green practices?
My work is a direct reflection of my belief system. I started my own business as a way to express myself and live an authentic life. I think this comes through in my work in every possible way, from manufacturing techniques, to metal and stone choices.
Everything we produce is a direct reflection of my style and commitment to my environment and community.
How do you feel your presence as a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America impacts the industry/sets an example towards sustainability?
The CFDA and our Sustainability Committee ask important questions about the future of sustainable design.
We started a necessary conversation within our community and have asked designers to contemplate their choices. I don’t think a lot of our members were even aware of the fashion industry’s negative impact on the environment. By shining a light on the problem we are beginning a process of cumulative change that will resonate through the future of design.
The CFDA is a thought leader and a council that inspires designers everywhere. As our sustainability voice grows through education and collaboration we can inspire both young designers and consumers to be thoughtful about what they buy.