Guest Post by Elaine, Director of Pure Design. Subscribe to the Pure Design newsletter and receive 10% off your first order. In addition, at the end of July Pure Design will randomly select on subscriber to win a Vintage Kimono Shoulder Bag by Katie Chaplin.
Designer eco accessories; what luxury green alternatives are there and where to start…?
Most eco-minded people already use the more well known eco and ethical alternatives in their homes. For example, in my house we buy Ecover cleaning products, we have low-energy light bulbs, buy fair trade teabags and coffee, nuts and fruit and I carry them home in my jute shopping bag, and that’s just the start….
But have you ever considered some of the more luxurious items around your home, perhaps in your wardrobe, an eye-catching accessory, or a favourite piece of furniture? Most of us are unaware until we start to look into the manufacture of designer goods in detail just what goes into their production, and possibly into our water systems (or the water systems of the countries in which they are made).
For example, did you know that commercially tanned leather used for handbags, belts and shoes, usually involves the use of heavy metals such as Chromium in the tanning of the leather? Historically, vegetable tannins were used (extracts from plants and trees) and although far safer for factory workers and the ecosystem, vegetable tanning can take hours or days longer than tanning with heavy metals. As we all know time is money – and sadly it is usually the faster but more toxic process that companies will opt for. Two of Pure Design’s in-house designers Cherchbi and Susiemaroon only use vegetable tanned leather for their belts – which as well as being kinder to the planet gives the leather a rich and more natural finish.
It’s no surprise that there are eco-nasties out there, hidden in varnishes, paints, cleaning products and materials around the home – and the same is true for luxury accessories. A few examples of nasties I have come across so far have included toxic resins used in acrylic jewellery, furniture and accessories and AZO dye used in the textile industry that is potentially carcinogenic. However there are green alternatives to both of these, such as bio-resin, and non-AZO or vegetable dyes. And you can get just as vivid and striking results with gentler dyes as one of our eco-fashion designers’ Tamaysn Gambell shows with her organic cotton summer scarves.
Fashion and accessories is also an area that is really quite difficult to walk the green line on, as so many high street retailers produce affordable, fashionable accessories with little or no information about the materials or history or how the product was made. Conflict free diamonds are now thankfully an increasingly common ethical standard in jewellery, but eco and ethical gold and silver is still hard to come by. Many mainstream jewellers tell me that they buy their gold from suppliers who combine gold from all different mines and with reclaimed gold which is then melted down and it is virtually impossible to trace its true history. However, it is possible to get gold that has been mined by traditional methods such as hand-panning and we carry the work of Oria Ethical Jewellers who buy directly from verified mines so they can be sure their gold has no dirty secrets. Pure Design also sells work by Ann Ellis who creates a range of earrings, necklaces and bracelets in bright and affordable designs from recycled plastic bags!
Working for Pure Design and spending all my time looking for new talented eco-designers, I have met some amazingly dedicated artisans who are constantly striving to improve the eco credentials of what they create. Sarah Jerath from Sustain Ceramics was awarded a First at University for her pioneering ceramic bowls and sculptures made from 50% recycled porcelain, clay, and discarded glass car windows and she powers her studio on renewable energy. Sarah has just brought out a new range of ‘nest’ bowls that look good enough to eat in Mocha and Cream, available to buy from July and on our blog.
In my experience you will often find the best value in terms of quality and eco credentials will be offered by small scale producers and crafts people who are able to monitor exactly what goes into each and every product they produce. However, they can be hard to find – and that’s where Pure Design can help you…
Many of the designers we feature on our site are recruited through professional design fairs and exhibitions. However, as Pure Design has grown and our reputation developed, we are increasingly approached by designers who feel Pure Design matches their artistic and eco/ethical values. Also, having been lucky enough to have worked in the fine arts and crafts sector prior to starting Pure Design, I have the added advantage of friends and colleagues in the sector who are kind enough to refer designers my way.
Susie Brown, founder of eco design label Susiemaroon says:
“Pure Design echoes the Susiemaroon ethos with its strong environmental and ethical values as well as upholding the contemporary aesthetic which is often lost in green design. One of the most important elements for me as a designer is finding like minded people who are as enthusiastic about the work I produce as I am.
Elaine, the founder of Pure Design is fantastically enthusiastic about her own business and its values as well as oozing passion for all the artists and designers work that she promotes and sells through Pure Design.”
When I am selecting work to sell the two things I look at first are:
1. The quality of design and craftsmanship, and
2. The designer’s eco and ethical practices.
As I usually meet the designers at exhibitions or fairs there is the opportunity to view and discuss the work in person. However, if this is not possible, I carry out an interview style Q&A with the designer by phone and arrange for samples to be posted to me, which are reviewed and then returned to the designer. All of the information discussed regarding the item is then included in the terms and conditions of our contract, so both designer and Pure Design commit to uphold the eco, ethical and quality standards discussed.
An example of just some of the questions we ask of our designers and that you might consider yourself when next buying a luxury accessory are:
What is the life cycle of the item?
Where did it come from?
How long will it last?
Can it be recycled or will it biodegrade?
What materials were used to make the item?
Where (mileage) did materials come from?
Were any toxic or harmful chemicals or processes used to produce this item?
If new – are the raw materials from a sustainable source?
If salvaged – are the materials safe, and do they help to reduce landfill?
Who made this product? Was it produced under fair trade conditions?And of course, do I love it and will I keep it and cherish it?
We certainly hope so…
The details of all our artists and the materials and processes involved are published along side the products on show in our online store.
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