IN THE SPOTLIGHT - Ellie Air
What it takes to be a responsible, bespoke jewellery brand. Plus, the benefits of 'community over competition'.
By Ellie Kirkman
In the latest edition of our ‘In The Spotlight’ blog series, we interviewed the wonderful Lauren Davidson, Founder and Creative Director of Ellie Air Jewellery, on what being a responsible business means to her and how it has helped the way she runs her brand.
Where it all began
Founded in 2013 as a part-time venture, Ellie Air took off in the last few years as the market for custom jewellery rocketed. Providing bespoke services, remodelling and handmade pieces ready to ship, the brand’s skilled team are now dedicated to crafting unique, responsibly produced jewellery. All Ellie Air’s jewellery is made in their own studio. The few services that are outsourced, such as castings or stone setting, are all done in the UK too.
What sets Ellie Air apart is their “obsession with unique gemstones”, which, of course, are all responsibly sourced. Lauren was passionate that her brand operated responsibly from the outset due to her personal values.
Despite responsible gemstone sourcing being a long and arduous process, Lauren insists that once you have found suppliers you know you can rely upon, the process becomes easier.
The Ethical Gem Fair, which occurs several times per year across the UK, has made finding and communicating with responsible suppliers easier. The fair is a collaborative partnership by suppliers Nineteen48, Fair Trade Gemstones and Capricorn Gems.
Ellie Air is a Fairmined licensee. This means they source some of their gold from artisanal mines certified against the Fairmined Standards. By paying a higher premium to gold miners the brand helps to support mining communities across the globe. They also use Fairmined Ecological gold, which ensures that the environment is not compromised by chemicals, such as Mercury, when mining processes take place.
Although this is more expensive than standard gold from other sources, Lauren describes this scheme as ‘awesome’ and relatively easy to work with: a good place to start for small businesses.
The challenges of creating bespoke ethical pieces
A key selling point for Ellie Air is that every piece is unique and designed to the client’s requirements. Whilst some customers provide their own stones from family heirlooms, others will request a specific type of stone to be sourced. It can be a challenge to balance the customer’s request whilst maintaining Ellie Air’s business ethics, particularly when the brand’s vetted supply chain can’t source what they need.
To help with this, V&V recently supported Ellie Air to develop an Ethical Sourcing Policy. The document sets out minimum requirements for the materials and suppliers that the brand works with. This helps their customers to understand why the brand might not be able to source a stone to the exact specifications requested and ensures the Ellie Air team can maintain the brand’s ethics.
Some customer’s approach the brand because they are attracted by its ethical mission. Others are drawn by the design and craftsmanship and want something similar. For Lauren, it’s not about forcing the responsible sourcing message upon customers, but she enjoys educating people when they ask.
Advice for others
“Just do it!” Lauren exclaimed when this question was asked. Certification, reporting, admin and the like can sometimes be overwhelming, but if you are morally driven to do it then there is no hurdle too big.
Lauren advises that making the brand responsible wasn't easy, however, there are many small steps you can take to start the sustainability journey, and they don’t have to relate specifically to jewellery.
Lauren used printer cartridges as an example; purchase the refillable ones and send them back to the manufacturer when they are finished, they are cheaper and better for the environment! The brand is also now plastic-free and has reduced its use of hazardous chemicals down to a bare minimum.
Ellie Air’s tips for creating an ethical, bespoke jewellery brand:
Educate your customer's carefully
Stick to your values
Build a community
Learn from others
Despite operating responsibly, Lauren had not heard of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) until she discovered them through industry network, Fair Luxury. Although not working to any specific SDG’s, Lauren now uses them as a reference to check what areas the brand is doing well in and how they can improve going forward.
Have a look at V&V’s Sustainable Development Goal tool to see how your brand could support the Goals.
Community over competition
When invited along to a Fair Luxury meeting, Lauren realised how beneficial the network was for small businesses like Ellie Air. The other jewellery brands involved lend a helping hand with sourcing advice and brand progression ideas, as well as holding events to share knowledge and introduce businesses to new, ethical ways of working.
“I’m so glad that Victoria from V&V encouraged me to join Fair Luxury because every week it gives me a chance to talk to people that have the same passion and values as me”
Without Fair Luxury in these uncertain times, Lauren said she could have become “stagnant” in her work, but has instead found a passionate community of brands supporting each other to improve. Its support for small jewellers has meant that the intense process of becoming sustainable is no longer as hard or as inaccessible as it once appeared to be.
Want to learn more? Read about jewellery retailer, EC One's B Corp Certification in our blog on How to Become an Award-Winning Ethical Jewellery Brand