SUSTAINABLE FUTURE OF JEWELRY – An interview with Johanna Schoemaker and Jonas Buck from Quite Quiet
“All that glisters is not gold” means that not everything that looks good is actually good. This saying is applicable to traditional jewelry business models which are far, far away from being good. In fact, the metal and precious stones industry is highly harmful and brutal – both for the environment and for the people working in it. I talked to Johanna and Jonas, the Quite Quiet jewelry designers and store owners, and asked them about their experience running a jewelry brand with positive values and what the advantages of having a family business are.
Read this interview, if you are interested in learning more about sustainable and innovative jewelry as well as about the Fairtrade certification for precious metals & stones. Dive into the conversation to get to know Johanna and Jonas family business from a very personal point of view.
GFT: Let’s start with the basics. What is Fairtrade jewelry and what makes jewelry harmful to the environment?
Jonas: One of the main problems with traditional jewelry is the sourcing of the materials. A lot of mining is done by really small businesses that quite often are semi-legal or not legal at all. This fact causes a lot of issues like environmental ones. Here we are talking about, for example, incorrect use of chemicals or not properly closed mines after the mining process is completed.
Johanna: These environmental issues are highly connected with other challenges, for instance, social. People who work in mines are getting contaminated by the chemicals very easily.
Jonas: Child labor, uncontrolled safety conditions – these are just a few more examples of social issues connected to mining work. And Fairtrade really does help economically disadvantaged artisanal small-scale mining operations to access the market. It provides miners with better livelihood and working conditions.
Johanna: Also, chemical usage is minimized in Fairtrade metal processing. Fairtrade certified miners are being educated, they know how to use dangerous substances securely.
GFT: How did you start your business?
Johanna: We used to work in the US as industrial designers. But after our first son was born, we decided to move back to Germany, to Berlin. We really like it here! The idea to start our own business was always somehow attractive. Also, I completed a professional goldsmith training in the past.
So that’s how we came up with this idea to open a sustainable jewelry store and create something that reflects our belief and what we stand for. We wanted to find a balance between unique design and ethical material sourcing. We began our research in 2014. Since our second child was born in 2015, it was a very, very slow start. We’ve been doing design consulting projects in parallel which helped with the start of the jewelry business.
“We wanted to find a balance between unique design and ethical material sourcing”
Jonas: Fairtrade back then didn’t really exist, at least not here. It came out in Germany only in 2015. Fairtrade standards are really valuable and trustful, this label is known by consumers. But it was quite hard to find suppliers that were able to keep those materials fully traceable.
GFT: Would you say this business has changed? Do you see any transformations towards sustainability?
Jonas: We definitely see that interest in sustainable jewelry is increasing. More people are coming to our store, we are more visible.
GFT: Who comes to visit your store?
Jonas: I would say we see an interest from two sides: whether it’s people who come because of the Fairtrade and it’s a key criterion for them. The other group of people is interested in design, Fairtrade is just an added value.
GFT: How can we inspire more people to buy Fairtrade jewelry?
Jonas: Lack of information is one big problem. People need to learn more about the Fairtrade certificate and about Fairtrade jewelry. In general, I would say the level of awareness is higher in the younger generations. Also, this market is not that big and we actually need more stores to join Fairtrade, we need to have a bigger offer of products, which I feel like it’s missing.
“People need to learn how to buy less but better”
Johanna: People also need to learn how to buy less but better. Think about what lasts longer. Be more thoughtful.
GFT: Could you tell me something more about the processes behind the metals you use?
Jonas: Mining happens right now in Peru, that’s where our gold comes from. The refining process takes place in the UK. Then the gold is shipped to Germany. Our caster is located in Berlin and regularly casts 18 Karat yellow gold for us. The goldsmithing work is done here in our shop.
Johanna: The whole process depends a little bit on the jewelry item and material we use. For example, if we are working with other alloys, we are currently casting in the UK, where Fairtrade standards are more established and a Fairtrade certified caster regularly casts Fairtrade red gold and white gold. Unfortunately, some of our findings like ear scrolls or bolt rings are not certified since these are not readily available in Fairtrade Gold.
GFT: It sounds like a lot of work indeed! How do you manage to have quite a big family and run this business at the same time?
Jonas: Starting a business as a young family is definitely challenging, it takes a lot of time and money as well. But we like that we can define when we work and what we focus on. We are happy to see that people like our jewelry and that interest in Fairtrade Gold is increasing.
Johanna: Also, having your own family business allows for flexibility and this is very important. We don’t have to work fixed hours. Before our third child was born, we took turns picking up the kids. Now with our newborn I am staying home, but Jonas will take a parental leave when our baby is a little older. I believe it’s really nice for both of us to be able to split our time between our kids and work . Having your own family business gives you an opportunity to occasionally bring your children to work. I think this is very important for us and for them: They know what we do.
GFT: This fact definitely makes your products very special. Is there something more interesting about your jewelry, something you specialize in?
Jonas: We are highly interested in the whole concept of lab-grown gemstones. Some people don’t even know something like this exists. Now gemstones can be created in labs with the same physical properties as their natural counterparts! They have a much smaller environmental impact and they are conflict-free. It’s a more responsible choice. Our upcoming collection is going to be focused on those gemstones.
The Quite Quiet store is located in the heart of Berlin Mitte, Auguststraße 74, 10117 Berlin. Come and visit Johanna and Jonas here, where beauty and unique design come hand in hand with responsible sourcing.
More information about Quite Quiet: https://www.quite-quiet.com/
Quite Quiet materials: https://www.quite-quiet.com/materials
“We believe that true luxury is created through a deep level of care for all aspects of a product. To create value from within that care should expand beyond the physical product to how it is made and how its materials are sourced. True beauty comes from within and expands beyond the aesthetics of a product when it is manufactured under good ethical and sustainable conditions. We have carefully selected the materials and processes that we are using for our jewelry.” – Johanna and Jonas
Fairtrade gold standart: https://www.fairtrade.net/product/gold
A synthetic gem is a man-made material with essentially the same chemical composition, crystal structure and optical and physical properties as the natural gem material. Some synthetic gems, such as emerald, ruby, sapphire, alexandrite, and spinel can be created through a flux-growth process. They have smaller environmental impact and are conflict free.
Synthetic stones: https://www.gia.edu/gem-synthetic
About the blog author:
Polina Korneeva is from Russia and is currently studying environmental planning in Berlin. She is highly interested in sustainability, natural resource management as well as in alternative art and music. Polina supports civic activism and express herself as a creative writer.