Stephanie Maslow Blackman joins me from Chelsea, New York to talk about making sustainable jewelry. Stephanie runs Metalicious Jewelry, a hand made collection of heirloom jewelry, that she makes with recycled metals and ethically mined gemstones.
Stephanie and I met this Summer when we exchanged blog posts. She wrote a post to help us find ethical jewelry when shopping as a consumer. And I wrote a post about how I use healing crystals for anxiety. That exchange opened a new can of worms for me. I could no longer look past where the gemstones in my life come from.
Stephanie helped me begin researching the rough gemstone industry, and that research led me to Nicholas Pearson, who I spoke to in episode 15 about ethically sourcing healing crystals. And it led me to my conversation today with Stephanie, to really dig into the environmental impact of jewelry.
And specifically, how we can purchase sustainable jewelry, lessening our individual impact on the earth.
5 Simple Ideas To Make a Difference:
- Ask questions. Know who made a piece of jewelry before we buy it, and ask that person exactly how ethically and sustainably it was made.
- Recycle our jewelry & electronics. If we properly recycle our metals, they can be used to make new products. We can even ask our jeweler if it’s possible to recycle old jewelry with them.
- Share what we know. If we know of brands and suppliers that lead with the environment, share them with others. Help them build their customer base and grow.
- Lead by example. Rather than verbally trying to convince those around us to change, focus on what we can do and simply be an example through our own choices.
- Educate. If we make a product, help our customers learn, by sharing where the product we’re selling comes from, and why we made the choices we did.
With over 20 years experience in the industry, Stephanie considers herself a jewelry nerd. She has created thousands of pieces of fine jewelry that have been shipped all over the world. Her award winning designs have been featured in Glamour, Cosmo and Buzzfeed among others. But Stephanie’s favorite thing is to have her sustainable jewelry worn by people just like her: creative, spirited and powerful women.
Metalicious.com is forged from a desire to create meaningful heirloom jewelry that is handcrafted in New York City, from ethically sourced metals and gemstones. Jewelry is Stephanie’s true passion. She loves creating things that bring joy to people, that represent milestones, and that make people feel loved. Her jewelry is wearable art that her customers will treasure for a lifetime.
Stephanie started Metalicious about 15 years ago when her son was born and she was home with him. She started on a corner workbench in her New York City bedroom and describes boxes and tools in every little nook and cranny.
Metalicious offers unique, spirited jewelry that’s both artfully made and aligned with their customer’s values. They source recycled metals and ethically mined gemstones from companies they trust. They create meaningful family heirlooms that will bring customers joy for many generations. Every single Metalicious jewel is lovingly handcrafted, one piece at a time, in NYC.
The energy of the maker is in our jewelry:
Stephanie paints a poetic view for us of each piece of jewelry that we wear. She describes how it carries the energy of everything before it. Where the metal came from. Where the gemstone came from. How the person mining or refining the metal was treated. How the people involved with the stone were treated. How the stone itself was treated. How the artist making the design was treated. How the person assembling the piece, was treated. We want something that means so much to us, and that we wear so close to our body, to do something good in the world.
Why a sustainable focus?
Stephanie was working in the jewelry industry for small jewelry designers and big, mass manufacturers. She said at the time ethically sourced gold or recycled gold was just beginning to be talked in the industry. But it was hard to find, and it cost more, and in general jewelry businesses didn’t want to deal with it.
When her son was born, her passion for protecting the earth and natural resources became even stronger. She felt it wasn’t responsible for businesses to knowingly use resources when they didn’t have to. And she says we do not need to mine new metals for jewelry. Sustainable jewelry is definitely an option.
She describes that recycled metals have been available for years. She says they come from old jewelry, from jeweler’s scraps, and even computer parts. The recyclers can refine the metal, melting it back down to make new metal, that is the same quality that was originally pulled from the earth. It can be reused over and over and over again.
Who does the recycled metal refining?
When Stephanie first started, there weren’t many jewelers focused on sustainable jewelry. She had to do a lot of research to find someone who was providing recycled metal. But she says that as she was vocal about wanting recycled products, and other jewelers became more vocal about it too, the industry changed. And now it’s easier to find sources.
Stephanie is passionate about using local businesses for supplies and manufacturing, to support and sustain the local economy. She describes how she remembers many friends losing their jobs when over 200 jewelers were laid off by a large, local jewelry company that had outsourced labor to other countries.
She says that she has seen the amazing things that outsourced labor does for other countries, and she’s certainly not against manufacturing in other countries if it’s done ethically. But knowing the horror stories of sweat shops and child labor, and knowing that it’s all true, she chose to focus on local New York businesses and creating local jobs in her community.
Stephanie uses Hoover & Strong to refine and source her metals. They were one of the first companies in the US to be on top of reducing, reusing, and recycling metal. And they do it in a clean, ethical way that does not harm the environment in the refining process.
She said they’ll actually give us money for the jewelry that we bring in for recycling! So not only are we helping the environment when we do that… but we get paid too! And our metals may become a new piece of sustainable jewelry, supplying the next generation.
Stephanie has a cool program with her customers in which she helps them recycle their old jewelry, for a credit on their new purchase. I feel like this is such a great idea and such a cool way to immerse protection of the environment into the sale of a new piece. I think we can all ask our jewelers if this is possible with them too.
We have to ask for proof:
Stephanie describes how she’s learned that she needs to ask to see paperwork that proves that metals are recycled and gemstones are mined ethically. And that the work to produce them was done with the environment in mind.
She says it is important to ask about air filters, and air quality, and ventilation, and masks, and healthcare.
She tells us that we have to ask for actual certification, especially now that it’s becoming more popular to be “sustainable”, “ethical”, and “eco friendly”. Anyone can say that they are these words. But if it’s important to us, we need to ask the hard questions and hold our jewelers accountable for truly selling sustainable jewelry.
She urges us to vote with our dollar. And if a jeweler cannot show us proof, go to someone who can. Stephanie is passionate that this will change the industry and that jewelers need to be accountable for how every part of a piece of jewelry impacts the environment.
And as a jeweler, she shares that she is always researching and always learning, because the industry is constantly changing. What she made as a decision in the past, may not be the best decision now. She has to constantly stay on top of her education within the industry. And she urges other jewelers to do the same.
Helping other small jewelers:
Stephanie is so passionate about sourcing recycled metals and ethical gemstones that she is more than happy to help other jewelers find suppliers for theirs. She openly shares her suppliers and wants everyone to start using them. She says the more jewelers who use these suppliers, the more they will grow, and the more that they can offer. She’s happy to share her sources when anyone asks.
She also loves teaching. She offers classes, and DIY pendant kits. She has internships available in her studio. And she loves passing on all of the knowledge that she has. She says, “what’s the point of dying with it?” ;-)
You can't put a price on the future of the earth.
Refined metals and ethically mined gemstones are more expensive. It is a reality of the industry right now. But Stephanie encourages us to compare that to the price of destroying the earth, which is far more expensive. She says you cannot put a price on the future of the earth.
We talk about how this concept is hard to talk with people who don’t feel this passion about saving the environment that we feel. The idea of the earth’s resources disappearing is kind of vague. It’s hard to put the possibility of the future earth at the forefront of our decisions, when we can’t really picture there being a problem.
But Stephanie tells us how she doesn’t focus on those people, or on anyone else for that matter. She focuses on what she can do in her life, and making her own personal footprint better. We can each try to do what we can, and what some of us can do more sustainably, others can’t. And what they can do more sustainably, we can’t. As individuals, there is something that we can all do. And if we do it, and make the tough decisions where we can, we’ll collectively change industries. Every little thing we do ripples out, and we don’t know the extent to which it reaches.
By being who we are and putting ourselves out there, and doing our part, we attract people who want to do their part too. Making sustainable jewelry is a gift that Stephanie can offer to the world.
In general, Stephanie tries not to use diamonds. And she says that this was a really hard one for her. She was the product director of an entire gold and diamond line. So she knows the diamond industry very well.
She says that diamonds are overinflated in price and value. There’s a monopoly on diamonds, and there is a lot of ugliness around them. It’s very hard to trace where they come from. Although there is work being done on block chain tracking, it’s not there yet.
But as a stone, diamonds are much harder than any other stone. And diamonds have their own chemical properties that make them reflective and refractive. So they are desirable for many people. Stephanie will do a diamond if someone really wants it. But she will only do this because she has a supplier in Canada that she knows and trusts.
Stephanie prefers to use moissanite, which is lab created, gorgeous, very hard and super sparkly without the baggage that comes along with a diamond. White topaz is another option. She doesn’t use cubic zirconia, but it’s another alternative.
Where can we recycle electronics?
If an electronic such as a cellphone or computer is still working, we can donate it. But usually they’re not working at the point that we hope to pass them on. There is a way to recycle electronics, so that they can be broken into parts and reused.
Stephanie recommends that we google for an “electronic recycling plant near me” to find a place that we can drop them off. If there’s nothing local, we can probably mail them to someone who will make sure that they are recycled properly.
I’ve also recently learned from a friend that Apple will take back products to recycle them as well. So if you’re an Apple user, you can consider that.
I found a great article, that really does a good job of listing out options we can use to recycle or donate our electronics. The only problem with this article is that it leads with how to throw them away (I think this is because the company sells dumpsters). But if you scroll to the bottom, you’ll see a very helpful list of places to try.