Organic, textured, and subtle. If bold statement jewellery is not your thing, then never fear. Considered, minimal and eco-conscious adornment is also a rising trend that is surely here to stay.
After featuring the clean, ethical designs of Cheshire-based sustainable jewellery brand ANUKA recently, Fabric of the North meets two more Northern makers committed to creating ethical and eco-conscious jewellery collections which may not immediately scream for attention, but deserve it all the same. With more and more consumers looking to invest in forever pieces that are not only beautiful to look at, but also do good in the world, these are two wonderful woman to keep top of mind…
Ara the altar
“Before it ever occurred to me to work with recycled silver and gold, I worked in the fashion industry in quite a logistical role as a shoot producer,” says Ara the altar founder, Lauren King. “To reintroduce a bit of a creative outlet and different focus I did a one day silversmithing course in London’s jewellery quarter and really connected with the process.”
Lauren began building up a collection of tools to continue practising the craft from home, but it wasn’t until a few years later that the idea for a brand began to form. “I’d been feeling pretty unsettled in such a fast paced, consumer driven industry,” she tells me, “so my partner and I had moved back up North to slow things down a bit. I’d begun taking steps to try and lessen my own impact on the environment and over time was paying more and more attention to my responsibility as a consumer and the limited assurances provided by retailers about where and how their products were made.”
Ara the altar began as a project to support the slow fashion movement, with Lauren seeking to create objects responsibly and offering genuine assurances about her sustainable and ethical practices. “The name Ara the altar stems from the ancient world’s relationship with astronomy and nature,” she says. “Ara is a small constellation which translates from Latin as ‘the altar’. I liked the notion of a conceptual altar upon which to offer objects that had been created or gathered in a mindful, earth-aware way.”
With a circular economy mindset, Lauren adopted a slow approach to her brand and collection development, which she tells me always begins with design. “I design in a way to minimise waste, and work with materials that can be eternally repurposed. By working with only solid precious metal – not filled or plated – Ara jewellery is designed to last, to be passed down, or even melted and repurposed to start its life again.”
Lauren was determined to utilise materials that are already in circulation, as she tells me she doesn’t feel comfortable supporting the precious metal and mineral mining industries, due to their destructive environmental impact. “I choose to work with only recycled silver and gold, right through to the chains, findings and solder that I use. If I can’t source something in recycled silver or gold, I either learn to make it myself, or design in a way that doesn’t rely on that particular component. This can prove challenging at times but it’s also pushed me to develop skills I never thought I’d be capable of.”
When it comes to production, she works with tools that are made primarily from wood or metal rather than plastic. “I have a recycling system in place to manage paper recycling or anything that can go into our home compost,” she tells me. Every order is sent out with a little pouch that has been designed and made in-house using GOTS certified organic cotton and European linen, woven just up the road in Lancashire. All of the information cards that accompany Ara adornment are printed with plant-based ink on recycled or FSC stock, and packaged with recycled and recyclable materials. “I also include a little dried flower that has been grown and dried lovingly here in the UK,” she says, “or a little flora that I forage whilst out hiking.”
“My personal values concerning ethics and the environment inform every Ara related decision,” says Lauren. “Ultimately my aim is to provide assurance for like-minded individuals who, like me, are looking to make long lasting, considered purchases that strive for minimal impact on our only planet. Regardless of the size of the company I think we have a responsibility to be clear about where and how our products were made. For transparency, and to vocalise some of the lesser talked about aspects of the jewellery industry, l developed an ethics statement on my website, which goes into greater detail about the considerations that are made at each stage of the journey of an Ara piece.”
To complement her earth-aware adornment collection, Lauren recently expanded her offering online to include House of Ara; a small curation of objects for low impact living, all made responsibly in the UK. “From the conception of Ara, I always wanted to allow room for objects, not to solely focus on jewellery,” Lauren says. “As a consumer myself I do a lot of research, and when I’ve found something that has been responsibly made and works well for me, I’m always keen to share if it will help to raise awareness and support other brands who are taking care to create and offer something functional, with genuine consideration for its impact. Each of the objects listed on House of Ara are objects I use myself, beautiful but useful objects for slow living and self care, that also make lovely gifts.” Every listing has a breakdown of what makes the object low impact and information about the brand, staying true to Ara’s core values of transparency.
For the launch of House of Ara, Lauren also developed a few own brand objects. The Incense Altar is an Ancient Roman inspired altar, carved in wax and cast in recycled brass using the ancient art of lost wax casting. There are also drawstring produce bags, which have been ethically made in the UK from a soft European hemp. It’s a fibre Lauren is keen for Ara to support, as industrial hemp production arguably produces one of the most sustainable fabrics around.
Having begun her business with no formal training, Lauren tells me there are still many areas of her practice that she’d like to explore and develop, whilst always being mindful of ways to further lessen Ara’s impact. “For the moment, I’m enjoying the journey that is unfolding with Ara and learning to allow the development and release of collections to take their time,” she says. “Being completely self funded and working within the limitations that a truly considered approach demands, one thing I’ve learnt to feel more comfortable with is the time it can take to complete and offer a new collection. At the moment I’m pretty excited about a mini collection I am on the cusp of launching, based on the ritual objects that appeared in my recycled gold Phase Fine shoot.”
All photography © Lauren King, used with permission.
“Prior to setting up my jewellery business I worked – and still do work – as a graphic designer,” says minimalist jewellery designer Anna Jacklin. “These skills have really helped me with all other business aspects, such as my branding and website design, and I’ve absolutely loved doing it all!”
Anna says her passion for jewellery developed slowly through her admiration for other makers she followed on Pinterest, Etsy and Instagram, but it wasn’t until she started researching local classes and was accepted on a course in nearby York that things really began to take off. “I attended weekly classes for around 9 months,” she tells me, “and was hooked straight away!”
As she began developing her own jewellery style, she was adamant it should be representative not only of her identity when it came to aesthetics, but also of her values and beliefs too. “One thing that played a big role in the inspiration behind my brand is the Japanese philosophy and aesthetic of wabi sabi. It celebrates imperfection and simplicity, and the whole ethos of wabi sabi is something that I was attuned to even before I knew there was a word for it,” she tells me. “I like when you see things that have been made by hand and you can tell because they have a couple of marks or imperfections, or may not be perfectly straight. These tell tale signs that someone has taken time to forge a piece by hand is something that I find so beautiful.”
Anna’s own pieces usually begin with a lot of research and drawing. “From there I start playing with forms at the bench and see what works and what doesn’t,” she tells me. “I use precious metals, mainly silver, because I want something that will last, isn’t irritating to wear and that’s also either easily repaired or recyclable.”
She likes to think about materials as having a beginning, middle and end. “The beginning is before it’s reached me,” she says. “I like to know where the metal has come from and what’s happened to it to get it into a state which I’m able to work with. The middle I then equate as me working on it; the way I treat it in regards to not wasting it or tarnishing it with harmful chemicals. The end is when it leaves my workshop.”
“Longevity is a big factor for me when I’m designing, and I probably think about the end more than the beginning and middle. For instance, I use a textured matte finish on a few of my designs, and what I love most about this is the way it gets better with age. After a while, silver typically dulls with tarnish, and on these designs the tarnish really enhances the texture.”
Anna considers the ethos of her eco-conscious jewellery brand to echo that of her everyday life. “I first started researching the impact of our purchasing decisions when I was at University studying fashion,” she tells me. “I learnt about the massive destruction fast fashion was causing, not just to the earth, but to whole communities too. After that I slowly began adopting a more sustainable lifestyle and knew that when I started my brand it would have to be as environmentally friendly and ethical as possible.”
She currently works with 100% recycled silver and tells me she has a few designs that have been made using off-cuts from other designs, or those that have simply gone wrong! “I try to avoid using stones in my designs as much as possible, and work with synthetic ones instead,” she says. “There are ethical fair trade dealers, but it still involves mining which I want to try and avoid.” She is looking to start working with recycled gold shortly, and begin offering a few higher-end pieces as well as bespoke wedding rings and bridal jewellery. She’s also on the look-out for a few stockists too. “I’ve seen some amazing stores lately that curate really beautiful collections, and I’d love to see my designs sat alongside them!”
All photography © Anna Jacklin, used with permission.