BUILDING ON OUR CHAT ABOUT JEWELRY “INGREDIENTS”, IT SEEMS BRANDS ARE EVOLVING TOWARDS AN ETHICAL AND SUSTAINABLE ETHOS. WHAT DOES THIS REALLY MEAN TODAY?
The concept of sustainability and ethics in jewelry used to be less focused on the quality of luxury and more casual and natural ingredients for the “nuts and twigs crowd” - not precious or semi-precious jewelry. But now top luxury brands are focusing on sustainability and working towards a circular economy. This resonates with younger generations and ethical luxury is having a moment that is not soon to pass. My work combines both luxury and ethics. Everything I do is organized through a transparent supply chain and all the hands involved are treated fairly and respected. I consider the true impact in all that I do.
YOUR TURQUOISE MOUNTAIN COLLABORATION HONORS THE RICH CULTURE AND CRAFT OF AFGHANISTAN IN SO MANY WAYS. CAN YOU SHARE MORE ON THIS?
Yes, this collaboration empowers both the artisans who make the jewelry, while also celebrating and educating new audiences about Afghanistan's deep cultural history and heritage. The locally sourced materials I use in collections are especially important. I do a great deal of research to ensure the culture is preserved and honored through the designs. For example, I mobilize my signature symbolism as well as stylistic representation from the Persian Empire, such as an open circular ring and bracelet featuring the wheat sheaf motif.
Specific to my collection with Turquoise Mountain I was inspired by local historical symbols and materials. For example, I noticed the Afghan flag and the American Passport both contain the wheat sheaf motif, which I believe shows a commonality that we don't often recognize in such diverse worlds. I incorporate a lot of cobalt lapis lazuli, black tourmaline and many rainbow colors of agate into my designs. Afghanistan is one of the largest sources of semiprecious stones from its mineral rich mines.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE POSITIVE IMPACT THAT TURQUOISE MOUNTAIN IS CREATING?
The Turquoise Mountain Foundation (called an NGO in Europe) was established in 2006 by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and Roderick Stewart, a dynamic individual who is now a PM in British Parliament. The NGO has the aim to regenerate the old city of Kabul, spur the sustainable development of the Afghan artisan sector, instill national and cultural pride, as well as the all-important economic empowerment of the Afghan people of this region. The aim of my global partnership is to contribute to mobilizing and enhancing the existing infrastructure and vision of the NGO. At the moment, I am the only American jewelry designer that designs for Turquoise Mountain artisans. This enables me to share an unusual and exotic story and art form with new audiences in the United States where Turquoise Mountain and Afghan culture is not well known. I’ve helped artisans hone their craft and evolve their design skills through educational work. I try to design and instruct to expand their skills in the artisan jewelry craftsmanship space as well as share ideas on marketing which I studied in university. We work with both men and women who own their own businesses and create the jewelry, which is exciting. Many of the artisans that graduate from the Turquoise Mountain Institute have gone on to establish their own micro-entrepreneurial ventures.
Additionally, I am proud to be able to support educational scholarships for girls, called the Parr Scholars, in the primary school within the community of Murad Khani, where the artisans live and work. I believe in supporting education, especially for girls, and women's empowerment across borders and cultures. I don’t believe we can impose our Western feminist values on a culture that is quite different in its established gender roles. However, we can empower youth through education which always helps the evolution of a society. Just because Afghanistan is a Level 4 country and classified as a war zone, does not mean that its youth should forfeit the right to education and empowerment. It is its rich history and culture as well as the future of the nation that we are excited to preserve and empower.
I BELIEVE THAT JEWELRY CAN BE A REFLECTION OF WHAT IS OF MEANING AND VALUE TO THE WEARER. ONE EXPRESSION OF THIS IS THE THEME #JEWELSTHATDOGOOD. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS?
Although we see that millennials are more interested in Jewels That Do Good than previous generations, the purchase power with a "sense of purpose" is a concept not limited to them. It is a theme we can all mobilize to have an impact in our own way through Conscious Consumerism: by purchasing and wearing products that celebrate our values. For example, there is a lot of mass-manufactured jewelry akin to “fast fashion” even in precious and semiprecious materials. If jewelry is not carefully designed and thoughtfully handcrafted using materials of a known origin, it is likely not positively touching lives but in fact hurting lives through unfair labor practices and the like. If given the choice, would you choose to create good and spread have a positive impact on, and spread the inspirational message into the world?
Each Turquoise Mountain jewel, or any of my collections for that matter, is an example of humanity and human nature we all share, regardless of cultural differences or geographical borders. By wearing such jewels, you can feel the positive energy of the person who made it - at least I can. I like to think of it as “friendship across borders”.
Now, more than ever, we need to celebrate all that we have in common as human beings, rather than what divides us. By conscious consumerism overall, we are empowering those in diverse worlds to be better versions of themselves, through economic empowerment, instillation of pride. By “wearing our values” we are educating ourselves and those around us on the diversity of foreign lands and cultures. Through this, we become more sophisticated and evolved.
Who knew something like jewelry could have such impact? These are certainly Jewels That Do Good.