The COVID-19 pandemic has got us cooped up indoors, joining Zoom meetings with our cameras off, sweatpants on, and a messy bun to top it off. Now, with work from home policies likely staying in effect for many of us until next year, that work-attire wardrobe is going to keep collecting dust. But there’s still one way we can easily make a statement (and make us want to turn those cameras on): jewelry.
I’ve personally collected jewelry all my life–earrings, especially, being my favorite collector’s item. I buy them as gifts, mementos, or accessories for every new outfit. I often buy vintage pieces or homemade pairs from artisan markets when I travel abroad.
Last year, I had the unfortunate displeasure of having a pouch of my jewelry stolen at the airport on my way home from a glorious summer trip to Cuba and Panama. I decided to replenish my stock by looking up online stores that sold jewelry from artisans with ethical and sustainable practices, and I wanted to support BIPOC-owned or led brands while doing it. That proved a little harder–so I compiled a list of my favorites.
Find your next statement piece (or pieces!) at one of these 10 BIPOC-owned jewelry brands.
Yala is an award-winning jewelry brand, and for good reason–anyone would feel like a winner wearing a pair of Lela 3-way hammered brass earrings or a statement piece like the Mwezi half moon beaded necklace. The visionary behind Yala is UK-based Audrey Migot-Adholla, whose team works with a number of local bead-making and metalworking workshops to make traditionally-inspired designs from her place of birth: Kenya. Plus, all the materials, from brass to horn, are recycled or ethically sourced.
Bethany Yellowtail is the designer and founder of B. YELLOWTAIL, which isn’t just a Native-owned and inspired fashion brand, but a whole platform to promote a plethora of handmade artisan accessories by Native American and First Nation artists. From the intricate Crescent Moon Studs to colorful Horsehair Tassels, browse the B. YELLOWTAIL Collective catalog for beautiful native designs that are ethically made by indigenous creatives while staying culturally conscious.
Artisan & Fox
Score yourself a pair of elegant gold hoops from Nairobi, or a full jewelry set of gold pieces inlaid with lapis lazuli crafted by Afghan artisans. Folks all the way from Vietnam to Guatemala work with Artisan & Fox, which seeks to intimately highlight “extraordinary ethical craftsmanship” with their Know Your Artisan campaign. Co-founded by Jaron Soh and Laura François in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake in 2015, Artisan and Fox seeks to go beyond a fair trade relationship and encourages artisans to expand their business and grow local economies.
Soko is a Kenyan-based jewelry brand and manufacturing platform founded by three women (one Kenyan, two American)–Catherine Mahugu, Gwendolyn Floyd, and Ella Peinovich–who have harnessed the power of technology to empower artisans using a system they’ve coined the “virtual factory.” Their materials are also ethically-sourced, using recycled, discarded and handmade materials acquired from local partners. The aesthetic is on point, too. Pair the Konza Horn Threader Earrings with the Konza Horn Pendant Necklace or go for one of their more unique styles, like the Bidu Circle Hoop Earrings.
The saying goes “One woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure” and Caralarga’s catalog is full of treasures. Ana Holschneider and María del Socorro Gasca first founded the brand with the intention of sustainable practices by transforming raw cotton threads and textile waste discarded from the Hércules Textile Factory in Querétaro, Mexico, into beautiful, hand-crafted jewelry. Every Caralarga design, from the Orejas de Conejo earrings to the Flor de Texcoco necklace, beautifully showcases both the “discarded” materials as well as the craftsmanship of their local heritage.
Pronounced “souvenir,” SVNR was created by longtime New York-based designer Christina Tung as “the union of ethics and aesthetics.” Show off the elegant gold wire-wrapped seaglass of the Abaco stud, or choose one of the classic hoop and carved lifesaver stone combinations. Every piece from each of her collections is handmade using found, re-used, up-cycled, and natural materials. Plus, all SNVR earrings are available as singles with the idea of being mixed and matched with other styles, or earrings you already own.
MAIDA is the namesake of the paternal grandmother of its founder, Megan Branch, who comes from a long line of both indigenous and slaveholder descendants who settled in the Southwest–hence, each piece from MAIDA is handmade by an Indigenous or Mestizx artist from the same region. The silver jewelry, specifically, is forged by Navajo silversmith Gino Antonio whose techniques were passed down from his grandfather. The designs are simplistic but each one makes an undeniable statement: look no further than the ‘Don’t Fence Me In’ barbed wire choker. Every piece is made to order which means every piece is unique.
Jewels & Aces
The Earring Capsule is the centerpiece of Grace Wong’s Jewels & Aces, which promotes sustainable design by maximizing wear and limiting production. Each piece is made with premium recycled metals and lab-created stones that are then custom cast at a specialized facility and shipped plastic-free, so you know it’s an eco-friendly, ethical experience from start to finish. Get bougie with a curated set like The Pearls or customize your own capsule to easily mix and match studs and jackets to create new combinations that suit your look every day.
Cambio & Co.
Canadian husband and wife team Jérôme Gagnon-Voyer and Gelaine Santiago are the founders of Cambio & Co., an ethical fashion platform that collaborates with Filipino brands for handcrafted artisanal goods and accessories. Want an instant classic? AMAMI’s Leona Creolla Earrings are just one of the many intricate gold filigree heirloom designs carefully crafted using centuries-old techniques by native plateros in Ilocos Sur. For a more casual look, add a pair of the Ariel Mother of Pearl Seashell Earrings by Island Girl to your collection–each piece is made with ethically-sourced shells from Cebu, to keep you and the environment beautiful.
Looking for affordable, ethical, sustainable jewelry that still serves looks? Arlokea’s got you. Their Maystone Necklace made with upcycled white horn is practically calling your name. You can find more pieces handmade by artisans as far as Ecuador and India (or the most exotic of them all, England), with a commitment to sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices. Arlokea founder Joelle Cowie first started her ethical fashion business after a diagnosis that led her to center social impact work on her platform. So far, she’s made good on that goal.
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