Crafting the FRE Jewelry Sourcing System


Why and How We Formed Our Own Ethical Jewelry Sourcing Guidelines

We at Reflective Images are deeply concerned about the ethical imprint of our product. We have sought to implement a wide range of environmentally responsible practices and have also looked for suppliers that share our core values. A search on google for "fair trade jewelry" brings up millions of sites, but "fair trade jewelry" is not certified as such by FLO international, is the primary governing body for determining fair trade standards. American branch is TransfairUSA is the American representation of FLO. Because of the confusion around these issues, I wrote an article for my blog, LINK the only of its kind covering fair and ethical jewelry news, "Is There Such A Thing As Fair Trade Jewelry?" For coffee, fair trade certified means something very specific. For jewelry, which is not third party certified, it can be a means though which a company hides details about its production and sourcing which may not be all that savory. Many companies are using eco or fair as a kind of label for marketing purposes. Some have huge marketing budgets which directing our attention to their good works without revealing more basic questions, such as what is taking place in your factory in China? I have argued in my blog that the best solution is to get to ground zero: stop using terms like eco and fair and start to talk about actual sourcing. The most constructive examples of companies I admire brought radical transparency to the jewelry market These efforts have taken two forms thus far:

  1. Fair trade based initiatives within the mainstream jewelry market: primarily in gems and in artisan mining. These initiatives have captured the interest of the mainstream jewelry industry, whose efforts are focused around the Madison Dialogs, but there has been little said about manufacturing.
  2. A few upscale jewelry companies which are developing their own standards, some focusing on the high end market and some focusing on the low end market. These companies have developed product around a very limited supply chain.

There is an effort though an up coming jewelry summit sponsored by the Madison Dialogues to sort these issues out and I will be attending this conference. As the definition of fair trade jewelry, at this point, is not third party certified and not even agreed upon, the key to me seemed clear: abandon the marketing terms and focus on transparency. Under these circumstances, we started to redesign our website with the notion of transparency linked to product in April, 2007. All the efforts so far around fair trade and ethical sourcing have focused primarily on three principles which we called Fair, Responsible, and Ecological (FRE).

  1. Fair: Includes labor that goes into the making of the piece. Labor includes all elements from the mine to the manufacturing.
  2. Responsible: Concerns outreach to community, support of diversity and being a good example of a corporate citizen.
  3. Ecological: The environmental impact of the various components of the piece of jewelry, from mine to manufacturing to the jewelry office and showroom.

Other issues could be listed and factored, such as cultural identity, "do no evil," etc, but these are not so tangible. What constitutes a fair wage or environmentally responsible is also up for discussion and debate. Yet in the spirit of not making the perfect the enemy of the good, we implemented this system and began to dig into our sourcing. Basically, we work on a circle-based business model and we sought other suppliers who shared this notion that business needs to support community and ecology. Launching the redesign of our website with FRE at the end of October, we realize that we have just started the process of becoming a totally "ethical" producer which will take many years. We consider the Japanese notion of Kaizan, or continual improvement. Perhaps what we are doing is analogous to "transition" farms wanting to become organic, except the difference is that the seeds and soil are not yet available for the viable plants we wish to grow! We have to work piecemeal with what we have. Categorizing according to FRE makes our strengths and weak sourcing links public to all. The current system is our first pass at this. Even as we launch the site we are planning to dig deeper and improve the level of transparency in the system. Yet our website is the first of its kind to illustrate transparent sourcing for a manufacturer targeting the middle range, $200 to $600 retail point. We are not a company that started creating product within the perimeters of a FRE ethical supply chain. We already had an established company with a deep supply chain and relationships with vendors. We have to factor in our own economic interest in survival. Our desire for perfection is a kind of jewelry calculus. Yet in order for the ethical source movement to have a large impact, it must reach the mainstream jewelry manufacturing sector, which is where we operate. Every company at some stage faces a great chasm between where they are now and where they wish to go to. As far as we know, we are among the first to provide a model for small manufacturing companies which are engaged in a process of transition to ethical suppliers, many of which do not yet exist to make our product. We also offer our FRE program as an open source approach which we hope will be adopted by other companies. It also is adaptable enough to eventually allow us to rate all of our approximately 3000 inventory pieces from which we produce about 8634 pieces of finished jewelry a year, the vast majority of which is manufactured in our Santa Fe, NM studio. What we show at the time of this writing, October, 2007, is just the beginning. We plan to continually improve this site with more specific information around our own FRE as we research our sources. We had many thousands of pieces of data to enter correctly. If something seems inconsistent, please let us know. If you have ideas for improvement, contact us. We welcome your feedback and involvement in this process. Marc Choyt, President, Reflective Images Inc.

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