I just returned from the first inaugural Jewelry Industry Summit, March 11-13 2016, in New York City. I came to the Summit thinking that I want to be part of the dialogue about responsible sourcing in the jewelry industry, and was curious about how this conference might work. I left empowered, energized, and excited about the future of the jewelry industry!
Around 150 people gathered at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s donated space for the conference. I use “conference” hesitatingly. Yes, there were a few speakers, but this was not about sitting and being talked “at”. This summit was all about identifying strengths in the jewelry business–what we are doing right and the tremendous minds and resources we bring collectively–then identifying the biggest challenges, the opportunities that exist in those challenges, and finally, key principles to put short and long-term solutions into action to implement change. Did I mention that we all had to generally AGREE on these points as we moved through the process? Kudos to the facilitators, Innovation Partners International, who guided us through hands-on exercises and tried to ensure everyone had a voice.
From the moment I walked in, I was awestruck by both the company I was in (Eric Braunwart, Andrew Bone, Lita Asscher, Lisa Bridge, Robert Bentley, Peggy Jo Donahue, Jennifer Gandia, Cecilia Gardner, Hayley Henning, Martin Rapaport, Mark Hanna, Christina Miller to name just a few), and the positive energy in the room. From the largest jewelry and watch companies (Signet, Tiffany, Rolex) to independent designers (Judi Powers, Anna Bario, Dana Bronfman, Adel Chefridi, Jane Taylor Jewelry, Susan Wheeler, and WWAKE), there was a sense that many of us were already working to develop awareness and advancement of the entire supply chain. I was elated to see that individual members of this incredibly diverse industry are no longer working independently, but joining voices together to get to measurable goals and accountability. Responsible sourcing is no longer a lonely phrase.
We heard inspiring stories from a number of companies and organizations who already have a major commitment to responsible practices in sourcing and production: Jamie McGlinchey from Melissa Joy Manning, Anna Bario of Bario Neal, Stewart Grice of Hoover and Strong, plus a number of stories from outside the jewelry business (we have a lot to learn from the fashion and electronic industries who are ahead of us on this issue). These companies and individuals made a decision to incorporate responsible and “green” practices, and in many cases have seen major ROI from those choices. Customers seek them out because of their commitment to things like Fairmined gold through ARM, and purchasing gems and diamonds through relationships with individual mines and traceable sources. This information could also be surprising: I learned that Signet (Kay’s, Zales, Jared…) has traced their gold and diamonds supply chains to their very origins.
This goal–transparency in sourcing and production of jewelry so that we can take into account the true environmental and social cost as well as the materials of the jewelry we revere–seemed almost impossible before the Summit. How in the world are we going to get such a diverse group of constituents to agree on the major challenges, the potential solutions, and the milestones to get there? But over and over, we heard that the “impossible” is actually achievable, and can come with the positive outcome of more sales and more profits, AND the satisfaction of doing the right thing. As an Industry, we don’t want to have government or NGOs monitoring and policing from the outside. The jewelry industry needs to own this proactively, for our future, and to stay relevant and appealing to consumers.
The most inspiring story for me was hearing from a personal hero of mine, Dorothee Gizenga of the Diamond Development Initiative, about the progress DDI has achieved through their programs of registering artisanal diamond miners and instituting requirements for mining diamonds (no children in the mines, setting up community schools or care for the children while their parents are working, filling the holes they create). I was struck by the fact that they have achieved success through involving and investing the communities in solutions that will actually work for the their families, which requires compassion and understanding of the extreme poverty of these regions. It turns out that IMPOSSIBLE blossomed into REALITY for these mining communities–and this is in Sierra Leone, which really does seem hopeless from the outside.
Was the event perfect? I wanted to see more representation from the raw materials source community: miners of gold and gemstones from Africa, cutters from India. We can’t speak for them, and we must have better accessibility for future summits. And we should widen the participation to include younger jewelry designers and retailers who have an enormous stake in the future of our industry.
I spoke to many people, some of whom have been working tirelessly and thanklessly on the subject of responsible sourcing for years. Everyone had essentially the same reaction at the end of day one, day two, and day three (did I mention we spent THREE days inside on a beautiful weekend in New York City??): “WOW. I am so impressed that so many people, so diverse, are here talking about this is a collaborative, POSITIVE way!”
If you want to stay tuned for more information about initiatives coming from this summit, and a continuation of the discussion, Like the Jewelry Industry Summit Facebook page, and there will be more information on jewelryindustrysummit.com. Stay tuned for recaps at AGS Conclave, a JCK Talks panel, plus a planned follow-up event at JCK Las Vegas. #bethechange