Written by Harriet Davey
Welcome to The Sustainable Shopper. Each week, Stylist will talk to the people focused on creating a more conscious shopping space for all. This week, sisters Christie and Rosanna Wollenberg – co-founders of jewellery brand Otiumberg – explain to Harriet Davey the importance of transparency in the fashion industry, how recycling and repair is key and why changes can only be made together.
The Sustainable Shopper is here to highlight the people focusing on making it easier for us all to live more sustainably. In order for us to do this, though, the fashion industry in particular needs to be transparent with the challenges and issues it faces – this is why we’re chatting directly to the brands who are getting it right. This week, it’s Christie and Rosanna Wollenberg, co-founders of British demi-fine jewellery brand Otiumberg.
Since launching in 2016, the brand bridges the gap between costume and fine jewellery by creating affordable – more importantly, sustainable – handcrafted jewels made from recycled metals. The timeless pieces aren’t seasonal or trend-led, instead, they’re made to last and be loved forever with Otiumberg’s ethos behind repairing and reusing. Offering only small releases of each item to avoid over-production and waste, the jewellery brand has also managed to eradicate all plastic from its supply chain.
Stylist talked to the sisters behind the brand to find out what made them want to put sustainability first, why change can only be achieved through education and communication and how the jewellery industry has actually been recycling for thousands of years.
Christie: My sister and I founded Otiumberg in 2016 with the desire to create keep-forever jewellery with a contemporary edge. The brand is all about luxuriously crafted pieces that could be accessed without the crazy price tags of fine jewellery at the time. We had multiple piercings and were fed up with pieces falling apart after a few months, or equally frustrated in the inaccessibility of the higher end brands. We started small with a few designs, mainly our little signature huggies and have grown organically since.
Rosanna: My first memory of sustainability in the fashion industry is being truly shocked about the wider industry practices. I learnt that a lot of high end luxury brands burnt old season stock to avoid it being resold or put on sale. This definitely underpinned our nonseasonal approach to production at Otiumberg. We always launch products in small quantities that test demand and avoid overproduction and excess waste. That’s why you’ll see a pre-order or made to order on the site, never an end of season sale. We have an incredible relationship with our workshop that allows us to have this flexibility.
Rosanna: There are so many ways that our industry impacts the planet including waste, materials, plastics, pollution and carbon footprint. Trying to understand all the elements of this impact and to act truly sustainably is incredibly challenging in an industry that is so driven by seasonal consumption and newness. For me, sustainable fashion means embracing a slower, non-seasonal approach and creating meaningful pieces that can last a lifetime. The great thing about jewellery is that we can work towards a more circular economy by using recycled raw materials and offering repair services. Most people don’t realise that the majority of mined gold from ancient civilisations is actually still in circulation today.
Luxury jewellery has always come with decadent packaging, full of plastic and foam. Whilst being beautiful and extremely efficient in cost, it is highly detrimental for the environment. When we started Otiumberg it took us over a year to achieve packaging that felt both luxurious whilst also being planet-friendly. Our pieces are sent in cotton pouches that sit within boxes made from recycled and FSC certified paper so we don’t use any plastic. At that moment in time suppliers and customers were used to the old way, so it took a lot of design and messaging to ensure we could achieve a similar look and impact in a new more environmentally friendly way. The consumers have grown to love it and every year we develop it further with a review on our materials.
Rosanna: One of the biggest challenges in the jewellery industry is eradicating plastic. What a lot of consumers do not see is the copious amounts of polybags used for shipping across international supply chains. This was such a tangible issue for us that we simply could not ignore. It took a while but we eventually developed a cellulose biodegradable bag which would not only protect our pieces in transit but also breakdown effectively.
Christie: There has been a massive shift in brands aiming to be more sustainable. For me, leading the way are brands such as Patagonia and Ganni who are all being honest and upfront about what they are doing and where they are falling short. It’s not about the marketing wins, it’s about the meaningful change. I really love how there is so much movement and focus on the subject of sustainability, as real long-term change only happens when we work together.
Rosanna: What’s the biggest stereotype when it comes to sustainability? That behaving sustainably needs to be expensive. I think a lot of companies use cost as an excuse when it comes to sustainable practices, however there are so many solutions and companies working to support sustainable practices that this is just not the case. What it really takes is effort and creative thinking. The first step in improving a brand when it comes to sustainability is to recognise our limitations and the limits of our knowledge so far. At Otiumberg we plan to continue to educate ourselves on these issues and work with real experts wherever we can. For example we have started to work with an environmental consultancy who is helping us to effectively offset our carbon footprint and create a carbon positive workforce.
Rosanna: It would be great to see more brands come together to solve solutions and for everyone to be more vocal about challenges. I’d like to see more committees, groups and partnerships that work together to effect change, this would be really helpful for brands to be able to make themselves more sustainable. It’s about maintaining integrity and ensuring that as an industry we can survive and thrive in the long-term.
My advice? The first step for anyone trying to lead a more sustainable lifestyle – aside from reconsidering the fashion brands they invest in – is to think about becoming a vegetarian. It’s all in your power and it’s just as delicious.
The Sustainable Shopper shopping list: Otiumberg jewellery edit
Otiumberg gold hoops
You can never fail with a timeless gold hoop. This twisted pair is the perfect update to a classic. They’re also small enough to layer with other small hoop earrings and huggies.
Shop twisted hoop earrings at Otiumberg, £181
Otiumberg letter necklace
Personalised jewellery is one of those love-forever pieces and that’s exactly what Otiumberg wants you to do. Wear your jewels daily, look after them and love them for a lifetime.
Shop letter tag necklace at Otiumberg, £250
This one is a beauty. Made from 9-karat recycled solid yellow gold and ethically sourced diamond, black sapphire and tanzanite stones, the dainty ring looks so good stacked.
Shop three stone diamond bamboo ring at Otiumberg, £254
Otiumberg link bracelet
Part of the Love Link collection, we guarantee you’ll wear this with every outfit. Prefer gold? Otiumberg has got you covered.
Shop silver Love Link bracelet at Otiumberg, £70
Otiumberg hoop earring
This little hoop earrings comes in 12 different colours, one for each birth stone. Crafted in 9-karat recycled solid gold, we imagine these will be high up on Christmas lists.
Shop peridot bamboo hoop at Otiumberg, £98
Otiumberg pendant chanrm
Otiumberg also has a whole collection of pendant charms you can add to your favourite chains – from crosses and moons to hearts and initial letters.
Shop pearl cross pendant at Otiumberg, £125
Otiumberg curb chain
Of course the brands stocks the chains to go with the pendants, too. Connell’s chain would be impressed of this solid gold version you’ll never have to take off even when you shower.
Shop Otiumberg solid gold curb chain, £200
All images: Otiumberg
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