An Industry Insider Takes the Shine Off Fast Fashion Jewelry Production

Written by me. Originally published on Selva Beat.

 
photos by Magdalena Antuña

photos by Magdalena Antuña

 

Every day, I wear my wedding ring and a simple gold band that belonged to my great-grandmother. On the rest of my person, orbiting around these constants are an alternating cast of earrings, watches, bracelets, and necklaces. I like to think I’m immune to fashion trends, but I used to wear tiny minimalist earrings, and now I’m sporting gigantic ones — so I’m definitely fooling myself about my resistance. Jewelry can embody many feelings: commitment, fun, decadence. It can dress up an outfit you’ve worn many times or remind you of a family member long gone. Adorning ourselves in this way is an ancient ritual and obviously isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But like apparel, jewelry has been swept up in the acceleration of production and trends led by the fast fashion industry. And it’s the effects of this acceleration that led Jackie Dacanay to leave her job as a sales stylist at Henri Bendel in New York and found a conscious fashion and wellness house called THE ART OF FATE.

Turned off by what she had learned as a fashion industry insider, Dacanay quit her job, moved home to Rhode Island, and went back to the basics. Her career at Bendel helped her determine what not to do — the unsavory issues of traditional fashion stood in sharp contrast to what she wanted THE ART OF FATE to be. Not wanting to risk exploiting others, she started designing, marketing, and selling jewelry she made herself. But then she learned yet another hard truth that set her on a path to, well, her fate. Dacanay is upfront about her mistakes along the way and what she’s learned since those first days as an entrepreneur. She confesses, “There are things that I didn’t know I was contributing to in the beginning. I was buying beads from Michaels to make bracelets — that was something I was totally ignorant to, and I did not understand that that's terrible. The  dye used to process those beads ends up getting thrown into the local waterways in China.” (The country is one of the biggest manufacturers of semi precious stones like the ones available at arts and crafts retailers like Michaels.)

I asked Dacanay to help me understand the flaws hiding beneath the gleam of the jewelry industry. She explained, “The problem with creating new jewelry is in the process of extracting the material from the earth. This process requires both mining and toxic chemicals like mercury and cyanide to extract deposits of gold and silver. Small-scale gold mining produces 15% of the annual gold production. The evaporation process yields highly dangerous mercury vapor — inhalation can cause potentially fatal damage to the lungs, as well as kidney failure, seizures, and permanent brain damage.” The waste can also contaminate the water, soil, and air around the mines. And according to Dacanay, “Small scale artisan miners in [developing] countries don't have the luxury of healthcare or worker protection and often use this chemical process over the same stoves they use to cook for their families.”

Consumers have a vague aversion to “conflict” diamonds and ore mining, but conscious interest in fashion jewelry is limited. Dacanay explains, “The fashion jewelry industry is just as bad as textiles because of the resources and the waste involved, the massive production, and how cheap it is.” Armed with this new information, she was searching for a better way to source jewelry when fate intervened again.