Meet Natalia Tisdale of Eco Lustre, a website that sells sustainable jewelry that is environmentally friendly, beautifully handmade, affordably priced, and crafted by skilled artisans in the United States.
What is your origin story?
When my sister and I needed to buy a present for our mother, we did not have time to shop in-person so we decided to see what we could find on-line. We knew we wanted to buy jewelry and since our mom is a self-proclaimed eco-warrior, we wanted to get her something that was environmentally friendly. As we looked on-line, we had to sift through many websites just to find a handful of jewelry that was both stylish and sustainable. How could this be? After all, there is growing support for sustainable clothing, organic food, and natural cosmetics. My curiosity was peaked!
What was going on in the area of sustainable jewelry?
The more research I did about how damaging new metal mining is to the environment, the more I wanted to raise people’s awareness about the issue and saw the need to create a website that would be a go-to-resource to shop for and support environmentally friendly jewelry. My sister, who has a background in accessories, was a natural partner for the endeavor. We started Eco Lustre with a mission to showcase jewelry made with recycled, upcycled or otherwise sustainable materials. All of the jewelry on our site is beautifully handmade, affordably priced, and crafted by skilled artisans in the United States.
Can you tell me more about your definition of Sustainable Jewelry?
It seems hard to believe that something as tiny and innocent as a silver charm can do damage to the environment, but the techniques used to extract metal from the ground such as stripping surface soil and using chemicals are extremely hazardous to the environment. They cause soil erosion, formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity and water and soil contamination. (Click here for further discussion of the environmental impact of metal mining). On the Eco Lustre website, we have a section dedicated to how we define sustainable jewelry and I encourage everyone to visit the site for an in-depth account of our definition. At the core, sustainability for us means partnering with artisans who:
Use sustainable materials as much as possible. For example, one designer takes fruits and vegetables, dries them to make parchment and then applies that parchment to a metal core. Jewelry made from beet and purple cabbage has been a best-seller!
Use vintage or dead stock
Upcycle materials (it's amazing what can be done with a wine bottle!)
Use artisanal methods - non-toxic and with low energy requirements
Recycle: metal scrap, paper scrap, packaging and shipping materials, as well as use proper chemical disposal procedures and energy-efficient practices in their studios and workshops
At first, our criteria was very narrow, but as we realized how hard it is to be 100% sustainable, we knew that the criteria had to become much more flexible or we would only be able to carry three products. Right now access to recycled components is hard because there are not enough suppliers or transparency. For example, it’s close to impossible to determine where the metal used to create chains comes from and how much of it is recycled, unless the designer makes them from scratch (an uncommon practice). So if we only accepted jewelry that is 100% sustainable, we could not include most of the necklaces. It is just not practical for the business. Unfortunately, there has not been much progress in the area of sourcing transparency to allow us to tighten the definition. We are hopeful that future regulations will make it possible.
How do you find the jewelry on your site? How do you certify that it’s sustainable?
As immigrants from Russia who are grateful to be in the U.S., it was very important to me and my sister that we work with and support U.S. based designers. We also decided that we wanted to work with designers who were established enough that we would have access to a secure inventory, but small enough that we could help them take their business to another level or at least gain more exposure. When we first started Eco Lustre, we attended New York Now at the Javits Center to meet different designers. People were very welcoming and receptive to the idea of what we were trying to do. Since then, we’ve continued to rely on New York Now for sourcing new designers, but have also had success sourcing through social media and local markets, and occasionally Etsy.
Unlike fine jewelry that exclusively uses precious metals, there aren’t any sustainability certifications for costume jewelry. In order to assess whether a designer’s jewelry is sustainable, we simply have to talk to them to learn more about their materials and process. It is fairly easy to determine if they understand the concept of eco-friendly jewelry and are concerned about their impact on the environment. We get really excited when designers who previously had not considered the idea of sustainability want to learn more about it. We have mentored designers on sources of recycled metals. A success story we love to share is a designer in NYC who started using recycled metals to accommodate us, but now uses them for all of her customers! In this business, trust and good relationship with designers are crucial. Transparency is also very important for our relationship with customers. Therefore, each piece of jewelry on the Eco Lustre site comes with as much information as possible about its sustainability.
When did you join the New York Fair Trade Coalition and what does Fair Trade mean to you?
We joined the New York Fair Trade Coalition in 2016. To be honest, at first I was hesitant to join as I did not see the connection between our mission and fair trade. Traditionally the term fair trade is associated with fair wages to producers who work abroad and Eco Lustre supports skilled artisans in the United States. However, when I spoke with the leadership of the New York Fair Trade Coalition, we discussed how fair trade can encompass so much more if you take fair trade to mean business that is conducted in a manner that is fair to both people and the environment so that neither is exploited. I really liked this expanded definition of the term and decided to join! It has been an amazing experience so far. Although we are a dynamic group of entrepreneurs pursuing our own dreams and success, we are doing so by supporting each other and promoting a shared vision of a more sustainable and just world.
What inspires you to continue the journey? Where do you see your business in 5 years?
The more that I learn about the environmental impact of new metal mining, the more inspired I am to raise people’s awareness of the importance of using recycled metals. In 5 years, well, my goal is to, of course, have more brand recognition. I also want to change people’s perception of sustainable jewelry. Too often people associate sustainable fashion with a certain homely earthy look and this is not the case! If more people realize that sustainable jewelry can be fashionable and inexpensive, it will catch on and there will be more demand for it.
The New York Fair Trade Coalition is here to help all members reach their goals! What is your call to action for our members?
I would love for members to help us spread the world about sustainable jewelry. Talk to friends and family about our website and shop through us! We would also love to partner with other members to help tell each other’s stories, attend events together and engage in cross-promotion. I’m looking forward to the exciting things ahead!