Q&A: Artisan jewellery with a purpose

This week we chat to Zoe Pook, an experienced jeweller who founded her own business in 2006 with the intention of creating bespoke engagement rings, wedding bands, signet rings and other accessories from raw materials mined with a lower impact on the planet and in a way that benefits the people who source them.

ISB: Please tell us a little bit about your background that led to you founding your eponymous jewellery brand.

ZP: I had been working for two jewellers in London after finishing my jewellery degree. During that time I started to research gold sourcing / gold mining and uncovered some uncomfortable truths. That led me to discover what would become the first Fairtrade licenced gold mine, in Colombia. My desire to have an ethical luxury jewellery product meant that I needed to find a reliable source of not only ethical gold but diamonds and precious gems, too. Over many years I have established good relationships with a variety of different gem suppliers and was delighted and proud to be the first licenced supplier of Fairtrade Gold in Australia.

ISB: What was the biggest challenge in getting the enterprise off the ground?

ZP: Time. When I started my business I was also a mother of two young kids. As a result, I had to be realistic about how much time I could devote to growing the business, so it was a slow burner and I had to be patient.

ISB: How have you gone about ensuring your raw materials are sourced from mines with an ethical approach that promote safe working practices?

ZP: Initially by doing a lot of research and late-night phone calls to Colombia, talking to the miners and asking a lot of questions. Once Fairtrade got on board and lent their considerable experience and rigorous reporting / documentation of provenance etc to the sourcing chain, it was much easier. Periodically, every link in the Fairtrade chain is audited

(I have been twice) to make sure that the requirements of being licenced are still being met. For the mines that is safe working practices, environmental sensitivity to the land and community involvement amongst other things. For me that is reporting each gram of Fairtrade gold used and stamping each piece we make with the Fairtrade mark.

ISB: And what about sustainability – many mining practices have a detrimental environmental impact, how do you seek to combat this in the way you do business?

ZP: Fairtrade mines are required to have as little environmental impact as possible, this is done by reducing water usage, minimising or eliminating mercury and regenerating the land once used. However, there is no “perfect” mining situation, there is still damage done. We also offer recycled gold and platinum to our clients who prefer that, and lab-grown diamonds and gems.

ISB: Where do you see the business developing in the next couple of years?

ZP: I would very much like to see the Australian jewellery industry get behind Fairtrade Gold more, a local bullion supplier of Fairtrade Gold (currently I have to buy it from Europe) would be great. I see the consumer being more and more educated about sourcing which is great for us as we can answer their questions, and if we can’t I’ll find the answer and adjust our practices if need be.

ISB: Finally, what is the number one lesson you’ve learnt on your journey you’d share with others looking to start their own business?

ZP: Don’t over-extend yourself financially. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking you have to invest a heap of money in order to be successful. Add machinery / people / premises to your business carefully and over time.

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