As part of our founder interview series, we speak with Karina from RAW Copenhagen about creating an ethical jewellery brand.
You design the jewellery for RAW Copenhagen, but your background is in human rights and sustainable development. How did you make this career switch, and why?
The change in career happened through a mixture of circumstances. I moved to the UK for family reasons in 2012 as my husband is English. Until then I had worked as a human rights and sustainable development diplomat for the Danish Foreign Office and for the UN. I have worked all over the world mainly in West Africa, the Balkans, America, Russia, Turkey and Brazil. I loved my old jobs, but decided to ease up on the traveling to have more time with our three kids and generally enjoy a more slow way of living.
I have always loved design and jewellery, so I started out in 2015 making a few pieces for fun, as I couldn’t find what I wanted. I like jewellery to be fuss free, minimalist yet feminine, delicate, easy to wear and playful. I took a few courses in silversmithing, and then it just sort of took off from there. Creating jewellery is a way for me to stay connected with my Danish roots, and marry my passions for design and sustainability.
When did you first become interested in the sustainability and ethics of the jewellery industry in particular?
I have always personally been very interested in sustainability, the whole go green paradigm was a big part of my upbringing in Denmark. At University I became increasingly interested also in human rights and since then choose workplaces like the UN, OSCE and later the Foreign Office, where I could pursue the promotion of sustainable development and the respect for and protection of human rights.
Being an ethical jeweller was a given, but sustainability is still in its early days in the jewellery sector, so getting ethical and sustainable suppliers is hard, not least as a small company. However, I am now part of a number of communities and networks that push the sustainability agenda within the jewellery industry, and the more we push and ask questions the more changes we will see in the way in which business is done also within this sector.
You pledge to donate 10% of profit from all sales to support Sustainable Development Projects. What types of projects are these, and why did you choose to do this?
I think businesses can and should play a major part in promoting sustainability. Charity donation is the easiest way to show this, however, sourcing ethically and sustainably is even more important as the impact thereof promotes greater changes throughout the industry. However, I decided to do both.
Since 2019 all donations from RAW Copenhagen will go to Women for Women, which is an English NGO that helps women survivors of war in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Nigeria, DRC, Rwanda and Iraq. The charity helps women rebuild their lives through vocational training, human rights awareness and more to ensure they have a viable and sustainable future of their own choosing.
Donating to charity and sourcing as ethically and sustainably as possible is my overall motivation for creating jewellery besides creating something that makes women look and feel good. I have worked with human rights all my career and worked in the Balkans for three years with refugees and internally displaced persons, so it seemed like an obvious choice to donate to this NGO.
What role do you think businesses can play in promoting sustainable development goals?
Businesses can play a huge role in the promotion of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Often policy processes at national and international levels can be so elongated and end up with the lowest common denominator as outcome, meanwhile, if a business decides to become a vehicle for change, the changes can be more immediate and will impact so many lives in terms of securing sustainable livelihoods.
With the increased focus on the state of affairs of our planet, the working conditions in factories etc. etc. I also believe it is in the businesses own self-interest to go green if they want to stay in business for the long run. However, it is naturally best if the promotion of the sustainable development goals is done simultaneously by governments, businesses as well as civil society in order for it to have the biggest impact.
How do you decide what materials that you are going to work with in the collection, and what steps do you take to ensure they are ethically-sourced and manufactured?
Well this really is the biggest challenge, especially as a small company. I primarily use recycled silver, however, certain silver parts not least chains and other parts can be difficult to get recycled. However, like many other small ethical jewellers I am constantly on the hunt for more sustainable suppliers, and we happily share notes with each other. I am currently in the process of designing a new collection which will all be cast in recycled silver and plated with recycled or fair mined gold here in the UK, also I have just found a supplier in the UK, who makes chains from recycled silver.
With regards to precious metal and gemstone suppliers, I start off reading the suppliers’ ethical and corporate social responsibility policies and then simply ask a lot of questions, if I am not satisfied I simply move on and keep searching. Initially it took me over 8 months to find suppliers before I started to design my pieces. However, sometimes, you simply cannot get what you want ethically and you then have to go back to the drawing board.
How does your Danish upbringing influence the design of RAW Copenhagen?
Being Danish significantly influences my designs. I am a keen minimalist, my designs are heavily influenced by the Danish coastline I grew up by. The light and texture of the beach is what I try to bring into my designs. However, very strict minimalist can sometimes feel too hard or naked to me, so my designs are also heavily influenced by all my work and travel from around the world, not least the years I lived in West Africa and the beading traditions from there. So to sum up, my pieces are typical Scandinavian minimalist added a bit of boho and wanderlust vibe.
What is your favourite RAW Copenhagen piece to wear every day?
My all-time favourite pieces are the Large Orbit of the Sun Necklace, which I wear almost every day, as I love the texture and simplicity, and the Bellevue Wrap, my very first design. Lastly, I never leave the house without earrings, I simply feel naked without. I love the Mismatched Meteor Threaders with green agate, threaders are so playful, flattering and feminine, and I also love my new big pearl earrings.
The growing concept of Ethical fashion can be quite difficult to define. What does ‘ethical fashion’ mean to you?
Ethical fashion is pretty straight forward to me. Ethical fashion aspires to create something beautiful along a beautiful path. Ethical values are at the core of your business’ mission statement, and reflected in the way in which you do business and the way in which and from where you source your materials. Ethical fashion in my book seeks to contribute to a more socially and environmentally sustainable world.
However, Rome wasn’t built in a day, or like the fabulously charismatic Orsola de Castro, behind Fashion Revolution, said it at one of the Fair Luxury Conferences at The Goldsmiths’ Centre in London, ‘being sustainable is a process’. Accordingly, I firmly believe we should welcome all who are trying to change for the better with regards to social as well as environmental sustainability. Things take time, but the more we all push the greener the future will be.
What advice would you give to someone who is new to shopping with ethics in mind?
First off, it is so cool that you have started to think about your purchases. I give you a virtual hug and welcome you in the gang of people who give a damn. Secondly, follow the advice of Vivienne Westwood ‘buy less, choose well and make it last’. That said I personally loved going treasure hunting in vintage and thrift shops, also look for designers who make pieces from up- or recycled materials or who have fair trade certification. And lastly, if you find the ethical fashion industry to be a bit of a jungle, then check out sites like MAMOQ that have already vetted the designers for you.
How would you like to see RAW Copenhagen grow in the future?
Eventually I would like to be Fair Trade and Fair Mined certified, but in the short term I want to be 100% sustainable by the end of 2020. I want RAW Copenhagen to continue to push the sustainability agenda together with other makers, jewellery lovers and green communities, and I would like to be able to grow to a sufficient level, so that my charity donations can make a small difference for the beneficiaries of Women for Women. Once I have reached a certain turnover, I want to increase my charity donations to 25%. And lastly, I want to simply help women look and feel even better, whilst doing good by wearing RAW Copenhagen designs. In my book there is no dichotomy between loving fashion and being sustainable.