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TAJ Amsterdam is a brand that made us fall in love twice – first when we saw the magnificent jewellery and second, when we heard about its ethical awareness approach and respecting the three P`s – people, the planet and peace. Read the interview and let yourself fall in love as well.
Choanou-Beau Aalders and Shardey-Lynn Aalders are two young, enthusiastic and amazing sisters standing behind this good foundation and powering the change of historically conflicting traditions of jewellery sourcing and producing. They are shifting perspective, doing transparent business, incorporating golden values and on top of this, crafting amazing jewellery. We just had to get behind the brand and know more about their silver-lined philosophy.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA OF YOUR OWN JEWELLERY BRAND?
We - us sisters - have always known that we’d want to be entrepreneurs someday. We ‘ve always longed to be independent and to create something beautiful, together. We knew it would have to have something to do with aid work, women empowerment and sustainability. Because we’ve also always loved to draw and paint, we also knew that our concept would need to have a creative and artistic side for it to make us truly happy. Also we longed to bring together a community of people who share the same values. A tribe of sorts, with like-minded souls.
TO LIVE LIFE TRUE TO YOURSELF IS A MANTRA WE WERE RAISED WITH
The idea to start an atelier in a developing country where mainly women would work to make a fair and eco-friendly product was therefore quickly born. That this product would be jewellery however, only came to mind later. To live life true to yourself is a mantra we were raised with and a philosophy that has lead us through our lives so far. So when someone pointed that out to us, we suddenly thought of rings. With the years passing though, we have developed into a fully equipped jewellery brand with other jewellery pieces (like earrings for example) as well.
YOU INCORPORATE THE 3 P`S – PEOPLE, THE PLANET & PEACE. WHY DO YOU FIND THIS IMPORTANT?
The quick answer would be simple: because we strongly believe that our entire earth and universe are codependent and infinitely connected. All the people, every tree, each and every animal, the oceans and so on; we believe that we are all one and deserving of love and respect and health. Therefore aiming to honor both people and our planet and to advocate peace between these forces living next to each other, to us, was not even optional, but mandatory.
WHEN EXTRACTING SILVER AND GOLD HUMAN RIGHTS ARE HARDLY EVER RESPECTED
Most mining of silver and gold worldwide is done in developing countries. 90% (about 25 million people) of gold miners for example, live in poor and remote territories and work by hand. When extracting silver and gold human rights are hardly ever respected, fundamental employment rights are violated and child labour, forced labour and discrimination are daily atrocities. In addition, the miners do heavy, unhealthy and often unsafe work and the risks of exploitation and severe pollution of the living environment are relatively big.
By using recycled silver and gold, Taj doesn’t contribute to the upholding of these horrible practices. Our silver and gold comes from (i.e.) old jewellery, silverware (like forks, knives, spoons, bowls, plates) and candelabrums. In addition to this being good for the people, using recycled silver and gold is good for the planet as well, for the environmental hazards of mining are undeniable. Our production process is inspired by a belief that we can capture in this quote: “We did not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST PROBLEM WITH SOURCING PRECIOUS METALS AND GEMS?
Unfortunately gemstones, silver and gold are mined under abominable conditions. Mainly children and women, but also men, work in the mines. The circumstances are horrific: it is dangerous, dirty, unhealthy, the hours are too long and so on. It is modern slavery is every way.
And no matter how beautiful real gemstones are, a piece of jewelry is a lot more beautiful to us if it’s made fairly – from its raw materials to its forging.
A PIECE OF JEWELRY IS A LOT MORE BEAUTIFUL IF IT’S MADE FAIRLY
HOW DO YOU SOURCE YOUR SILVER AND GEMS?
Our silver comes from (i.e.) old jewelry, silverware (like forks, knives, spoons, bowls, plates) and candelabrums collected on the Indonesian islands of Bali, Sulawesi, Java and Kalimantan. Each piece of jewelry has had a life before, and therefore it has a beautiful little part of historic value.
As for our gem stones: because fair and environmentally friendly gemstones do exist, but are a lot more expensive than ‘regular fair trade gemstones’ (one single garnet stone like in our Ewa ring would easily cost around 400 euros, for example), we have chosen to use solely synthetic gemstones in our jewellery. Synthetic gemstones are made in a laboratory and have pretty much the exact same chemical and physical characteristics as real gemstones. Optically you can’t tell them apart from real gemstones and even experts often can’t tell the difference.
MAY THIS PARADOX BRING THE ROMANTIC BALANCE: AS TRUE LOVERS OF NATURE, WE CONSCIOUSLY CHOOSE UNNATURAL HERE
A man-made stone – admittedly – sounds less romantic than a stone that has been buried deep within the earth for centuries and then ended up in your piece of jewelry. But because synthetical gemstones aren’t a burden for the earth and her people, we feel that these stones – and the story behind them – are a thousand times more beautiful than ‘the real deal’. So, may this paradox bring the romantic balance: as true lovers of nature, we consciously choose unnatural here.
ARE THERE ANY OTHER SUSTAINABILITY VALUES YOU INCORPORATE IN YOUR BUSINESS?
Firstly we run our own online magazine. Here we write about sustainable living, vegan food, fair trade fashion and living, spiritual living, holistic philosophy and so on. This we do to raise consciousness on all environmental, health and human rights issues. Unfortunately it is only available in Dutch for now, but we are aiming to have it available in English as soon as we can.
Furthermore, all pieces of jewellery come either in a handmade ata-grass box that is biodegradable, or a handmade batik pouch that is made by Curms, a sister company in textile that is also producing fair in Bali.
WE CALL IT 'TREE-HUGGER-GLAMOUR'
But our love for sustainability doesn’t stop there. We solely use recycled paper (for gift cards, product stories, etcetera) and organic cotton thread to bind our product-story-scrolls together. Also we sell our own Taj tote bags, which are made of organic cotton. Oh and it goes without saying that during munchies, we only enjoy fair trade, rainforest friendly chocolate, local goodies and fair trade coffee and tea. Yum!
HOW DOES ONE KNOW IF THE JEWELLERY THEY ARE BUYING IS FAIR AND ETHICAL?
It can be tricky to be 100 percent certain. But you can rest assured if the brand is either fair trade certified, or openly and honestly talks about how their jewelry is made, like we do. We know a lot of product brands (not just jewellery) that are not (yet!) certified either, but do a really good job and work their way towards certification.
Be extra cautious when a jewelry brand doesn't mention anything about the makers, where the silver comes from, etcetera. If they don't mention it, they probably are 1. Not proud of it, or 2. They don't care, which in this case of course says a lot.