A More Detailed Look at Astor + Orion's Approach to its Sustainability Practice
EXPLAINING OUR APPROACH TO SUSTAINABILITY BY LOOKING AT THE LIFECYLE OF OUR JEWELRY
By Karen Hartman - Owner & Founder
March 18, 2021
Talk of sustainability is definitely getting more attention and something I am happy that more companies and consumers are thinking about. Unfortunately, there is a lot of greenwashing going on and understanding sustainability claims is something that can be overwhelming for consumers to sort through.
On the brand side, it’s also challenging because it's a complex topic that's tough to capture in a punchy marketing sound bite. One way to show the entirety of how we support our claims as an ethical and sustainable fashion brand, is to walk you through the lifecycle of our jewelry.
THE RIGHT TIME TO ADDRESS SUSTAINABILITY IS IN THE DESIGN STAGE
From day one Astor + Orion has embraced the philosophy of Circular Design as way of putting into practice our desire to be in good relations with all living beings as we fulfill our mission to create beautiful objects of adornment. Circular philosophy teaches that many of our worldwide environmental issues can be addressed in the design stage. At the most basic level, “trash” is viewed as a design flaw.
As a designer and business owner, my work isn’t just thinking about what the customer will buy but also thinking about the whole cycle of how a product is made, used, and what will happen when it has reached the end of its useful life. If ending up in a landfill is the only practical option for my products at the end of their lifecyle, I am doing it wrong!
If you are not familiar with Circular Design, here’s a great video from the Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation that explains this concept. It’s less than 4 minutes and really great for quickly understanding the big picture.
HOW ASTOR + ORION APPLIES CIRCULAR DESIGN PHILOSOPHY WHEN CREATING JEWELRY
Now that you understand what we mean about Circular Design, let’s talk about our resource loops. Our primary resource loop is the metals in our jewelry. We start with recycled metals at our casting stage. But perhaps even more important than simply using recycled metals, we design in a way that allows our jewelry to be easily recycled again. This means we don’t use any stones or a whole host of other materials that would prevent the metal from being reclaimed and returned to its resource loop.
Some would worry that working strictly with metal could be a limiting factor for creating an enticing jewelry design. But we overcome this with an extra dose of creativity and an innovative design process that allows us to create incredibly artistic designs that can stand on their own merits without getting blinged up with stones.
We also side-step the need to use a whole host of toxic chemicals by sticking to melting, casting and finishing metals. For those who know a little bit about jewelry production, yes there are still some chemicals used in our processes, and we will talk about how they are handled in the production stage. But the main take away here, is that we make a conscious effort to avoid the nastiest and most toxic stuff from the very beginning. As a part of our 2021 sustainability goals, we are working on compiling an official list of verified banned substances for our tier 1 suppliers and will update this page when it’s ready.
Ok so now you know what we won’t do when we are designing. Let’s talk about what we do.
OUR INNOVATIVE 3D JEWELRY DESIGN PROCESS:
We let our imagination run wild and make the most of our 3D sculpting system to create incredible jewelry designs that fully encompass the whole product. The back sides of our jewelry are just as stunning as the front sides. Every part of the jewelry presents itself as coming from the Astor + Orion design language and ethos.
Inspired by the natural world, we favor organic curves and interlocking geometries that can only be created as a part of a hand driven design process. Our lead designer, Tomas Wittelsbach uses a pen stylus to “hand sculpt” our jewelry with a similar technique as the jewelers of old used when they hand carved a wax block in preparation for the lost wax process.
We start the design process on the computer but don’t stop there. We are able to fully prototype and test our designs with our studio 3D printer. This not only allows us to make sure our production is exactly the way we want it but it also cuts down on the massive waste typically generated during the sampling process.
This level of design work is one of the things that makes our jewelry stand out on the market, but it also has a very big impact on what happens in the production stage and our ability as a small brand to make the claims we do regarding our manufacturing standards.
By custom designing and casting the majority of the components used in our jewelry such as the ear hooks, jump rings and closures, we drastically shorten our supply chain and make the intensive inspections at our tier one factory more meaningful. By leading with intentional design, we are shortening our supply chain and the risk of doing business with unregulated factories and subcontractors.
By handing off a fully designed piece to the factory, we also allow them to be more profitable because they do not need to devote time and resources towards interpreting sketches and helping us get to the prototype stage.
Instead, they can focus on making sure their business protects the people and planet while producing the highest quality products.
HOW WE ADDRESS ETHICS AND SUSTAINABILITY AT THE MANUFACTURING STAGE
As a former manufacturing agent with over a decade of experience working with factories in Los Angeles and throughout Asia, I can tell you this: “Good Intentions” for protecting the people and the planet are not enough.
To address the issues around environmental protection, worker safety, and work dignity there needs to be a coherent system in place as well as process for continuous monitoring and improvement of relevant metrics.
Furthermore, there is no single inspection standard that will address the full spectrum of issues Astor + Orion deems important. So we chose a manufacturing partner that has put over 15 years of effort towards achieving 3rd party certification in multiple areas and who has a vertically integrated production process that goes from the from the wax, casting, cutting, polishing, finishing and packaging stages. They also have further sub loops designs to reclaim and reuse production materials.
We work closely with them to makes sure our designs are appropriate for the machinery and that our production lead times are acceptable so there is no pressure for subcontracting with uncertified factories.
WHY 3RD PARTY CERTIFICATION IS A BIG DEAL
Preparation for these certifications can take months or years. They start with training factory representatives on what the standard entails, then a gap analysis is performed to identify what systems need to be in place in order to meet the standard. Once all of that is done, they move into implementing those practices.
When the system is finally up and running, it’s only then that the factory can request to be inspected and certified by a 3rd party inspection company who will make an independent determination that the factory’s operations are in conformity with the standard.
HERE'S A LIST OF CERTIFICATIONS OUR MANUFACTURING PARTNER HOLDS:
ISO 9001: 2015 This standard governs the Quality Management Systems required to meet the brand’s specifications for their products. It is also an indicator that the management structure within the factory is functioning according to an international standard in terms of its record keeping systems. Current certificate covers until January 2022.
ISO 14001 This standard covers the Environmental Impacts of the factory at the local level. It was achieved in 2012 and current certificate goes until Jan 2022. It's a difficult standard to achieve because it require significant capitol investment and was based on systems that put in when their facility was built in 2007. The fact that they put in a state of the art water filtration system when they built the factory, was a significant indicator to me that their concern for the local environment was a sincere thing.
Specifically, all of the wastewater of the factory is filtered on site using an industrial, multiple stage process that adjusts PH, filters sediments and pulls out pollutants. Water quality is continually checked and used to keep the on-site soccer fields' grass green year-round.
The air exhaust is wet scrubbed so the local air quality stays good. The inside air is also filtered so that workers in areas such as polishing and mould making are not impacted by breathing fine particulates thrown out by those processes. This process is so tightly controlled that they are able to actually process the dust to reclaim gold and silver molecules which are then fed back into the refinery stage.
ISO 45001 This standard covers the occupational health and safety of the workers. When working with industrial processes such as furnaces and molten metals a robust safety system is very important. Equally important is that worker injuries are tracked. In the case of injury there needs to be an analysis on the cause and a plan for making sure it does not happen again. Evidence that this system is working is that they have a very low injury rate and multiple awards from the local government for their worker safety record. This certification is good until October 2021.
Eco Industrial Town Certificate Demonstrates further coordination and leadership towards the sustainability goals in their local province.
Carbon Offset Certificate Awarded by Thailand Greenhouse Gas Management Organization. Continuous since 2016.
SEDEX Member/ SMETA Ethical Audit Completed in Septmber 2020, this 3rd party social audit looks at the total efforts for building ethical business practices that support worker’s welfare. The above listed certifications are reviewed used as evidence to document compliance in key areas.
As a part of this semi- announced audit, workers are interviewed and supporting documentation such as pay stubs, electronic timecards, tax receipts and bank records are reviewed to verify claims. Worker identity and age are verified by national ID cards. Tier 2 suppliers are disclosed and documentation for their respect of human rights reviewed.
- Employment is freely chosen
- Freedom of association
- Working conditions are safe and hygienic
- Child labour shall not be used
- Living wages are paid
- Working hours are not excessive
- No discrimination is practiced
- Regular employment is provided
- No harsh or inhumane treatment is allowed
Management systems and code implementation according to local law including building structure inspection.
Material safety sheets and safety equipment sufficient and easily accessible.
SMETA Report Highlights:
- 90.07% of workers made above minimum wage
- Annual Worker Turnover: 0.26%
- Annual number of worker related accidents per 100 workers: 1.33%
- Percentage of workers who worked more than 48 hours in a week: 0%
- Average working hours per week: 42.79
- Youngest worker: 21 years and 8 months
- Worker Gender Breakdown: 150 female/ 90 male
- Percentage of Females in Management Positions: 55%
- Worker Welfare Committee meets every 3 months
Additonal benefits include:
- Six paid days annual holiday
- Three paid days for casual holiday
- Thirteen days paid for traditional holiday
- Thirty days paid sick leave
- 90 days paid maternity leave
- Contributions to national social security plan
- Annual bonus
- Free lunch on site
- Accident Insurance
- Long Service Award
- Annual company trip
- Funeral Allowance
In addition they are well known and well regarded in the local community for hosting the local soccer leagues on their two soccer fields as well as sponsoring a local Taekwondo class on the factory grounds. I personally inspected the factory and have arranged for periodic visits by our own independent QC team which have found the facility operating on the same high standards as presented in the certifications.
CONTINUING OUR SUSTAINABILITY PRACTICE THROUGH OUR LOGISTICS CHOICES
We now offer carbon offsets to account for the carbon created during shipping through Eco Cart. As our products are packed and sent to us in Seattle we continue our work towards reducing waste, minimizing the use of plastics and mitigating our carbon foot print.
CONTINUING OUR SUSTAINABILITY PRACTICE THROUGH OUR PACKAGING CHOICES
We place the highest priority on using compostable materials for our packing. All jewelry is shipped from the factory to us using industrially compostable bags. We ship our orders to our customers only using our 100% cotton pouches, recycled tissue papers and recycled cardboard mailing boxes with recycled paper labels. We are still working on substitution for our use of plastic tape.
Our pouches are designed to be reusable and useful for packing jewelry on trips. They have a partition inside to prevent the earrings or other jewelry from rubbing against each other.
We have partnered with Seattle based Ridwell to make sure our hard to recycle items from our office such as lightbulbs, printer cartridges and plastic films do not end up in the landfill.
ADVOCATING FOR AND SUPPORTING THE SUSTAINABLE FASHION COMMUNITY
To help promote conscious consumerism and support the sustainable fashion community we are members of the Sustainable Fashion Alliance .
We have been a part of the Impact Fashion Show being featured on the runway as well as being a speaker on their "Fair Trade In Fashion" panel.
We have also exhibited last year at the O2 Show which was the first wholesale tradeshow to solely focus on featuring ethical and sustainable brands during LA Market Week.
THE END OF OUR JEWELRY'S LIFECYCLE
It’s true, all good things must come to an end. That’s why we have instituted a take program for our jewelry. Because we were so careful in the design stage, we are able to simply recycle the metal by weight with our local metals recycling service in Seattle. While technically we could send it back to the factory in Thailand to be melted down into new jewelry, we have opted for recycleing through the local system to further mitigate our carbon footprint.
To incentivize our customers to not let any broken or unused jewelry collect dust in their jewelry boxes, we offer a credit for any returned items towards a new piece of jewelry.
To get a return started, simply email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us what you would like to send back.