20 Designers to Watch in 2020 and Beyond: Conscious Makers

EditorsJan 30, 2020

20 Designers to Watch in 2020 and Beyond: Conscious Makers

Meet four brands that marry design with responsible practices.

A ring from Prounis
In the final installment of 20 Designers to Watch in 2020 and Beyond, I focus on what will arguably be the most important element of jewelry-making this decade—ethical practices.

The “Conscious Makers” are companies that incorporate responsible ways of doing business into their DNA and communicate their practices to consumers, whether it be transparent and ethical sourcing, employing local artisans or paying employees a living wage.

As the consumer becomes more educated and aware, these brands have the foresight to marry their creativity as artists with their commitment to environmental and social progress, holding themselves to a high standard and serving as an example to their peers.

Read Part IV of 20 Designers to Watch in 2020 and Beyond here.

Conscious Makers: Melissa Joy Manning, Wwake, Prounis, KatKim 

Melissa Joy Manning
Founded: 1997
Based In: Berkeley, California and Brooklyn, New York
Key Retailers: Esqueleto, New Twist, Net-a-Porter, Silverado Jewelry Gallery

Among her peers, Melissa Joy Manning is considered the forerunner in the realm of eco-conscious jewelry, setting the bar for responsibility in multiple areas.

The designer’s elegant, easy-to-throw-on oeuvre is handmade to order, crafted in recycled metals and responsibly sourced stones in a certified Green studio where every shipment is carbon-offset through partnership with the UPS carbon-neutral emissions program. 

Manning’s holistic approach to sustainability extends to her team. Employees are paid a living wage and full benefits.

Wages and benefits are perhaps the least-talked-about element of conscious business in the jewelry industry now but, as always, Manning is pushing the conversation front and center, as she continues to embody environmental and social values.

Wing Yau
Founded: 2013
Based In: Brooklyn
Key Retailers: Net-a-Porter, Catbird, Nordstrom

Wwake has made a concerted effort to embody sustainability and environmental responsibility in the fine jewelry world, becoming one of the most conscious brands today. Its vision is informed by its 90 percent female staff, including its entirely female in-house staff of bench jewelers, a rarity in the jewelry industry. 

Handmade in Brooklyn, Wwake sources stones from carefully-vetted dealers and at times works directly with miners.

But the brand also puts a focus on low-impact materials when it can, including the use of recycled diamonds, recycled gold certified by SCS Global Services, a third-party verification organization, Fairmined certified gold, as well as the sourcing of antique diamonds and rough gems mined in the 1980s and 1990s so as not to contribute to present-day mining.

Jean Prounis
Founded: 2017
Based In: New York
Key Retailers: Bergdorf Goodman, Dover Street Market, Twist, Catbird

The youngest brand in the 20 Designers to Watch series, Prounis has made a quick impact with its refined take on jewelry inspired by antiquity.

“It’s so refreshing to see a jeweler, especially a young one, eschewing novelty for novelty’s sake and really celebrating old-world craftsmanship,” jewelry editor and stylist Kareem Rashed said of designer Jean Prounis.

“Her reverence for history and ability to distill designs down to their purest form is really special.”

A young designer with an old soul and appreciation for history, Prounis applies the same defining maturity running through her design aesthetic to her small business practices.

Her female-run studio works in recycled gold and responsibly sourced gemstones, keeping ancient jewelry traditions like granulation alive. 

The majority of the handmade production is made to order, “which allows us to control our ecological footprint and create jewelry with a purpose,” the designer said. 

Katherine Kim
Founded: 2015
Based In: New York
Key Retailers: Moda Operandi, Net-a-Porter and Goop

On a purely design basis, the eco-conscious fashion sector has had an uphill battle shedding its drab reputation. Enter KatKim, a Central Saint Martins graduate who doesn’t sacrifice vision for responsible production.

“We go to great lengths to see that our philosophy is applied to every aspect of our design and productions, and are committed to remaining transparent in our processes and selections as we seek to continually improve our overall impact on our planet,” designer Katherine Kim said.

Handmade in Los Angeles by master artisans, KatKim’s avant-garde creations, like the signature “Ear Pin,” are made from responsibly sourced diamonds and SCS-certified Fairmined gold.

The brand has become a celebrity staple, pictured on a constant rotation of red carpets, delivering its responsible ethos by way of a cooler-than-cool aesthetic.

Ashley Davisis the senior editor, fashion at National Jeweler, covering all things related to design, style and trends.

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