15 years ago, my family asked me to leave behind a corporate life in strategic communications to join a project to build a new way of mining gold. I was going to leave my London office to enter the world of mining, in Central America.
Back then I had no idea what a gold mine looked like, let alone how to get gold out of the ground. But I did know that mining had – and still has – a bad reputation. The industry has been linked to human rights abuses and labour exploitation, pollution, deforestation and illicit money transactions.
My story – my message – is that not all gold mining is bad. There are good examples of ways to recover gold ethically and sustainably. Our mine in Honduras was one such example. In fact, we made it the first ethical gold mine in the world.
When the project started, I spent many months at the mine and on the rivers of Honduras, developing an innovative way of extracting gold. Unlike most other mines, we did not use chemicals. Rather than mixing mercury or cyanide with ore to capture tiny particles of gold, we only use water and gravity.
At the mine, we provided education and healthcare for the local community. Uniquely, we enabled local artisanal mining cooperatives to participate in mining operations. We helped 11 small, informal mining groups on our concession to become legal. Under our stewardship they legalised into cooperatives, with sound operating practices. These cooperatives became viable enterprises in their own right. This was not charity. Fundamental to our success was that our local partners and neighbours also flourished economically. Without the support of the community we could not have developed the successful mining operation it turned out to be.
One of the largest cooperatives in our programme was run by a woman. Women’s leadership in business is something very close to my heart. Mining is a male-dominated industry and I felt a deep need to help women in particular work and grow in the artisanal cooperatives. This interest continues and will be a key aspect of Makal’s approach.
After 15 years of working the world’s first ethical gold mine, I am now realising my dream to connect its story with jewellery consumers. I have created an ethical and sustainable jewellery brand using organic raw pieces of gold – gold nuggets.
Last year I launched Makal – named after a river in Central America with the aim to educate the consumer about ethical sourcing and to transform gold nuggets into unique piece of jewellery. We set the nuggets in beautiful, contemporary designs, using Fairtrade gold and ethical diamonds to produce rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces, at a wide range of prices.
We are scrupulous about our supply chain and conduct due diligence. We visit all our suppliers and hold them to our high standards. We deliver our pieces in ethical packaging, designed to be kept as jewellery boxes. All our pieces are made to order – reducing the need for unnecessary inventory – and are handcrafted by Italian artisans in Florence. We sell Makal at private sales; through pop-up events; online and via select retailers who are paying attention to responsible sourcing and positive fashion.
Transparency, authenticity and knowing where things come from is increasingly essential in retail and jewellery is no exception. We also think that individuality is important, with discerning consumers wanting to stand out from the crowd, moving from the homogenous and ubiquitous to the personal and the newly-discovered. Makal is an example of how we can make something beautiful, lasting and unique while also making a positive impact.