The founders of nunchi, an eco-conscious jewellery brand based in the US, joined us for an insightful conversation about the jewellery industry, POC businesses and their ethos as a company. Jane and Michelle are passionate about creating beautiful pieces that have a reduced impact on the planet.
Please may you tell me about yourselves and how nunchi was formed?
Jane: Michelle and I have been best friends for years and during the pandemic, we wanted a way to advocate for local, family-owned, and immigrant-owned businesses that we knew were struggling. We purchased unusable deadstock, which were both recycled and up-cycled into new, in-demand products such as mask chains. As part of our reduced-waste mission, we focused on sustainable initiatives to transform waste into sellable products. nunchi was driven by the desire to create a new concept of luxury rooted in equity, sustainability, and diversity and has always had a core identity centered on social and environmental consciousness.
What does nunchi mean and how does it relate to your ethos as a brand?
Michelle: nunchi is a Korean concept that means awareness of and connection to society. From day 1, Jane and I have leaned into the concept of nunchi and allowed it to guide both our mission and vision for the company. We wanted to build a brand that’s sustainable both in theory and in practice. That includes everything from sustainable materials such as recycled gold and lab grown diamonds to sustainable business practices of body inclusivity, diverse representation throughout our production pipeline, and equity for people of color.
As a POC business, how does representation and inclusivity feed into your work?
Jane: We’re women of color with immigrant roots, direct members of the communities we strive to represent. We have a responsibility to implement diversity and inclusivity efforts throughout our entire business: marketing efforts, internal hires, supply chain. Not only are we creating an inclusive space for BIPOC, we are also reclaiming physical space in the notoriously exclusionary jewelry industry.
Before founding nunchi, what problems did you notice in the jewelry industry?
Jane: The current fine jewelry industry is notoriously exclusionary, damages the global environment, and exploits marginalized communities. Unfortunately, even with the seemingly groundbreaking revelations of issues like blood diamonds and mining catastrophes, only marginal change in both regulation and practice has been made. There is little transparency on fashion’s progress on tackling environmental and diversity issues.
What does sustainability mean to you?
Michelle: This is so loaded, because while Jane and I are on this sustainable path in the fashion industry, we still have tons to learn ourselves. Sustainability can’t just mean meatless Mondays and or buying a cute dress made from polyester – the change has to truly be, sustainable. For now, we’re focused on limiting our impact on the earth, uplifting our communities through our actions, and pursuing a just and fair society in this industry.
You use recycled gold, where is the gold from and what is the process of it being recycled?
Jane: We’ve partnered with equitable suppliers that use recycled and lab-grown raw materials and have recycled content certifications, which guarantees products are made from pre- and post-consumer material transferred from the waste stream. Specifically, recycled gold is produced from manufacturing leftovers, dental gold, scrap gold (broken, used, or unwanted gold jewelry), and scrap gold bars that’s melted down and refined into new products without losing its value or purity. Gold mining itself generates 44,000 pounds of waste for every 9 grams of gold mined while mined diamonds are plagued with human rights violations and devastating environmental impacts. By using recycled gold and lab grown diamonds, we can guarantee no additional harm is being imposed upon the environment.
How are lab grown gemstones a sustainable alternative?
Michelle: Lab-grown diamonds have the same chemical, physical, and optical properties as mined diamonds, but are conflict-free and do not cause over 396 Billion pounds of hazardous waste to be dumped into water streams every year. Did you know that for every carat of a diamond that is mined, that extraction shifts over 500,000 pounds of earth. Insane. The thing is, even the FTC ruled that ‘a diamond is a diamond no matter whether it is grown in a lab or comes out of the ground.’ We see that as a pretty big impact to our community, and world.
Who makes your jewelry?
We design the jewelry in-house by first hand sketching concepts, which in turn are built into 3D CADs. We don’t chase trends – we focus on high-quality and classic styles that are both purposefully crafted and tightly curated with limited quantities. These designs are brought to life by BIPOC, family-owned, and immigrant-owned artisan businesses and suppliers who share our mission for a more ethical industry. All our partners hold accreditations in ethical, social and human rights, and environmental practices.
Can you show me some of your favourite nunchi pieces?