Dec 27th, 2019
Lucy Sherriff, Contributor – Journalist covering social business and environment
When Guya Merkle’s father died in 2007, she inherited his small jewelry production business.
“It was a success very much because of my father,” she says. “And with him no longer around, I had to think about how I could make it work.”
In 2009, Merkle finally decided to travel to the Gemological Institute of America’s London branch in the hope of learning more about the gemstone industry.
“It was there when I found out about the problems in gold mining,” she recalls. “There was actually little information about it back then, so I decided to do my own research, and I went to Peru.
“When I visited my first small scale goldmine, I was shocked. I really lost trust in humanity.”
Gold mining in Peru has a bad reputation; terrible working conditions that often violate human rights and destroy the environment are all too common.
“It was after seeing those horrible circumstances that I decided I wanted to try to change the industry.”
Merkle relaunched the company in 2013, and now Berlin-based Vieri focuses on ethical and responsibly-sourced jewelry. The collections are manufactured in Valenza, Italy, using traditional handicraft, while bespoke pieces are created by goldsmiths in Germany.
“Although we’re using 100% recycled metals we had issues with our stones,” Merkle explains. “So we are constantly trying to become a better version of ourselves. In 2020 we will be launching our first collection using 30% ethical mined Sapphires.”
“I wanted to show how the luxury world should contribute towards responsible behavior.”
Around 40 million people work in the artisanal mining industry, with much of the work done manually, without the aid of machinery.
To sit alongside the business, Merkle founded the Earthbeat Foundation, to invest in social schemes and impact work in mining communities in Africa, where Merkle sources her materials.
Schemes in Uganda include a project training traditional mining communities in bee-keeping, as an alternative income to gold mining.
Another scheme trains miners in permaculture; learning to cultivate crops, and filter out toxins from groundwater with certain plants.
The company supports the work of the foundation with 1% of the total turnover and 3% of the annual profit and dedicates 10% of the sale of all wedding bands and the Respect the Beautiful Collection to local projects.
“It’s not an easy industry to be in right now,” Merkle continues. “There is a lot of changes in consumer behavior, and it’s a competitive marketplace. Customers are starting to ask where their jewels come from, and they’re longing for transparency, but also individuality when it comes to design.”
In order to truly transform the industry, a “hand in hand approach” is needed, Merkle says. “This is what’s missing. None of us can shift the problems all by ourselves. For small businesses like mine it is hard, because the retailers are afraid of investing. I think it would need a little revolution within the industry and there should be more space for the younger generation.”
Merkle says Vieri’s main competitors are in the high end space; Pomellato, Ole Lyngard and Tamara Comolli, but says her unique selling point lies in her business’s core values.
“I always say: stop donating, get your business core right, as I truly believe this is the real responsibility of a company. It’s not about just donating money to a charity. It’s about doing the work from the beginning of the chain and making it sustainable.”
Vieri’s turnover has increased by 20% year on year, says Merkle, and had a turnover of €250,000 last year ($280,000).
“We’re still a small brand. But the time for building wealth on the misery of people and nature is over. The industry isn’t made for ethical behavior – and that’s why what we’re doing is so important.”
Source: https://www.forbes.com/Disclaimer: This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.