Building a Sustainable, Values Based Business

Insights from Omi Woods Jewelry Founder Ashley Alexis McFarlane

[Photo Credit: Omi Woods. Model: Rechel Osadebamwen]

Recently we had the pleasure of speaking with Ashley Alexis McFarlane, the founder of Omi Woods Jewelry. Ashley is a proud Afro-Indigenous Caribbean woman, and her brand reflects her love for Africa and its diaspora. Her jewelry is made with ethically sourced African gold and recycled fine metals, and each piece is intended to be a contemporary heirloom that can be passed down through generations (About Omi Woods).

Omi Woods was a finalist in FTA’s Design Forward event in 2017. Reconnecting with her once again, she gave us some insight into her sustainability journey: the transition toward sustainable jewelry, running a sustainable business in today’s growth-mindset environment, and how we can better support Black and minority owned businesses.  

Question: Your brand is heavily rooted in your heritage, beginning with clothing and shifting to jewelry as a result of your grandmother’s heirlooms. How did you find the transition into sustainable jewelry as opposed to apparel?

Ashley: I found the transition into sustainability in jewelry a bit more seamless. It took time but sustainability is already built into the industry by way of the fact that the materials being used, gold and silver, are considered precious minerals, so there is little waste in that regard. In terms of sourcing recycled and fair trade gold and having our pieces made by our casters using these materials, it took a little more back and forth. But over the years, recycled metals are becoming more of the norm in jewelry manufacturing, and the desire for sustainable jewelry has grown.

Q: You source gold through IMPACT to work with small-scale artisanal miners. Were there many challenges with finding partners that shared your values throughout your supply chain? What did that process look like?

A: I learned about IMPACT from a goldsmith at a discussion on sustainable jewelry in Toronto. He told me where I could source fairtrade/fair mined gold, and I have been sourcing from them ever since. We also connect with individual African-owned mines on the continent from time to time to discuss collaborating, but right now, our fair mined gold is sourced from IMPACT. There are refineries and factories around the world that focus mainly on sustainable metals, so it’s just about researching and connecting with them.

Q: As a business owner, how do you balance sales and sustainability?

Ashley: You have to fundamentally value one over the other and stick to your values time and time again in a way that can sustain your business. It also helps to ensure that if you do decide to get investors or business partners, they understand your values as well.

Q: What are your thoughts on our society’s growth mindset as it pertains to sustainable business management practices? How do you grow a sustainable business?

A: Growing a sustainable business means prioritizing things other than profit. You have to consciously separate yourself from a more capitalist mentality and define your values and stay steadfast. It’s not just potential investors, but family, friends, and colleagues that may encourage you to pursue things that aren’t as sustainable without realizing it. In the end, you have to be constantly making decisions in line with your ethos while being profitable enough to operate your business in a healthy way.

Q: What changes have you seen in the sustainable fashion landscape over the past decade?

A: When I first started and was into sustainability, I was told Black people weren’t into it much. But now, sustainability is everywhere. Where we used to be at the margins, it’s now at the forefront, thanks to generations of youth more interested in the impact of the choices they make,  what they consume and the effect it is having on the environment. We are also seeing environmental catastrophes more and more, so it’s a lot more visceral for younger generations.

Q: Do you feel that people are generally moving in the right direction? Do you have any tips for consumers looking to make better shopping decisions?

A: I believe we are, but mainstream fashion is still so consumption-based. I really like the idea that sustainable fashion is a recipe and everyone determines what ingredients to use and when for what works for them, while constantly pushing to make their dish better. Right now I invest in a capsule wardrobe of well made staples. I wear my own fine jewelry, and buy accessories that last. I purchase luxury second hand goods, and spice up my wardrobe with statement pieces by indie designers. They are usually made in more sustainable small batches. 

Q: You frequently remind your customers that every month is black history month. -What are some ways for people to support black owned businesses year round?

Buy from Black people year round. If you find it difficult to do so, ask yourself why. You’ll come up with answers (i.e. lack of visibility, etc.) and then find solutions to those answers. Much like leaning in to sustainability, leaning in to supporting diverse businesses takes a conscious shift. At the very least though, you should be buying your body butters from black owned businesses. Trust me. You can thank me later. 

Be sure to check out Omi Woods Jewelry now for quality and ethically crafted pieces that are sure to last you (many) lifetimes. 

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