As the Black in Jewelry Coalition, a group of jewelry designers BIPOC and other US-based initiatives organize themselves to amplify the voices of talent and minority leaders locally and globally, a voice of other side of the pond disrupts the status quo. in European circles. Enter Vania Leles, the creative force behind London-based Vanleles, touted as the very first African jewelry brand founded by a woman. The designer ethically produces jewelry featuring gemstones from African mines that adhere to environmental and human rights protocols. The African regions which directly benefit from its collection are Zambia and Mozambique. “We source our emeralds, tourmalines and rubies locally and are able to promote the origin of our gemstones without restrictions or fear,” explains Leles. “We work with ethical mines that pay fair wages and local taxes. Leles is a graduate gemologist born in Guinea-Bissau and trained in Lisbon and London; she spent a decade working for brands such as De Beers, Graff and Sotheby’s. She is an active sponsor of the Malaika Foundation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose mission is to educate girls so that they can have a positive impact on their own villages, countries and world.
What does Leles think is the biggest problem facing African mining communities today? She quickly cites local corruption and notes that those who benefit from the status quo are unwilling to make meaningful changes that would have a positive impact on mining communities. And how can the jewelry industry play an active role in making things better? “I think representation matters,” Leles says. “These African mines and their workers are not represented in the conversation of the industry, and the beautiful creations that feature their gems are linked to Western brands rather than the true sources.” Leles strives to showcase these African mines and showcase the rich offerings the country produces. “Retailers and designers like me should demand not only gemstones from ethically sourced sources, but also transparency and traceability in their supply chain. It is no longer acceptable to throw away marketing dollars to cover up what is really going on behind the scenes. In fact, it is immoral. Above: Vania Leles, Founder and Creative Director of Vanleles (photo courtesy of Vanleles)
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