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Where to Find Sustainable and Ethically Made Earrings


image by Soko

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliated; we may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. This post is also partly sponsored by Laura Elizabeth Jewelry, Washed Ashore, Ten Thousand Villages, Astor & Orion and Stefano Navi. We only ever add brands & products we truly believe in!


People have adorned themselves with different forms of jewelry and decoration for as long as 75,000 years. Earrings specifically, have long been considered precious investment pieces, worthy of caring for, and even passing on as an heirloom. Today though, some earrings are made at a great cost to both the planet, and the people making them. So, how can we continue to accessorize, with sustainability and ethics in mind

What makes earrings unsustainable

Most earrings are made from some kind of metal. Metals are natural resources found in the ground, which means they need to be mined for. This is the case too, for many of the gemstones found in earrings – from those that are more expensive like diamonds, to those which are more widely available, like garnet or citrine.

There are multiple environmental concerns that can be tied up with this mining. First, in order to mine land, it is cleared, eradicating a biodiverse ecosystem full of plant and animal life. Land clearing not only harms biodiversity but results in the release of carbon into our atmosphere, warming the planet. Mining can also cause soil erosion surrounding the site. 

This damage can be long-lasting, as even after excavation, should the land be left to regrow vegetation, the soil, and natural water supply can be damaged, remaining less fertile and able to support plant and animal life that follows. This is because mining involves the use of intense chemicals. In gold mining, for example, cyanide is commonly used. 

Cyanide is a potentially deadly chemical that is used to leach gold out from iron ore. It is often sprayed over a massive heap of crushed, mined ore, or this ore is bathed in a tank full of the chemical. This is a problem not only because this modern way of mining is often more land-intensive but because cyanide is toxic, with environmental contamination leading to major fish kills, the contamination of local communities' drinking water, and more. 

Even without the use of additional chemicals and land clearing aside, there is pollution involved in mining. Any time we disturb the earth, we release emissions into the atmosphere; this even happens on farms tilling the topsoil in preparation for crop cultivation – imagine the impact of digging up so much earth. In addition, as the earth's different rocks, minerals, and gases are mined, carbon monoxide and dioxide, methane, and hydrogen sulfide can be released

The impact of mining is clear when we compare the carbon emissions associated with sourcing recycled silver and gold with the emissions linked to mining new silver and gold. Recycled silver has just a third of the impact of mined silver, while recycled gold has a shocking 600 times less carbon tied to it than new gold.

What makes earrings unethical?

Now that we’re aware of just some of the environmental problems that can be involved in the mining of raw materials for earrings (where much of the impact lies), we need to ask ourselves about the social impact of earring production. 

Now that we’re aware of just some of the environmental problems involved in the mining of raw materials for earrings (where much of the impact lies), we need to ask ourselves about the social impact of earring production. 

Just as we should ask questions about who made our clothes, we need to ask ‘who made our earrings?’. When we consider this, again, we need to start at mines. Mining is very dangerous, with the industry employing just 1% of the global labor force while generating 8% of all fatal accidents. Mines sometimes collapse, cave in, or explode due to gasses released inside of them. More commonly, mining accidents and health issues are related to poor air quality caused by work in confined spaces amongst sometimes toxic gases and dust and by work in extreme temperatures. Other risks include falling down open mining shafts or into scattered pits in the mining area. Mercury poisoning can be a serious issue for gold mining in particular, as mercury is also used like cyanide to separate the gold from iron ore.

The people working in these often dangerous conditions are sometimes extremely vulnerable. For example, child labor remains a severe problem in the metal industry. Across some parts of Africa, Asia, and South America particularly, tens of thousands of children are made to work in these dangerous conditions. Child labor is a human rights violation, with nearly 1 in 10 children worldwide impacted, often due to poverty. With children working in gold and silver mines, a Human Rights Watch interviews with young people working in small-scale gold mines heard children describe being ‘terrified’ when climbing down shafts or diving into underwater mining pits. 

It’s not only in the mining of precious metals and gems that hazardous work takes place but in the cutting and polishing of gems. Tiny dust particles released as gems are cut can lead to serious respiratory issues. This work, as well as work in the earring-making process, such as welding, cutting silver links together, or flattening silver with a hammer, is often performed by children over long hours. These jobs often involve sharp, hot, and heavy equipment and can lead not only to the aforementioned lung disorder risks but to hand deformities in children, eye strain and headaches. Many workers in the jewelry and, specifically, the earring industry, whether children or adults, are underpaid and exploited, with brands taking profit without fairly paying those who truly earned it. 

Some of our favorite sustainable and ethical earring brands:

Luckily, there is a huge range of gorgeous jewelry brands that are committed to doing better, and to making earrings that are made as beautifully as the earrings themselves look. While transparency is sometimes very difficult to find in the jewelry industry, improvement is continuing, especially as more independent jewelers recognize that everyone producing the metals and stones they use, deserves to be treated and paid fairly, just like they do.

1) Laura Elizabeth Jewelry

Our Pick: Stella Earrings, $125

100% recycled brass & 14 karat-gold/sterling silver plated

These sweet tiny succulent petal earring stud pendants are sustainably cast in downtown LA.

Laura Elizabeth jewelry is perfect for everyday life, and their kid-friendly designs are so fun to layer and easy to style with your wardrobe. It is also a woman-owned, US-based business!

Shop Stella Earrings

2) Washed Ashore

Our Pick: Ama Huggies, $510

100% recycled metal & Post-consumer upcycled stones

These mini hoop earrings have a lovely subtle sparkle from its pavé stones. You can even add additional charms shown here!

Washed Ashore only uses 100% recycled metals, gemstones from vintage jewelry, & Keshi pearls - a byproduct of the pearl industry.

Shop Ama Huggies

3) Ten Thousand Villages

Our Pick: Art Deco Leaf Earrings, $59.99

Recycled bombshell brass

Decades of conflict have left Cambodia littered with bombs so makers from Ten Thousand Villages’ fair trade partner, Rajana use the brass bomb casings (safely cleared by a demining agency) to create jewelry.

Every product at Ten Thousand Villages celebrates culture and the planet, so you know not one is compromised for the other.

Shop Art Deco Leaf Earrings

4) Astor & Orion

Our Pick: Dreamer Rose Gold Hoop Earrings, $95

70% recycled stainless steel

If you love to wear hoop earrings, maybe add a more unique, intricate pair to your collection? These beauties are designed in Seattle and ethically made in Thailand.

They utilize circular design principles & hand sculpt each piece in a 3D environment.

Shop Dreamer Hope Earrings

5) Stefano Navi

Our Pick: Lab Grown Diamond Stud Earrings, $315

Round lab-created diamonds, recycled gold

A classic piece for your jewelry collection, these diamond stud earrings are handcrafted in the US using ethically sourced materials.

Choose from white or yellow gold (rose gold can be chosen upon request). They also come with free shipping and a lifetime guarantee!

Shop Lab Grown Diamond Studs

6) Soko

Our Pick: Shujaa Wood Link Hoop, $88

24k gold plated brass, wood

Soko is a fair trade, certified B Corp that empowers artisans by connecting Kenyan creators with a global consumer market of people wanting to buy their upcycled, more sustainable and ethical earrings. With minimalist pieces as well as those that are bolder, Soko is a purpose-led brand of beauty.

Shop Shujaa Wood Link Hoop

7) The Little Market

Our Pick: Heart Hoop Earrings, $88

14k gold

This Santa Monica based label is made ethically by artisans in Cambodia, using traditional techniques. The Little Market is a social enterprise, with proceeds supporting women who receive access to skills training and education. The brand uses conflict-free materials to ensure ethical treatment not only of the people making the earrings, but involved in the raw material extraction.

Shop Heart Hoop Earrings

8) Mayamiko

Our Pick: Fumu Earrings, $50

Satin brass, sterling silver posts, sustainably harvested teak wood

Rated ‘Great’ on the Good On You ethical brand directory, Mayamiko is a fair trade brand that is focussed on community wellbeing – providing employees with a living wage, nutritious meals, paid leave, as well as training and healthcare support. Using some recycled metals that are made into accessories with the support of social enterprise YEWO, each piece is made by hand in a Malawi solar-powered workshop.

Shop Fumu


Our Pick: Three-Step Point Earrings, $305

14k recycled gold, responsibly-sourced opals

This luxury jewelry brand uses low-impact practices and materials. This looks like the use of recycled diamonds and recycled gold certified by SCS standards that ensure good labor standards, to the sourcing of antique stones, as well as the use of a select few stones from fairtrade stones sourced from mines that prioritize social wellbeing and development. What’s more, the brand is proudly made up of a mostly woman team, and the ethically run business focuses on inclusion and opportunity.

Shop Three-Step Point Earrings

10) Adele Dejak

Our Pick: Richa Afri Earrrings, $75

Up-cycled brass

These is a beautiful dangle down earring made of loops of polished brass.

Creating upcycled and recycled earrings made in a transparent supply chain, Adele Dejak is a Kenyan label with ethical credentials. With partnerships with the UNHCR, this brand offers bold and sophisticated designs that give back.

Shop Richa Afri Earrings

11) Aid Through Trade

Our Pick: The Waldorf Earring, $22

Glass beads, brass

All of Aid Through Trade’s jewelry is verified by the Fair Trade Federation, which ensures fair pay, transparency, and empowering work conditions. They are also ethically crafted with love in Nepal, and each purchase directly empowers a Nepali woman and supports a sustainable livelihood. Plus, they give back to the communities through scholarships!

Shop Waldorf Earrings

12) Automic Gold

Our Pick: LOVE\HOPE Earrings, $279

Recycled gold

This queer-owned business created genderless jewelry, like studs and threader earrings, from certified 100% recycled, high quality 14 karat gold. Made in-house in New York, natural diamonds are used and sourced from recycled old jewelry, whereas white opals from ethical Australian mines are the only new materials at play. This brand aims to create jewelry that is comfortable and wearable, while still eye-catching.

Shop LOVE/HOPE Earrings

About the Author:
Emma Håkansson is the founder and director of Collective Fashion Justice which seeks to create a total ethics fashion system that prioritizes the life and wellbeing of non-human & human animals, as well as the planet, before profit & production. She has written countless articles on ethics, sustainability, and fashion, and has two books due out over the next two years.



Our Brand Directory is home to hundreds of sustainable brands, from makeup to cleaning supplies, from underwear to shoes. We have broken everything down by category for easy shopping, along with discount codes unique to Sustainably Chic viewers.

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Content Creator: Natalie Kay


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