Ara the Altar | The Woman Behind a Low Impact Jewellery Brand
Bringing you another interview with an incredible women owned, small, ethical business turning the landscape of jewellery into a more low impact and thoughtful process. We sat down with Lauren from Ara the Altar to find out how she decided to create an ethical business and why it was important to her to do so. We love her jewellery and decided to only support Ara as our only physical gift idea this Christmas. We hope you enjoy the read.
What is Ara the Altar and what inspired you to start it?
Ara the altar offers timeless, minimal jewellery for earth-aware individuals. My aim is to tread lightly whilst creating eternal pieces that give the wearer a conscious connection with the beauty of our only planet. I take a lot of my influence from astronomy, nature, and the ancient world’s fascinating relationship with both.
The inception of Ara the altar was somewhat organic. I began my career in shoot production where I ended up working as a shoot producer for a high profile British brand in the fashion industry. Whilst on paper my chosen career path was just right for me, I felt unsettled by some aspects of the industry and, in such a logistical role, I also missed the hands on process of designing and creating that I had enjoyed so much when I was younger. In search of a creative outlet I gave metalsmithing a go. I was captivated by the process and began to build up a collection of tools to form my own workshop, developing skills over the years and learning as I went. Parallel to this, as a consumer, I was becoming increasingly aware of a societal pressure to consume continually, alongside the detrimental social and environmental impacts associated with fast fashion and needless consumption. In revolt, I began taking steps in my personal life to minimise my own impact on the environment. The more aware I became, the more I felt dissatisfied with the limited options available to those of us looking to produce less waste and to consume more consciously. I was drawn to the notion of slow fashion, to design, create and consume responsibly and for longevity, which led me to develop Ara the altar.
The brand itself was inspired by the ancient world’s perception of astronomy: Ara is a small constellation which, in Latin, means ‘the altar’. Historically, Ara was depicted as an altar with rising incense or sacrificial offerings. My personal interpretation of this translated into the sourcing, creating and offering of beautiful, unique objects for earth-aware individuals.
What makes your brand sustainable / ethical?
As I try to live my life in a way that is mindful of my impact on the environment, my own values concerning ethics and the environment are, naturally, woven throughout Ara the altar, influencing every decision. Ethics and sustainability can have different meanings for many of us but for me, personally and Ara the altar, they’re concerned with a transparent commitment to ethical practices that respect human, animal, and environmental welfare. The slow concept that I adopt is respectful of people, animals and the planet throughout design and production.
A key environmental issue that fuels me is the need to minimise waste and excess, and to promote a circular economy. Fundamentally, for example, it is important to me that Ara the altar does not support destructive practices that pull any more precious metal out of the earth. With plenty of material already in circulation, for me, there is no justification for contributing to the environmental destruction caused by the precious metal and mineral mining industry. Instead, I choose to use only recycled solid silver and gold for my own production, as well as any for chains or findings that accompany my pieces. Here, my ethos is to reduce waste, environmental impact, and repurpose existing material into something beautiful, with a conscience.
I make everything to order slowly by hand and have an in-house recycling system that allows me to minimise and monitor waste. Every piece is presented in a GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified, natural organic cotton drawstring bag, made in a carbon neutral factory as part of an ethical supply chain, and accompanied by ink free business stationery produced by hand on a letterpress here in the UK, on recycled card stock. Every order is then packaged using only recycled, recyclable and biodegradable packaging materials. Essentially, I make careful considerations to minimise impact throughout the entire journey of an Ara the altar piece.
Why is having a sustainable brand important to you?
On a personal level, committing to small actions over time cumulatively led to me living and consuming more mindfully. This isn’t over; I’m still trying and learning all the time. Naturally then, for me, having a brand that is sustainable is the only conceivable option. Whilst it ought to be the norm rather than the exception that retailers take steps to minimise their impact on the environment, sadly this is not the case. The reason for this is threefold: ease, cost and lack of awareness. As such, it can be difficult for many individuals to consume more consciously. As a society, we are only exposed to products once they have been packaged and branded beautifully, in store or online, leaving us with little or no awareness of any negative environmental or social impact that may have occurred as a result of the product’s production or journey. Similarly, this has led to a misconception concerning a product’s true value or cost.
The critical situation concerning the future of our planet is unavoidable and with an increasing awareness rising throughout the wider community that there is no ‘planet b’, I do think we are on the cusp of a priority shift for larger influential retailers and the establishment. Although individually we can’t change the entire world, we can change our own world. We can’t expect to change every bit of it at once, only what our financial and social situations (e.g. access to sustainable alternatives) permit. By taking little steps to make the changes that we can, in time, we influence retailers to react. The recent growth in the vegan food industry is a great example of how impactful this can be.
As a consumer I wanted to be much more informed about where and how my products were made but I felt repeatedly unconvinced by the assurances that were presented to me. Ultimately, when bringing something into my life I want it to serve a purpose, be it joy or a need, but I’ll try to do it with consideration and I think that’s the case for many of us. By developing my brand responsibly, adopting positive practices and making considered choices, I am contributing to a shift that enables consumers to shop consciously, with confidence.
Any advice for someone wanting to start a small sustainable business?
I’m so pleased you asked this question. I can only answer from my own perspective and experience but I wish there had been more accessible advice when I began my journey with Ara the altar.
We are undoubtedly seeing a change in consumer demand for responsibly designed and produced goods, alongside a growing interest in choosing to live a slow or more sustainable way of life. One (predictable) result of this shift in public opinion has been a trend of companies large and small adopting terms like ‘ethical’, ‘sustainable’, ‘eco-friendly’ etc. often without being clear on how genuine these assurances are, and what these terms actually mean in the context of the brand or the product. With no legal requirements, the free use of these terms can cloud the meaning of such important values. First, this can make it hard for consumers to make truly informed purchasing decisions; second, it can make it harder to identify those businesses genuinely trying to minimise their impact. For this reason I think it’s really important to be vocal about my own ethical and sustainable approach. Being clear about the many considerations I make at every point, from design to production and presentation etc. enables customers to make informed decisions when choosing to buy from Ara the altar.
My advice to anyone wanting to start a small, sustainable business would be, before you begin, be honest with yourself about what sustainability means to you, and define your brand values. Do you want your business to be ethical as well as sustainable? Put pen to paper about what you want to offer, and why. Inform and educate yourself as much as possible, and be prepared to keep learning, so that you can be clear about what you stand for and make decisions accordingly in line with your values. Most importantly, share this information with your customers. For example, I’m currently running a little series on Instagram that I call ‘A Responsible Brand’, each week I’ve been sharing an insight into an area of the business in which Ara the altar takes responsibility.
When it comes to what you are offering, think about all of the aspects that touch your product or service (sourcing, production, packaging, delivery etc.) to ensure that what you’re offering is consistent with your stated ethics or values. When researching and resourcing, be vigilant and allow yourself time to find the right fit for your business. For a long time, as I could not find a suitable supplier for recycled chain or findings to accompany my pieces, Ara the altar offered only rings. When eventually I did I was finally able to offer a full collection. Whilst, as with this example, adhering to my values has its challenges and can impact on the pace at which I operate, refusing to compromise ensures the integrity of my brand.
What does the future of Ara look like to you?
There are quite a few projects in the pipeline but I am particularly excited to be planning a couple of collections that were imagined some time ago. To give a little more insight into what’s going on behind the brand, and to explore slower, more mindful living, I’m planning to launch a monthly newsletter early next year. When I explore such topics on Instagram (where you’ll usually find me), I can feel restricted by the wordcount so I’m also looking to introduce a blog to be more vocal about these aspects of the business as well as my own experience of living more consciously. At the moment Ara the altar is available only online via my own and select ethical and sustainable platforms - I would love for my pieces to become more widely accessible to individuals in stores as well as online. Always looking for ways to improve, I am also looking to bring the production of my organic cotton bags in house to further minimise my carbon footprint, to source the most sustainable fabric myself and, through thoughtful design, ensure minimal waste. Looking further ahead I have some more collaborative ideas brewing that I can’t wait to explore and share when the time comes.
A massive thank you to Lauren for taking the time to answer our questions, on her incredible company and beautiful, timeless jewellery. If you’d like to read more head over to Ara the Altar’s website here and check out their instagram for some beautiful inspo here. Merry Christmas you wonderful Low Impact warriors. Immy xx