Women's Day Profile Christina Malle - Blog (1)

Women’s Day Profile: Christina Malle

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March 8, 2022
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Happy International Women’s Day! In honor of the day, Pure Earth, a non-profit devoted to solving the global pollution crisis, is honoring three women who advocate for both the vulnerable and the protection of our planet. One of the three women who received the 2022 Force of Nature award is Christina Malle, human rights attorney turned goldsmith and jewelry designer. For Malle, the term “responsible sourcing” means paying miners and cutters a fair wage, avoiding child and forced labor, buying from known sources who can back up their own claims of responsibility, and mitigating the environmental impact of extractive industries. In addition, Christina uses Fairmined gold, which is traceable to the mining source, or gold with traceable origins. These miners are paid a fair wage, avoid or mitigate mercury, and reduce the environmental impact of mining.

We caught up with Malle to ask her a few questions about her role in the business and the various obstacles she faced on her journey to success.

Photo by Adriana Echavarria

Q: What got you into the jewelry-making business?
A: The short answer is that I was searching for an antidote to the cruelties and horrors of the world. The longer answer: I had been working as a human rights attorney, representing incredible people who had arrived in this country (the United States) seeking asylum. That means they were fleeing from persecution in their home countries. I respected and admired my clients and loved the work, yet the scars of trauma (the clients’) and the vapidity of the uncaring (the US bureaucracy and frankly, a lot of other peoples’) made it devastatingly hard to help asylees settle here. With goldsmithing, I could add some beauty to the world; any mistakes could be melted down, to begin again. No one was being sent back to be persecuted. This was incredibly appealing, and so I earned my gemology certificate from the GIA and became an apprentice to an amazingly talented goldsmith in New York.

Q: Were you always hyper-aware of the need for responsible sourcing? Or did you become aware of it through your work?
A: This is such a great question! I was extremely lucky because Donna Distefano happened to be my very first goldsmithing instructor. The class was called “Goldsmithing for Absolute Beginners” at my local Y. I kid you not!

Donna made it a point to teach all students about repurposing materials and made us all aware of sourcing issues. I suppose I took it a step farther and insisted on lobbing questions nonstop towards vendors and suppliers. I think that coming from a different industry (law), I brought a different set of questions with me, and felt entitled to press for answers—even when a bunch of vendors looked at me as if I were from outer space!

The world of Ethical Metalsmiths is an extremely generous one; I had the good fortune to meet Walter McTeigue, another incredibly talented jewelry professional, who introduced me to Christina Miller. This introduction – to Christina and thereby to Ethical Metalsmiths, or EM – opened up many ways to learn more about sourcing. As members of EM, we share ideas and recommendations and use our collective voice to press for improvements in the jewelry industry. You don’t even have to be a metalsmith or a jeweler to join EM!

Q: How do you believe mitigating the environmental impact of mining could make a positive change?
A: Large-scale extractive mining companies, including large-scale gold mining, have a tremendous environmental footprint. If the largest extractive companies reduce their footprint, this would have an outsized impact. And in terms of artisanal and small-scale gold mining (“ASGM”), if a non-toxic or less-toxic material (or process) could be substituted for mercury, the collective benefit would be enormous. Mercury is an element and therefore does not break down or degrade over time. ASGM contributes more mercury to the biosphere than large industry does. Please don’t say ‘Let’s avoid ASGM gold and only buy from large-scale gold mining or avoid buying gold altogether!’” First of all, many of the ASGM miners want to mine – they just want to do it safely and be paid fairly. Who are we to regulate them or moralize them out of earning a living? Millions upon millions of people around the globe depend on this to earn a living, so let’s engage, rather than marginalize. Secondly, we are all gold consumers, even if we are not purchasing gold jewelry. Your tech gadgets, including your car, have gold. So let’s all know what we’re buying and who has benefitted from it. If your jewelers (or other manufacturers) won’t tell you where the materials are from or claim that it is impossible to know, consider this: which people and which companies (or governmental organizations) have benefitted from that total lack of transparency?

Q: As a woman in business, what have been your biggest obstacles and how’d you overcome them?
A: Another great question – and a tough one! The jewelry industry is really a collection of industries, and some parts are quite insular and exist in silos. Some men in the industry simply will not do business with a woman. What? Even in the 2010s and 2020s? This was news to me! I learned quickly that some sectors were off-limits to a woman. What were the viable alternatives? Having introductions from a business colleague or work friend made all of the difference; ditto for introductions and referrals from friends in the Women’s Jewelry Association and Ethical Metalsmiths. I would not have advanced even one baby step without the support of fellow members of those two professional organizations.

On another note, every working parent I’ve ever seen or known (myself included) has agonized over the desire to be in two places at once. It is an excruciating dilemma and can appear day in and day out, for years. From what I observe, and here I am totally generalizing, mothers seem to shoulder this burden more than fathers. The moms are exhausted. Actually, they’re beyond exhausted: they’re depleted! I’m not sure if my choices are informative, so I’ll leave them out for now. I will note that I feel for working parents and wish that our companies and our government and our entire society did more to shore up and help the parents! This could be in the form of public policy, flexible schedules or other ideas that are beyond my ken. I would note that having women as employees and leaders, contributes enormously to the workplace and if we don’t support them as parents, we may lose their contributions as workers.

Q: Anything to add?
A: One argument that some industry people make when it comes to responsible sourcing is that it will cost more. I would like to point out that the status quo comes with an enormous cost to people and the planet. It’s just hard to quantify that cost in a price per ounce of gold.

We are all connected and we share one planet; let’s do right by one another, wherever they may be!

In alignment with the award, Malle is also launching a new Spring/Summer 2022 jewelry collection, featuring responsibly sourced jewelry. Click here to shop!

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