Kashka which means ‘friend of the earth’ in West African and ‘luxury’ in Arabic is a high end jewellery brand founded by Naqiyah Sultan. With a will to meld humanity and luxury, she created collections for those who love jewellery and the planet. By Mike Peake
Saudi-raised Naqiyah Sultan’s parents spent many years in North Africa but the family is very much Indian; throw an English education into the mix and it’s little wonder that the 32-year-old founder of jewellery brand Kashka is as global-minded as they come. What sets Naqiyah apart from some other ethical jewellers is that she currently specialises in silver – a relatively low-cost metal that is sometimes forgotten in the quest to ‘do the right thing’. Her determination to make a difference, however, couldn’t be stronger…
What got you into jewellery, Naqiyah?
I’d read anthropology at Southampton University in the UK and thought I was going to go and save the world, but my parents thought it better to get a ‘real job’ and pay some bills. I went off to gem school with no idea of what I was going to do there and it was the best six months of my life. I qualified as a gemmologist back in 2007, moved back to Saudi for two years and ended up working for a local Saudi jeweller.
What brought you back to the UK, and ultimately to found Kashka?
I was wondering what to do next and moved to Bombay, having never lived there – though I’d been there on holidays. I thought I’d try my hand in the jewellery sector but quickly found they weren’t very open to outsiders trying to come into the jewellery trade and, by accident, I ended up working in the arts instead. In 2012 I decided to do my MA in History of Art in London, graduated in 2013 and thought I’d try my hand at Kashka.
What did you want to do differently?
My motivation to do things ethically came from when I was at gem school and I learned about mining practises. It all sat with me as being really uncool. What the consumer sees at the end is this beautiful piece of jewellery and blinged-out diamonds but from mine to market the supply chain is actually quite a sad and sorry affair. So the essence of Kashka is ensuring that the miners I work with get a fair wage. There’s also limited use of chemicals and there’s no child labour, which is very important to me. The workers get access to sanitation and better health care because we pay a premium for our metals, and because it’s artisanal mining, it has a smaller impact on the environment, too.
What the consumer sees at the end is this beautiful piece of jewellery and blinged-out diamonds but from mine-to-market the supply chain is actually quite a sad and sorry affair
Where does your silver come from?
Columbia, and it’s all Fairmined. Because gold is a much more expensive metal, and the miners get a much better premium for it, they’re not actually mining for silver, it’s a by-product of the gold mining process. And this silver is what I buy. I would love to get out to Columbia to see how it’s all done.
Does using Fairmined silver push up your prices?
Truthfully, no. What I try to do is to absorb that little bit of a premium that I pay into my overall costs. You can make it work and it doesn’t make it that much more expensive. It’s interesting because people who start shopping in the ethical sector immediately assume that it’s going to be more expensive, but I try very hard to avoid that. My margins aren’t amazing but I do try to swallow the extra cost because I really believe that if I want to see change within the jewellery sector, where my price points are mid-level, then the only way I can get that change is by selling to more consumers.
Do you feel that ethical jewellery is in vogue? If you took a snap-shot of 100 new jewellery brands would a large chunk be ethically-minded?
No. We’re still struggling because the jewellery business is generally run by a bunch of very old men – with no disrespect – who are not ready to move with the times. Also, because it’s precious metals and gemstones we’re talking about, you’re not generally dealing with smaller bodies: in some cases, you’re actually dealing with governmental organisations. For instance, someone said to me that if I wanted to have a go at someone it should be the Bank of England because they’re the ones buying kilos of gold for their treasury. They’re the ones with the power to initiate change.
Someone said to me that if I wanted to have a go at someone it should be the Bank of England because they’re the ones buying kilos of gold for their treasury. They’re the ones with the power to initiate change.
Do you look around you and think that most businesses could be more ethical?
Of course. I think more and more of us are waking up and saying yes, we all have to eat, we all have bills to pay, but it’s not all about the bottom line. But you can’t beat yourself up about it – we all live and learn and even when I started I realised that I could do more about my carbon footprint because I was getting things made in Asia. I figured that this just didn’t add up, so I brought manufacturing back to England. It’s a big learning curve.
To what extent do you think the average buyer cares about whether or not his or her jewellery is ethically sourced?
I would say they don’t care because they don’t know. You can even buy a Fairtrade phone now – it’s called Fairphone and they try their damnedest to ensure that all the materials are from recycled sources, or at least from a fair supply chain. It all comes down to education, supply and demand.
You say on your website that as consumers, we all have so much power to change the world: what do you mean by that?
The biggest debate in the fashion accessories sector is garments, how there’s this whole small revolution going on and people realising that the Rana Plaza garment factory disaster in Bangladesh was a disaster waiting to happen. Buying badly is often down to lack of awareness, and I think we’re all waking up to what a difference we can make by choosing products that don’t harm the world or the people who live in it. For all the rubbish that’s said about them, Millennials are actually doing some good; they’re giving a kick up the backside to many establishments by asking questions that really matter.
Finally, if you won the lottery and wanted to ensure you were getting a piece of ethically-sourced jewellery, which of the big-name Bond Street jewellery houses would you go to?
I think it would have to be De Beers, because they’ve been very conscious of the Kimberley Process. But I think I’d probably source the diamond myself and get one of my designers to make it.