A $20,000 Cardboard Bracelet: Are Expensive Eco-Friendly Items Worth It?
When going 'green' costs you hard earned green
"Going green" can mean everything from biking to work, using a hamster wheel-powered cell phone charger, recycling cans or dumpster-diving for dinner (by choice). For California-based jewelry designer Keariene Muizz, it meant creating a cuff bracelet from salvaged industrial cardboard and—upon sealing it with a high-varnish gloss and adorning it with a two-inch glass gem—selling it for what she believes it's worth: $20,000.
Repurposing metals and minerals, papers and plastics, fabrics and sometimes even feces for the sake of environmental sustainability, or wearable art, is no new fad, but Muizz's eye popping price tag for salvaged materials may have just taken sustainability to a whole new price point.
"It's way over-priced and not at all reasonable," said Lisa DiSciascio, a fellow eco-friendly designer. Her Starlight Woods collection (below) is comprised of jewelry and key chains made from slices of storm-damaged trees.
Still, while the cost of Muizz's cuff seems to contradict the 'waste not, want not' mentality that largely drives the eco-friendly industry, DiSciascio doesn't deny that upticks in pricing for sustainable products are very likely.
"I don't feel that products that are eco-friendly, yet expensive, are counterproductive because sustainable materials need to be sourced and sometimes the hunt for those materials is a process," she said. "It's not like we just go online and order our materials to create, but the issue with that bracelet is just that it is priced too high for what it is."
Natalie Frigo, who uses metalsmithing and lost-wax casting to create her eponymous line of jewelry, agrees. And as a designer who makes use of ethically-sourced gemstones, she believes it is the job of retailers and designers to educate their buyers on why steeper pricing might be justified.
"Eco-friendly products cost more because it costs more to make them," she said. "Labor is more expensive and raw materials cost more to acquire when miners are paid reasonably and care is taken to minimize negative effects to the surrounding environment. Higher prices might turn some people away, but most people I know are willing to pay more for sustainable items if they understand why the costs are higher."
Muizz, 34, doesn't feel the purchase of her most expensive upcycled, or repurposed, item is a waste.
"People might think that asking $20,000 for a cardboard cuff is absurd, but generating 251 million tons of trash as a nation each year is way more absurd when you think about it,” she told Today.com. “The person who wears this cuff is going to be someone who cares about saving the planet while embracing luxury at the same time.”
Nanci Bennett isn't buying it—literally. "The person who buys that should be ashamed of themselves," she said. Her SidVintage jewelry line (left) features dead stock chains, vintage clasps and heirloom baubles. "I'd feel guilty selling that. I'm so happy with the markup I get—which is not even double. I want people to be able to afford my pieces. I think, how can I make an item that someone loves, that's sustainable, that's special, but then if something breaks, they're not like, 'Oh my God, I spent all this money?'"
In fact, in Bennett's opinion, knowing that a designer will fix a broken item should be a priority for buyers in search of eco-friendly pieces, a close second to the main priority—of course—"that they love it." DiScascio agrees that customers should be asking, "Will it last, and does it mean something to you?"
Frigo (left) adds, "When you are buying jewelry, look for a designer who uses recycled metals. One ounce of freshly mined gold creates 20-30 tons of waste. Recycled metal is identical to freshly mined, so why not use it?"
While growing stats show that American consumers are developing an increased affinity for eco-friendly fashion—76 percent would be willing to pay more at the register for environmentally friendly products—when it comes to spending your life savings on shiny things, Bennett puts it matter-of-factly, "At the end of the day, it's a bracelet."