Elegantly ECO

Spotting a gap in the market for ethical yet beautiful jewellery choices, Ola McGhee launched Île Kekere in 2022

gold drop earring of three balls on an ear When did you start up and why? Île Kekere sparked into life in 2022, purely out of my passion for marrying traditional luxury with modern, sustainable practices. I started making bracelets from old broken pieces of jewellery with my daughter one day and thought that they were too good not to share. I have always loved jewellery from an early age and an unfortunate burglary where all my jewellery was stolen spurred me on to replace my jewellery collection again. I was increasingly concerned about the origin of the new pieces I was going to buy and noticed that not many companies were transparent about the background to their materials. I wanted good quality jewellery, but I also wanted to pay a reasonable price for it and know where it came from and how it was made. This sparked an idea in me that there was room for a jewellery brand for discerning style mavens who craved jewellery that was exclusive, high-quality, and most importantly, kind to the planet. And thus, we curated Île Kekere, an oasis of ethical elegance for the chic, conscious woman.

What prompted you to launch the business? Observing the void in the market for ethical yet stunning jewellery choices, we felt the tug to make elegant and eco-conscious jewellery which go hand in hand brilliantly, creating a harmony that resonates with the chic, eco-aware woman of today. This vision gave birth to Île Kekere.

What challenges have you overcome since the company's launch? Sustaining luxury on an ethical path is not a piece of cake. Challenges we encountered ranged from sourcing ethical materials that didn't compromise on quality, ensuring our manufacturers received fair payment, right through to maintaining an accessible price point. Each step requires careful thought, plenty of research, and of course, a hearty splash of creativity. Yet, every challenge overcome, every ethically made piece we crafted, made it all the more rewarding. Sourcing ethical materials, ensuring fair trade, and maintaining affordability – it's all been a dance, each step laborious but satisfying.

Tell us about your product offering. From gracefully ethical necklaces to elegantly sustainable necklaces, Île Kekere boasts a collection of pieces that I consider cater for all tastes and women in walks of life. For the minimalists, we have items in the Essentials Collections, simple lines and timeless classics. For a burst of colour, our beaded bracelets are nothing short of artwork. The Marpessa Collection for originality. Each piece is individually handmade by me when an order is placed to avoid obsolescence of stock, wastage, and excess storage. It also ensures uniqueness; each piece is special, different from the next as no two pieces are the same. I usually create three individual pieces of the same bracelet/necklace design with different gemstones to start off with. Each design reflects the charm of individuality and the magic of sustainability.

What are your most popular products? Our chic clientele are entirely smitten with our Selene Bracelets. They seem to love the blend of sleek sophistication of the box chain and the burst of colour provided by the lab-made gemstones. It's a beautiful piece and rivals high-end bracelets without breaking the bank. It is also a testament to our commitment to sustainability helping our clientele look good and feel good about their choices.

gold hoop earrings with a fan design hanging on them Have any styles taken you by surprise with their popularity? The Chloe earrings. I didn't expect them to take off as they have. They're part of our Essentials Collection and so designed with simplicity in mind. But they are so popular as I guess they can be dressed up or down. The highlighting factor is their impressive durability. They're designed to resist rusting or tarnishing over time, giving a long-lasting gleaming accessory. They're also incredibly light and comfortable to wear, making them an ideal choice for longer wear.

How do you keep your designs fresh and current? Do you follow trends? Essentially, the designs are all of jewellery I'd wear myself. To say that I am not influenced by the current trends would be disingenuous because I have always followed fashion. The difference I suppose is that I tune in to the timeless, the chic, and the stylishly sustainable, rather than chasing ephemeral fashion fads. In doing so, I continually dream up fresh designs, ensuring that each piece is a breath of fresh air in the world of jewellery. Crafting the future of trends, that's where the excitement lies!

How important is the sustainable, fairtrade and ethical backstory to the company? Can you tell us more about that? Île Kekere was created to inspire love for beautiful things and natural products. This sentiment was deeply rooted in my childhood experiences. My mother always spoke highly of the benefit of natural items whether food, beauty products, or clothes. She shared that everything we used during my upbringing was directly sourced from the land, showcasing a deep respect and care for nature. My commitment to sustainability, fair trade, and ethical practices is the very heart that pumps life into Île Kekere. We opted not to use mined gold in our products due to several ethical and environmental concerns. One of the main reasons is the inability to guarantee that mined gold is fairly traded and ethically sourced. Moreover, the mining process can have a massive negative impact on the environment, polluting air, water, and soil, damaging habitats, and scarring the earth. Additionally, the working conditions for miners are often brutal and can have detrimental effects on people living in nearby areas. As a result, we work with lab-made gems (labstones) and glass beads in our jewellery, prioritising ethical and sustainable practice. Every gem is man-made so there is no risk of buying gemstones that have been mined to the detriment of the environment or communities. All metals are recycled stainless steel and brass coated with PVD gold. I've seen the devastation to land and already scarce water supplies as a result of mining first hand, lead poisoning that continues to claim the lives of several hundred child labourers, all in the pursuit of gold and on starting the company, could not with any conscience use mined gold. Every piece of our packaging is recyclable, it all contributes towards creating an ecosystem where luxury flourishes sustainably. I find it a stylishly empowering way to make every day a little friendlier to the planet.

What sets you apart from your competitors? We offer a medley of exclusivity, sustainability, affordability - all wrapped up in the cosy blanket of chic luxury. When someone purchases a piece from Île Kekere, they aren't just acquiring an accessory; they're making a bold, stylish statement about their ethical values. Quite a fabulous makeover of the meaning of luxury, I think. Our main assets are...
Sustainability: We are committed to creating handmade, unique jewellery using eco-friendly materials. We also focus on revolutionising the jewellery industry with a steadfast commitment to sustainability. Ethical practices: We take ethical procedures very seriously, from sourcing materials to the production process.
Craftsmanship: Each piece is designed and handcrafted with meticulous attention to detail. This dedication enhances the uniqueness of the products and ensures high quality.
Support for a Greener Future: Not only do we create sustainable jewellery, but we also use sustainable packaging to reduce waste and support local businesses and environmental initiatives.
Inclusivity: We cater to women of diverse backgrounds, championing female empowerment, aiming to be a go-to destination for those seeking to merge style with social consciousness. Our clientele often comment that when they receive an Île Kekere package, they feel they have just received a gift from a friend.
Uniqueness: Our one-of-a-kind, ethically produced pieces feature exquisite detail, proving that original design does not have to come at environmental cost.

chunky gold charm bracelet How are you finding the current climate in the UK? Is it affecting business? The UK is slowly embracing the concept of sustainable luxury. This interest is indeed boosting our business and encouraging us to work even harder towards our dream of a chic revolution in sustainable jewellery. Our commitment to sustainability and ethical business practices place us in a strong position. The global push for sustainable, ethically sourced, and environmentally friendly products is growing. This trend, coupled with our dedication to these values, might even present some opportunities amidst these challenges. The climate has been a bit of a rollercoaster, but one that we relish riding!

How do you view the future of independent retail? Generally speaking, I see the independent retail sector teeming with untapped potential. I consider that it is independent retailers leading the march towards sustainability, truly revolutionising the landscape of consumer choices. The British retail landscape is an exciting blend with distinct layers with independent retail, bringing a dash of charm and personality. The unpredictable trading climate and the challenges brought about by the global pandemic have undoubtedly left a mark and from our own experiences at Île Kekere, we understand the nuances of these changes. Our journey has seen ebbs and flows, trends come and go, and consumer behaviours evolve. One thing's for certain, the future of independent retail is not set in stone. I foresee the industry becoming more experiential, more connected, and more personal.
I believe the retail industry will recognise the importance of balancing online and offline experiences, creating that tactile, digital-emotional blend. I also anticipate a stronger focus on ethical considerations, consummate artistry, and of course, maintaining that individualistic edge that sets us indies apart from the mass market. A skilfully crafted piece of jewellery isn't just an adornment; it's a story. Craftsmanship and artistry are the lifeblood of independent retail, and I would hope that there is a renewed focus on these nuances.
Sustainability is no longer a trend but rather, the future's cornerstone. Just like ethical sourcing and manufacturing aren't mere checkboxes for us; they're woven into our brand's DNA. The inherent need for ethical sourcing and practices isn't just a nice-to-have anymore; it's a necessity. Île Kekere has and will continue to champion sustainable practices because we see the shimmering potential of a greener, kinder future for retail.
Essentially, I see a future where independent retail thrives, where sustainability isn't a choice but an instinct, where craftsmanship is celebrated, and where ethical practices are the norm.

Are you active on social media? How is this important for the business? Yes, we are active on most social media platforms. We are just starting to get to grips with TikTok as this isn't a media we have been targeting actively. However, there is no doubt that social media has played a significant role in the growth and success of our independent business and other independent businesses I know. One of the primary advantages of social media for independent businesses is its potential as a marketing tool. Businesses of all sizes and across various industries utilise social media to reach their target audiences and promote their products or services. Additionally, social media platforms have become invaluable for businesses to communicate more effectively and faster with their customers. Platforms such as X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, and Instagram allow us to quickly respond to customer queries, provide valuable information, and instantly share updates about new products or services. Social media also enables us to connect more authentically with our clientele and communities, helping to differentiate Île Kekere from larger competitors. Building an engaged community, we connect with like-minded individuals who, like us, have a penchant for stylish sustainability. After all, love for the environment and fabulously styled individuals should be shared, shouldn't it?

Do you have any advice for new businesses starting out? Two tidy words: be authentic. Know your audience, celebrate your uniqueness, and create with love and enthusiasm. And do remember that sustainability is not a mere passing trend, but a lifestyle choice that's growing in appeal. Foster it, nurture it, and let it be the beating heart of your business.

What can we expect in the future from the company? With Île Kekere, you can expect us to continue our commitment to sustainable luxury whilst providing designs that truly celebrate women's individuality and power. We have some enchanting collections on the horizon that promise to make your hearts flutter, so do watch this space. We are keen on constantly evolving with our eco-conscious customers. Moving forward, we will likely continue to innovate and expand our sustainable jewellery pieces, remaining dedicated to our mission of creating a happier world, one beautiful piece at a time. Thanks to my little girl Lola who made this dream a reality.

ÎLE KEKERE T: +44 (0)7481 109 623 | ola@ilekekere.co.uk | www.ilekekere.com

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