This Ethical Jewelry Brand Creates Chic Pieces With Fair-Trade African Metals

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For many of us, our most-cherished pieces of jewelry have been passed down from previous generations. Sometimes, it's a ring we wear every day or a special pair of earrings nestled in our jewelry box. Either way, an heirloom upholds familial meaning and history, passing along memories each time it's given to a daughter, niece, grandson, etc. We typically think of the past when we think of heirlooms, but jewelry brand Omi Woods is creating contemporary heirlooms for future generations. Founder Ashley Alexis McFarlane designs jewelry that celebrates her connection to Africa and the diaspora with the intention that the pieces will allow African history and heritage to live on through future generations.

"My grandmother is the reason I started making jewelry and why Omi Woods is centered around heirloom heritage pieces. Her name means shalom in Hebrew and sälam in Ethiopian-Semitic languages. It translates to peace primarily, but also harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare, and tranquility. I reflect on these things as I learn about the cultures and histories Omi Woods pieces are inspired by," McFarlane explains on the Omi Woods website.

There is intention behind every element of Omi Woods, from the name and mission to the ethical production of each piece. The brand's name is an homage to McFarlane's Jamaican-Ashanti-Maroon heritage: The word Jamaica comes from the indigenous Taíno word xaymaca, which means "land of wood and water." While the Yoruba word for water, omi, weaves in her West African ancestry.

Each piece of jewelry is individually handcrafted using conflict-free and fair-trade African metals, from silver and gold vermeil to solid gold. The gold is sourced from small, artisanal mines that pay their miners fair wages and give back to their communities in attempts to improve healthcare, education, safety, and living conditions on the continent. These fine metals have a higher resistance to corrosion and oxidation, so they will endure long into future generations.

McFarlane also honors her heritage by choosing a new global or local cause to support each year. In 2020, she'll be donating a portion of her sales to 8 Billion Trees, a social enterprise that aims to plant and save eight billion trees to offset carbon emissions.

Tell us about yourself and your business.

Omi Woods jewelry are contemporary heirlooms that celebrate our connections to Africa and her diaspora. Our jewelry is individually and ethically handmade with fair-trade African gold and globally sourced, conflict-free fine metals. Omi Woods jewelry is intended to be worn every day, gifted for special occasions, and passed down to future generations so its meaning can live on for generations to come.

We believe in paying people fairly for their resources, time, and labor. Our solid-gold jewelry is now made with fair-trade African gold. The gold is sourced from small-scale artisanal mines that support the well-being of miners and their communities by paying miners a fair wage and contributing to improved healthcare, education, safety, and living conditions on the continent.

And if you had to sum up your business in five words or fewer?

Ethical fine-metal jewelry.

What inspired you to start your business?

Omi Woods is the first Black-owned company founded by a descendent of runaway Ashanti slaves to create jewelry with fair-trade African gold.

Why is this important? Ninety percent of the world's gold comes from Africa, and like diamonds, the gold-mining industry is rife with human and environmental rights abuses. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The shift is up to you and the choices you make. Now that we all have more time to reflect on our lives, society, and choices, I really hope we choose ethical in everything we do as much as humanly possible.

What are two to three of your favorite brands you like to support?

Mamma Earth Organics, Linus Bikes, and 8 Billion Trees

What has been your proudest moment as a business owner?

Releasing our first collection of fair-trade African gold in 2020.

Shop Omi Woods Products

The Double Up Coin Necklace Stack allows you to choose coins with imagery most meaningful to you: from historical female figures like Cleopatra and the Queen of Sheba to national symbols of countries within Africa and the diaspora.

According to Omi Woods, the Ethiopian Coptic cross is one of the most detailed of all crosses, and its intricate latticework represents eternal life.

The beautifully intricate Coptic cross would look just as stunning as drop earrings.

These medium-size hoops are chiseled to look like bamboo and dotted with freshwater pearls.

"Fulani earrings are a marker of wealth among the Fula people of Mali: The bigger the earring, the wealthier the wearer. Our Fula earrings are small enough to be worn every day," according to Omi Woods.

This cuff ring would look stunning on anyone's index finger.

Who doesn't remember the original female badass, Cleopatra, from world history class? This pearl-studded coin also features the bust of the Egyptian ruler wearing her vulture headdress.

The cowrie shell was once used as a form of currency in West Africa and is now a symbol of abundance and prosperity.

Or, in keeping with this year's anklet trend, wear the cowrie shell on your ankle.

According to Omi Woods, "the first wedding rings date back to pre-dynastic Egypt when couples would braid the strands of reeds collected from the Nile River and exchange them as a symbol of everlasting love. They were pure and simple. The circle represented the infinite and the hole a passageway into the future."

This minimalist wedding band combines their Solar and classic round bands for a stacked-ring look.

The Double Up Ring Stack II combines the Sugarcane and Comet bands into a delicate but sturdy ring suitable for symbolic wedding bands or everyday wear.

This beautiful snake chain has an adjustable slider, removable ball ends, and a coin choice of the Queen of Sheba, the Pyramids, the Ghana crest, and the Trinidad and Tobago coat of arms.

Omi Woods says, "The Caribbean bangles are a mainstay in Caribbean cultures. A blend of Indian, African, and European design, the bracelets are often handed down by grandmothers to their daughters and granddaughters. This passing on of precious metals has been a form of passing wealth down through the matrilineal line across cultures since ancient times."

Pair a Drip Charm Bracelet with a set of either three or five Caribbean bands.

A chunky chain is even more classic with a coin charm like this one. This bracelet has the same four coin options as the Drip Charm bracelet above.  

A beautiful pair of classic braided hoops. Small enough to wear every day.

Or get even more classic with a sleek pair of oversize hoops.

A much simpler design, the Ankh cross is considered by some to be the original cross. "In Ancient Egypt, it represented the womb as a portal for life, interdimensional travel, and transformation," according to Omi Woods.

In Ancient Egypt, wearers of signet rings would use them to seal and authenticate documents. Omi Woods's signet ring is best-suited for small pinky fingers.

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