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.


(Image credit: Omi Woods)

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.


(Image credit: Omi Woods)

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.


(Image credit: Omi Woods)

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.


(Image credit: Omi Woods)

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.


(Image credit: Omi Woods)

Shop Omi Woods Products

Up next, how this entrepreneur is bringing some of Africa's best designer brands to the U.S.

Copy Editor, Branded Content

Aralyn Beaumont joined Who What Wear as the copy editor for branded content after a career in food media. Years of poring over intricate recipes with a fine-tooth comb and working with high-profile chefs has prepared her well for working with fashion's top brands while honoring Who What Wear's voice. Her background as a research editor makes her a finicky editor who will probably care too much about making sure all copy is as factually accurate and aligned with the house style guide as can be. Maybe it's because she's a Gemini, but her personal style is impossible to pin down: One day you'll see her in a turtleneck sweater tucked into a midi skirt with heeled boots, and the next, she'll be wearing mom jeans, a white Hanes tee, and classic Vans. At the end of the day, her style reflects her various moods. Sometimes it will be feminine and elegant, and others it will be grungy or androgynous. Certain things will always remain constant, though. She'll forever be on the hunt for the perfect pair of high-waisted jeans.