Taking Ethical Sourcing to the Next Level
You've heard me talk about conscious and ethical sourcing before in a vague sort of way. Would you be interested to learn what that actually means in practical terms for Moonrise Crystals? If so, read on.
Part One: Conscious Sourcing in Earlier Years
The first time I ever bought stones for my business, before it was even named Moonrise Crystals, I ordered them through the mail in the middle of the summer. They were "C Quality" stones of uncertain origin. I just needed something to get my business started. Come winter I planned to go to the Tucson Gem Show, the biggest mineral show in the world, and get "the good stuff."
I was living in a yurt in the woods, near a hippie town and was surrounded by organic farms. Everyone in my community drank fair-trade/locally-roasted coffee and ate at 'Farm to Table' restaurants. So, OF COURSE, I decided that I wanted all of my crystals to be ethically sourced. It was a no-brainer, and in my naivety, I thought it would be relatively easy.
But, when I arrived in Tucson, it was intimidating. The show is massive, and I was the tiniest fish in the pond. Moreover, everyone apparently had been in business for decades and was confidently throwing around tens of thousands of dollars without blinking an eye. Fortunately, I had a few leads and soon found my first sources.
At the beginning, the only information provided by the sellers was the name of the stone, the price, the weight, and on rare occasions, the quality-grade. Nothing else. So I asked, "where is this from?" and was told; Madagascar, India, Russia, Namibia, Peru, China, Pakistan, Mexico, Utah, etc. Some sellers shared that information patiently, others looked annoyed.
Knowing the country-of-origin, was a good start. But it didn't tell me whether or not the stone was ethically sourced from an environmental and humanitarian perspective. And, I didn't really know what else to ask.
It's not like I could say, "Hey, was this mined using child labor?" or "Hey, does the mining of this stone endangering any animal species?" Because I knew that it would make me look stupid and offend the seller. Do you really think anyone would admit, "Yep, this here stone is a blood-dripping, environment-ruining, healing crystal of the finest order." Of course not. Everyone insists that their stock is the best quality.
So at first, all I knew was the country-of-origin. I couldn't say if my stones were ethically mined and processed or not, although that was the ultimately goal. What I could say was that I recognized that ethical sourcing matters and that I was consciously sourcing to the best of my ability.
As the years passed, I learned more about each country's mining practices and I learned more about each variety of stone. There is a ton of information available about healing crystal energies. There are countless books and websites devoted to geology and mineralogy. By contrast, mining information is rarely written down. Sure, you can read about copper mines, ruby mines, diamond mines, etc. But most of my stones are the random semi-precious healing crystals that are ignored in mining literature. To discover anything about their typical mining, requires hours of research.
Bit by bit, I began to piece things together.
Let me give you an example. Some of the stones I sell are bi-products of mines. So in my research I found a reference to Apophyllite being a bi-product of Basalt mines. Later on, I learned that Stilbite often grows with Apophyllite. Eventually that helped me figure out, that the Stilbite in my store comes from a Basalt mine in Puna, India. Next step - find out more about Basalt mining in India. Then based on all of that, determine if my current stock of Stilbite and Apophyllite is "ethical". If so, keep selling it. If not, find a new source or stop selling it.
It seems overly complicated, doesn't it? It seems like it should be easier. But it's not.
That first year, I had exactly one source that I felt 100% confident about. Because I could deal directly with the mine owner and I knew we shared the same values. I buy my Rose Quartz (stone of love) and my Ocean Jasper (stone of service) from her, along with a dozen others. I'm glad that those energies, love and service, have been pure since the beginning.
I searched for other mine owners. I found a few. Unfortunately, most miners don't tumble their own stones. So I might find a lovely mine, but if they aren't selling what I'm there to buy, then we're not doing business together. At least not yet.
I also looked for tumblers, who bought directly from mines. I shied away from third-party wholesellers, since they often don't know even the country-of-origin for their stones.
Over time, I start to figure out which stones to be wary of and which countries to refuse to buy from.
By 2018, my business had reached a certain point and journalists started calling. Apparently no one else in the healing crystal industry was concerned about ethical sourcing. Healing Crystals sellers market their stones by highlighting their positive energies. Talking about the dirty and grim side of mining is apparently bad for business.
I admit, I wondered if talking about it would be bad for MY business. I decided to speak up anyway. The more I spoke about it, the more I realized how much I had learned. Was my stock 100% ethical yet? No. Was it more ethical, and far more consciously-sourced, than other sellers? Yes.
Part Two: Ethical Sourcing in 2019
This year I wanted to take it to the next level. Then I was briefly disillusioned and almost quit, but didn't. I might not be able to source at a perfect standard yet. That might take a few more years. But, I can do the best I can. So here is what ethical sourcing looks like in 2019. Below, I describe three of my sources. All of them are tumblers who buy directly from mines, I will discuss my direct mining sources another day.
I was excited to visit one of my favorite sources - they have the BEST stock. Straight up, when it comes to quality, they're my favorite. They're smaller sellers in the industry, big enough to wholesale, but small enough that they're selling out of a hotel room without any signs. They also let me handpick everything! I'm like a kid in the candy store. I get to go through buckets of Rubies, Sapphires and Emeralds. Everything is gorgeous, I'm basically just sorting for size. It's delightful! This is my second year buying from them.
I walk into the hotel room and shake the owner's hand, saying, "It's good to see you, it's Julie, from Moonrise Crystals". Much to my surprise, he says, "Moonrise Crystals! Everyone in my shop, all of my employees know Moonrise Crystals!" A moment later, the second owner walks in the room, and is told, "Look! It's Moonrise Crystals!" He immediately knows who I am. I'm awkwardly pleased, I laugh and say, "I've got a big shopping list today!" We then ignore each other while I sort and pick for hours.
I already know quite a bit about each stone. So it's time to go deeper. I wait until we are quite alone, no other customer is present.
We are all sitting cross-legged on the floor of the hotel room and I tell them that last year I asked about their stones. This year, I want to ask them more about themselves and their sources. I tell them that ethical sourcing is important to me and it is important to my customers. I mention that I've been talking to journalists about this and I'm attending the conference on sustainable sourcing. I want them to know me and to know that I am sincere in my questions.
We are well-matched. They talk to me about how they tumble. They say, we have villagers who exclusively hand-polish our stock. I reply, the dust from those machines can be very bad for the lungs. They agree, and tell me about their own safety standards. They are not offended by my questions, they are pleased that I am asking.
I ask them about how they source raw material in their home country, and how the source from other localities. They buy directly from mines, but how do you know if your source is ethical? We are not talking about quality and price, we are talking about ethics. It is a complex question. But sometimes the answer is as simple as, looking into someone's eyes and into their heart, talking with them, and discovering whether or not the same values are important.
I ask one of the owners, "who is your favorite mine to buy from? Not for quality, but for the ethics. Who do you feel good about?" The owner smiles, he leans back and looks up, considering my question. He tell me that this is a good question and that in 25 years of business, no one has ever asked it of him. He then tells me about his Rainbow Moonstone mine in India. They hire local women to do the sorting, which is rare. They pay the women a daily wage, and those wages are used to buy food and send their children to school. We talk together about how when women are financially empowered, it has a ripple affect, positively changing communities and lifting people out of poverty.
We speak of God. We speak of the living spirit inside the stones. We speak about Rubies mined in muddy marshes. We speak about Apophyllite, Stilbite and Basalt mining. Turns out the Basalt is mined for the railroads, not the regular roads. Good to know!
When we part, we hold hands and express our deep pleasure. We will do business again.
I go to visit another source. I've been with them for several years and have watched their business grow. They were small-medium when I first met them. They're medium-big now and I'm proud of them! It's good to see people succeed and thrive.
I wander around inside their tent and notice some Howlite. My first thought is, annoyance since "real" Howlite is hard to find. Most of what is called Howlite, is usually Magnesite from Zimbabwe. Then I see that the label says Canada. What?!?! Canada! Good lord, it's real Howlite. Just then the owner sees me and we both break into huge grins. We walk to each other and I stretch out my hand to shake, but he hugs me instead. I ask him can this be real Howlite, is it truly from Canada? He proudly announces that since July he has been including the country-of-origin on his labels. I tell him I'm very pleased that he is including more information and I speak about the importance of ethical sourcing. He tells me,
"You and some of my other customers keep asking me about sourcing. I listen. I am adjusting to serve you better."
I do some shopping and pester him to show me new things. I also ask him some hard questions about Burnt Fire Agate and the controversy around the rough "Super 7". We are keeping it real, no nonsense. He finally says, "As far as I know. I think this information is correct. I believe that if it wasn't, I would have heard about it. But, it's just as far as I know. I am doing the best I can."
Indeed. I smile at him, letting my heart shine bright so he can see it. I say, "Yes, my friend. You are doing your best, and I am doing my best. And that is why I buy from you."
During a quiet moment, I ask him some deeper questions. I know he opened a new factory two years ago, how is that going? I learn that not everything is processed at his big factory. For example, we talk about his Indonesian stones, like Bumblebee Jasper. For those, he has a small factory in an Indonesian village. He knows he could send the rough stock to his big factory, but for these stones he wants to create local jobs and pay good wages.
An employee rings up my purchases and I pay with a check. The owner rushes over, wanting to know if I've already paid. He's too late, the deal is done. He tells his employee, that I get a discount and to give me some cash back! He hands me a couple of twenties. He is a good man, we part with a hug.
I greet the whole family, the grandfather, mother and daughter, we keep in touch throughout the year. They have set some stock aside for me, because they know my preferences.
My original contact, had been the father in this family. My first year in business, he had been kind to me. He knew I was just starting out and was encouraging. He didn't just tell me the country-of-origin, he told me specific districts and mines. I was sad when he died, far too young. Over the past few years, his wife and daughter have been learning how to run the business. In their country, women are usually housewives.
I tell them about how I'm so on fire with the ethics. We have a strong enough relationship, that the college-age daughter is willing to talk frankly. She is going to the GIA this year and will be a certified gemologist the next time I see her. We talk about child labor in her country. We talk about dangerous conditions in mines and factories. We quietly talk about the fact that mentioning any of this is bad for business. She pulls out her phone and shows me pictures and videos of real mines they deal with. They are often shockingly primitive - literally just holes in the ground, worked by barefoot miners. We talk about how being women, in a male-dominated field, can make things more difficult.
We talk about the fact that low prices sell, but low prices are only possible if low standards are accepted.
We talk about the future. I tell them, that I am always willing to pay a premium price for high standards.
Business concluded, the Grandfather insists that I sit down on their only chair and he pulls out food, all sorts of sweets and salty treats. He always insists on feeding me and sending me off with a box of chai tea. He asks about my parents and sends his good wishes to them. He's adorable! This year, I invite the family to meet with me again, I'd like to take them out to dinner, my treat.
Because I have learned, that in this business, the most important thing is to build good relationships.
It's not just business or an exchange of money. There is a personal side that must be cultivated. Perhaps, it's old-fashioned, but my sources are striving to build relationships that last for decades, perhaps are even multi-generational. This is my industry. So we hug, we share food, we try to take care of each other. We wish each other a happy show and hope for prosperity in the year to come.