The following article is the third in a 4-part series on the 2019 Tucson Gem Show. Go to the beginning
Walking the Talk
I'm currently at the 2019 Tucson Gem Show. A few days ago I almost quit my business, but I've decided to keep at it. Rather than quitting, I'm committing to being the change I wish to see in the world.
Transparency is scary. It's also exciting.
It's been fascinating to have so many different conversations about ethics in the gem and mineral industry. It's a topic that immediately inspires fear and wariness. It's a concept that distracts from our principal business of selling beauty.
I'm careful who I talk to and how I bring it up. Each time I see fear flash across people's eyes. We pitch our voices lower than normal. We pause whenever anyone else draws near. It's better to ask current sources rather than new partners, since we've already established a certain level of trust. It's best to ask after I've already filled up a box with stones, so that they know I'm going to do business with them. I find myself wondering if I'm an idiot for asking these questions.
It's obvious that I'm breaking the unspoken rules.
One source told me that she too has questioned whether or not to remain in this business. She challenges me to think about how many hands each stone passes through. Not just miners and sellers, but transportation teams and customs too. How do all these different hands affect the final price? How do all these people affect the energy of the stones? We are each a small link in a large global chain. Are most people good or bad? Do different standards apply to the poor verse the rich, in developing nations vs industrial ones? Is the need to feed yourself and your family, more important than any other concern? Things to think about.
This particular source handles the moral questions by smudging and praying over each shipment as it arrives at the company's warehouse. On a practical note, the company has taken steps to reduce their carbon footprint. When I tell her that I think it's "bad timing" to be pondering all these ethical questions at Tucson, she corrects me,
"This is the perfect place to be thinking about ethical questions. It's the only time that the entire industry is in one place. You can see everyone, at every level, from every country in the world. I'm glad you're asking these questions. Next year, let's go out for cocktails."
At the Tucson Show, it's totally normal to make plans, business and social, far in advance.
Mainly I'm talking to people in a tier above myself. I'm a store owner, while they're wholesellers and direct importers. Even when I'm talking to a mine or claim owner, here in Tucson they are focused on the wholesale side of business. Two of my favorite encounters have been with older women who've built highly-successful businesses from scratch.
Today, each woman has a wholesale business doing hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps even millions of dollars, in annual sales. But when I ask them about how it all started, their eyes shine with laughter and pride. One tells me about going to her first show with just two buckets of rocks. The other describes starting a business out of her garage. Neither one of them knew anything about rocks or business when they first started out. They figured it out and succeeded. Both are genuinely touched that I am interested in their stories. No one else has ever asked them about themselves, while at the Tucson show. Both of them built their businesses while raising a child. If the fathers were in the picture, they aren't mentioned. One has handed down her business to her son, but she remains the heart and soul of everything they do. She's a tiny lady, not even 5 ft tall. The younger lady, is still in charge of every aspect of her business, working as hard as she can.
She never stops moving. I watch her opening boxes, packing boxes, helping customers, directing employees, and running around doing who knows what. I bought my stones from her yesterday, they're already boxed up and in my car. Today I'm visiting for a different purpose.
She gives me a harried smile, which says, "I'm sorry, I didn't expect to be so busy right now, thank you for waiting." I smile back and it means, "I understand. Do what you need to do." We won't be talking about stones or sourcing. We are continuing a conversation that started last year at Tucson. We've talked about it via email during the year. But, it's nice to be in person, rather than on opposite sides of the world.
I am there to write a check. Moonrise Crystals is donating money to a rural school in Madagascar. The island nation off the coast of Africa is one of the most mineral-rich countries in the world. It is also among the poorest. My source has been taking care of a little 7-room elementary school for the past 5 years. She's put a new roof on the school, bought books for the children, and given "Christmas bonuses" to the teachers. She's practical and wants her contributions to be useful. I've seen videos of her dancing with the school kids and it's so joyful!
I want in on the action.
I have such a small business compared to hers. Who am I to think I can make a difference in the world? How can I pretend that a couple hundred dollars will have any impact at all? Am I so arrogant? Am I such a naive fool? For years, I've been setting aside a percentage of sales so that I can do something like this. It might be as little as $5 a week or $15. Such tiny sums, slowly adding up. But I consciously designed my business with the intent of giving back. The big businesses that do that, have been my models from the beginning.
There's a 2nd school, in a different country, also mineral-rich and also poor. Once again, I got connected to the school by talking to a source at Tucson. The mine owner was willing to take time away from running his own business to connect me with a rural school. Despite the language barriers between us, we have teamed up. That 2nd school specifically serves miners' children and I hope to be writing them a check later this spring.
It's a lot to juggle.
I'm here in Tucson to stock my store. I have to visit my current suppliers and find new ones too. (Side note - I love my new Jade guy, he's so knowledgeable! And, the Peridot I found from the Apache Reservation is exquisite. And, just wait until you hear about the Rutilated Quartz mine I'm buying from - it's awesome! Yay!!!) I'm also expanding into new product lines. Crystal hearts are being added to my store this year.
I've decided to stop doing business with some people and I've deepened my relationship with others. I'm restocking partially based on my sales data and partially based on sourcing research. I'm pondering ethical questions in a massive, complex and hidden industry. I'm also doing my part to foster positive change in the world, by educating my own customers and supporting schools in countries where my stock is mined. Writing all of this for you, is helping me process my own experiences. Thank you for that!
It's a lot to juggle. It's exhausting and my emotions are all over the place. It would be far easier to just buy/sell rocks.
But there's a little voice in my head that's urging me on. Telling me that I'm doing the right thing.
What Happened Next?
Part 3: You Are Here