S2E3 - Kiran Gill of Bloom + Grace - Purpose Driven Jewellery

Kiran Gill is the cofounder of Bloom and Grace. Their missions is to eradicate poverty through working with artisan communities and educating local communities. Working with Buy1Give1 (B1G1) they are making an impact with every piece of jewellery they sell.

Highlights:

  • How Kiran got started with selling artisan jewellery and deciding to leave a career in marketing.
  • How Bloom and Grace is growing a global business.
  • Helping local communities create cultural sustainability while eradicating poverty and providing education to locals.
  • Working with B1G1 to make an impact.
  • How they are maintaining the standards of products by sourcing ethical, vegan, and sustainably.
  • Kiran’s vision of Bloom and Grace as an ethical, sustainable jewellery platform.

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Transcript

[0:08] Will: Welcome back to the Green Element Podcast where we feature business leaders and innovators, transforming their operations to be more environmentally, and socially sustainable. I’m your host, Will Richardson and I can’t wait to meet our guest today and help you on your journey of sustainability. Kiran, thank you so much for coming on to the Green Element Podcast, I’m looking forward to hearing all about Bloom and Grace and how you’re trying to impact the world within jewellery, and your art design jewellery that comes from people from all around the world, Cambodia, Kenya, to name but a few countries that I saw on your websites. And please introduce yourself and tell us more.

[0:50] Kiran: Yeah, thanks for having me. So, Bloom and Grace was really set up with me and my business partner, and through love for travel and jewellery and accessories and you know our ultimate mission is to become the ethical accessorize. So, we’d love to have a full range of accessories with bags and shoes and the whole lot but really ultimate passion though, is to try and do something to eradicate poverty. So, I think it’s through those travels in developing countries, we saw this massive gap between the rich and the poor and kind of wide distribution of resources. But what we also saw was an incredible amount of talent, beautiful handcrafted jewellery and pieces that were just incredible and nothing like that you find in mass produced stores. And so, we really looked at how can we bring that to consumers, how can we give these people a voice, a platform to actually sell their beautiful work from? And one of the other things we learned was that actually because they earn so little from their jewellery, that that craft is slowly dying, because what used to happen is generations would learn it and pass it on and future generations don’t want to get into that line of work because they don’t see a sustainable income from it.

[2:00] Kiran: And so, we there’s artisans, both on the design element, and production. So, there are some artisans, where they do all of the design and production themselves, other artisans, we will work with them on design to try and make more appealing to a wider audience. And yes, so that’s kind of and then with every piece of jewellery we sell, we also donate school days to children in developing countries. So, we work with Buy One Give One, B1G1, a B Corp, and actually deliver the give back element for us.

[2:29] Will: Brilliant, brilliant. Well, I’m looking forward to exploring that, lots of different parts of that. If we could go back to the artisans and one of the things that I’ve learned or heard is, you actually talk about the fact that you design some of it, do the designs that are solely designs by the artisans sell better or worse than the ones that you part design, because you hear about and that kind of stuff.

[2:56] Kiran: I think it’s been a big learning for us as well. And it depends what the styles or trends are doing at the moment, though, you know, for example, tassel earrings have been really popular, those we bought from artisans as they are so those kind of trends are filtering through, and they are seeing what’s in style, and are automatically adjusting to that market. But then we’ve got some artisans a lot more what I would term tribal or ethnic in their styling, and we’ve realized that those pieces are bit more polarizing. So, you know, kind of, but it’s also something that appeals to my personal aesthetic. So, I think when we first started off, there was a tendency to maybe buy too many of those pieces. What we’ve learned is that actually that skill or that talent is stunning but what you can do is work with them on the design and refine it and make it a bit more aesthetically appealing to a wider market, it’s less polarizing and sellable, which benefits both of us.

[3:51] Will: I guess from the customer’s point of view; do you find that you have a certain type of customer that buys your jewellery or is it a real broad spectrum?

[4:01] Kiran: Yeah, it’s a real broad spectrum to be honest. We’ve ended up, you know, with sales coming in from random parts of America where we think how did you find us? And that’s where the internet is just this amazing, wonderful thing, you know, kind of predominantly, our sales come through friends and family and extended versions of those. So, there’s always a bit of visibility, we know how they’ve come across our brand. But yeah, the pieces that sometimes proved to be popular, surprised me as well, you know, so it’s a real mix of customers from different parts of the world.

[4:32] Will: What got you into selling jewellery? Is this something you’ve always been doing, or tell us a bit about how you got into it?

[4:39] Kiran: I come from a marketing branding background, so, kind of, I started my career in London and then I was really fortunate that my work took me around the world and living in different countries, different cities, and I was always one that was sort of, you know, racing up the career ladder, you know, and I got to the point where I was great Managing Director for branding company, in charge of multiple offices in different parts of the world, jetting around. And I thought that’s where I would want to be, I thought I’d get there and I’d feel a have aha, you know, this sort of sense of fulfillment, and I’ve just never felt so empty and hollow. And that, for me really made me think about, well hang on a minute, you know, kind of you’ve got here, what’s next, this isn’t quite where you want to be, what is it you want out of life? I mean, I literally sort of broke down every aspect of my life and looked at how to rebuild it in terms of what’s important. And you know, looked at remember the little sort of schoolgirl in me who thought she was going to change the world and make a positive impact. 

[5:40] Kiran: And so, yeah, that’s where I sort of started off and looked at what I want to do and how I can make a positive impact and a read a powerful book from Seth Godin, it’s time to take your turn, or when it’s your turn, and how to take it, something like that, I can’t quite remember the title. But that sort of came to me at the right time and I thought, right, this is my turn, I need to do something, and doing a little bit to eradicate poverty just felt right. You know, having seen that kind of the poverty firsthand that exists in the world and having spent time in little rural villages where there isn’t running water, there isn’t electricity, and seeing that there are people that live these lives every single day and there’s joy in their lives, and there’s happiness in their lives. But there’s also disease and illness and you know, short life expectancy, and there’s a lack of education. So, what can I do to bring even more positivity into that? Because of our love of jewellery, because of having seen those handcrafted pieces ourselves, we thought, okay, how can we bring all these various different elements together? 

[6:44] Will: And you’ve talked about before we started recording the mission, purpose over profits, what drove you more towards that and so why are you doing that?

[6:55] Kiran: I think working in corporate life, it all became about chasing profit. And this was all about chasing profits, so how can we increase our bottom line as quickly as possible? And I think that for me, it made me really look at the impact that it has within people within the organization, the impact that it has negatively outside the organization, the environment, all aspects, and I thought there is a better way to do business. And I genuinely believe that a business should be about chasing impact. So, I don’t think that business should all be nonprofit, and we should all do charity work. I think there is a role for business and a very clear role. But I think each business should chase its positive impact. And I think once it starts looking at that the whole mindset shifts until you stop chasing the numbers and you start looking at, okay, if this is what we want to do, that’s good in the world, what how do we maximize that impact. And part of that is making sure that we make profit, and the business has to run efficiently. We don’t have wastage. But it’s that kind of impact side is what we should all chase, I believe. And for that, for us, that’s making sure that our artisans are happy and that making sure that we send as many children to school as we possibly can, and making sure that we don’t generate waste, we reduce our sort of negative impact in the world as well. So, you know, we’ve got, sort of our goals that we set each year. 

[8:20] Will: And do you get to know your artisans, have you met them or is it quite remotely done? 

[8:26] Kiran: Yes, some of them we’ve met in person, and some of them we’ve met, like, you and I are meeting now over video. So, we have seen the faces of the all. 

[8:36] Will: Actually, I don’t know to have a personal relationship with the people that you’re working with.

[8:41] Kiran: It’s lovely, it is absolutely, you know, we try and have personal relationships with everyone that we interact with, you know, and kind of, we send handwritten notes to our customers as well, you know? And at the moment, we hope to be much bigger in the future, but we hope not to lose that touch because these are products made by people know, and I think it’s important that that kind of personalized aspects stays alive in the business.

[9:07] Will: Brilliant, I totally agree, totally what we do at Green Element. I guess, if you’re buying off people, aren’t you? I mean, that’s it. I mean, we are a community, and it’s working with each other. And that leads me on to, you’ve spoken a bit about education and something that you hold to yourself don’t you, could you tell us a bit about that, and what you’re doing and delivering around education?

[9:30] Kiran: Yeah, I think when we looked at, okay, how can we, you know, if our goal is to help eradicate poverty, how can we do that? So, one part is kind of the trade that we do with our artisans. But the other part of it is the kind of educating children. So, I really believe, you know, that one of the ways that we can eradicate poverty in the future is through educating children in developing countries, and also adults as well but helping that awareness, not kind of knowledge, is how they can grow and develop. You know, and I think there are a lot of programs and systems in place that treat the symptoms of poverty, but don’t necessarily, or don’t look at the cause, or don’t go down to the cause level. And that’s not to say that they’re wrong, I think we need both sides of the, both aspects, to be honest. But, you know, for me, education is really my long-term way of helping, and the way that we deliver that is through Buy One, G1. So, we looked at many different ways of how can we then send children to school and I think, originally where we started off with Bloom and Grace was that we wanted to send children to school in the same villages as where our artisans live and work and we want to kind of complete that circle. 

[10:46] Kiran: But the actual impact, the actual delivery ability of that was just proving to be, you know, next to impossible and happened and actually came across B1 G1, who select NGOs, they select partners who actually deliver positive impacts in the world, and they vet them, they have a very rigorous process at who they picked to be able to do that. It was the obvious choice for us because it takes, you know, kind of, we’re just two of us in the business full time, apart from our artisans. And so, it’s like, we’ve got to pick your battles and you’ve got to know when you can work with partners and collaborate with other people and when you can take everything on yourself. And so, for us, if we want to maximize our impact, this was the best way to do it because actually, the logistics have been, you know, sorted out by somebody else and so therefore, our resources and our time can go into making the impact.

[11:38] Will: And did you go to the B1 G1, they came over recently, didn’t they?

[11:43] Kiran: Yeah, we met with them a couple of years back now, so I met at a conference, and we pulled on an incredible charismatic character I heard. And so, as soon as you met him, and you know, he’s one of the mentors for the business as well. So, he may be available whenever we need help. Yeah, it’s a really great company.

[12:04] Will: One of the ladies on our advisory board, Charlie Wyman works through the B1 G1 as well, network with her business. And it’s crowdfunding, I’ve heard it’s a really, really good, I mean, you speak very much, I guess, as a B Corp and I don’t want to put everyone in a box, we’re a B Corp and it’s just interesting listening to you and your mission and purpose and what you’re trying to deliver. And where do you see going in the future and as you grow, and as you pick up more artisans and is this a real, can you see continual growth on?

[12:39] Kiran: Yeah, and it’s challenging, I think winning customers is the hardest bit for us. But I think where we would like to take it in the future is to become a full accessory brand, you know, an ethical accessories brand, which is completely vegan, you know, and so contains, you know, we want to have a product range that covers jewellery, and shoes, handbags, kind of belts, the full, everything from clothing. That’s kind of much like, we grew up with stores, like accessorize, when we were younger, you know, but it’s that kind of store but with everything that is environmentally friendly. It’s all ethical, it’s all vegan, you know, cruelty free, that’s where we want to be.

[13:24] Will: When it comes to running an ethical and sustainable business, what would you say your biggest struggle so far has been and how you’ve overcome it?

[13:34] Kiran: There’s a couple of big struggles, actually, one of the biggest struggles is knowledge, in terms of knowing exactly where every piece, every element of every piece of jewellery comes from, how it’s made to, that kind of being able to trace back every aspect of the supply chain. And that’s something that we would we or we are constantly looking at how can we become more and more transparent on that? How can we ourselves, work with our artisans, and help them understand why it’s important to us to know, the threads that they’re using, where’s it come from? You know, if it’s blue, where has that color come from what dye, you know, where is that being dyed, is that polluting the environment, you know? So, even though the amounts that we’re using are so small, it’s kind of when we scale up, it’s going to become even more important to know exactly where each aspect comes from. And there are brands that we know that are using blockchain methods, for example, to be able to trace it back, we’re too small to be able to go down that road yet. But it’s something that we’re very keen to also scale up our own knowledge, train ourselves in terms of how we can kind of stitch together each element and aspect to know exactly what impact, what negative impact and what positive impact it has on each side. So, that’s one of the biggest challenges.

[14:51] Kiran: The other side of it is the end user, so, you know, we are competing, still, we’re high street brands, you know, where accessories can cost next to nothing, you know, and they’re used, and they’re thrown away and you know, it’s kind of a disposable product. And, you know, our price point can’t hit the same price point as theirs does, because of the production methods we use, because of the salaries that we pay to our artisans, the price you pay for our products. So, it’s that education of the consumer, it’s kind of the twist that they’re making is an ethical choice and actually, it’s not just another pair of earrings, this pair of earrings has a story to it, right? When you’re making this choice, these are the people along, you know, behind the earrings that you are actually making a positive impact to. And I think that’s a big challenge in the market as well for us. 

[15:47] Will: Have you come across difficult situations where people are using, I guess, a system of something that you don’t agree with, and you’ve had to change it or as that not come about yet?

[16:00] Kiran: So, one of our artisans makes products using horn, and so an animal bi-product, which, you know, kind of as a vegan that goes against everything that I believe in, but they also, the artisan also sells to other people. So, you know, he kind of sent his design to product. So, it’s never gone into anything that we’ve produced but we became aware just from, you know, sort of items that he was sending us, or looking to sell to us and showing us that there was a horn in it. And that’s, you know, kind of education piece for him as well, because he doesn’t get why, you know why it matters so much. Because from their perspective, no animals died, right, it’s just a bi-product, or it’s just what he’s come across, he hasn’t gone out to kill the animal. But for me, it’s still, you know, it’s kind of, it’s utilizing a part of an animal that doesn’t need to be utilized to create beautiful jewellery. So, there’s always a fine balance and it’s you know, kind of the key learning for us has been to ask questions continuously about every single piece and every single aspect, where does it come from? What is it made from? Where did you source it? you know, where are the component bids? And I think, for us, the future is much more about how can we stop creating new and from new and look at how can we create new from old? 

[17:20] Will: Right and would you pick up artisans on the back of that way of working? 

[17:25] Kiran: Yeah, yeah. So, yeah, some of our artisans in India, for example, are very much about breaking down old items and creating new pieces from them. And they’re very anti-waste. So, the way that they have always worked, they haven’t had a wealth of resources that they’re disposable. So, they have had to generate new items from whatever they combined. So, that I think is where we want to go in the future is actually, you know, kind of we’ve talked a lot about, do we create a model where people can send their old bits of jewellery, whether it’s bought from, you know, High Street brand, and send it across to us, and we will break it down into its component pieces, and hopefully generate something new from it. Because quite often, you know, the beads, the metal, it will just end up in landfill and it doesn’t break down. If we can create new pieces from it, so much the better. And I think that’s something we are actively working on about how we can turn that into a more sustainable business in the future. 

[18:27] Will: That’s great. If you could offer one piece of advice to our listeners, which could help them with the purpose, what would that be?

[18:34] Kiran: I think one piece of advice, I think it would be, keep your imagination alive. Imaginations are our most powerful tool so if we can imagine it, we can create it. And I think, you know, kind of that’s whatever we imagine, we might not be able to create it in day one and it might not be perfect but if we persevere, we can chip away, chipping away each single day and try and get to that perfection. And I think it’s something that we tied ourselves up in knots about the very beginning because we wanted everything to be perfect from day one. And you realize that that actually really, really leads to a lot of inaction, you end up stalling because you’re trying to create this perfection, actually that’s sort of chipping away each day and continually learning, kind of you’ll get there in the end.

[19:22] Will: Brilliant. And can you offer any advice or learning that you’d like to share with people listening to this podcast that you’ve learned on the way? 

[19:32] Kiran: Yeah, I’m sure you’re familiar with Beyond Skin?

[19:35] Will: No, no, actually, I feel like I should say, yes.

[19:39] Kiran: It’s a vegan shoe band, and so, I went to a talk by their founder, Natalie D. and this is at the beginning stages of Bloom and Grace, where we were starting to get very, I guess, tied up in knots is the best way to put it where God but you know, we want to be completely environmentally friendly and we want all our products to be totally vegan, and we want to everything to be sustainable. And, you know, what does all of this even mean? And how do we do it. And one of her talks, she talked about how she started off with the vegan shoe business trying to do exactly that, trying to take every single box and day one and she realized that she couldn’t. Because when you’re starting off with a new product, and you are trying to do things differently in an ethical way, where you’re trying to pay fair prices to the people making the product, and so on, so forth, you can’t take every box, because suddenly you end up with a product that costs a fortune and nobody will buy it, right? So, it’s about picking the one thing that’s most important to you, and then starting off and then looking at how you can add in the other elements. 

[20:42] Kiran: And that’s kind of what we’ve done with Bloom and Grace, you know, and we are constantly striving to become more and more environmentally friendly, more and more sustainable. You know, and how can we do those things? How can we increase our impact more and more each day? And I think that’s probably the sort of, the biggest learning that we’ve had is, don’t get bogged down to the point where you end up not doing anything. You know, there’s going to be a lot of people with an opinion, a lot of people who are quick to pick faults, we’ve been to a lot of markets and fairs, where people go, oh, but did you know that you’ve got rubber there? Did you know this about rubber, or did you know this about this? And you know, people will want to pick fault and that’s okay, because actually what it does is it educates us as well, you know, and we will also take learnings from them. But we are trying our best and all we can do is be open and honest with our consumers.

[21:36] Will: I think that’s really important. The and not being I guess judgmental, but not being the font of all knowledge is something that I’ve learned being in this industry for long enough now, I’m definitely not perfect. And I’ve thankfully never really purported to be perfect and that wasn’t necessarily because I’m clever, it was more, just, that’s the way I ended up. And you do see people falling down, because oh, yeah, you shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that. And almost being kind of pushy, and judgmental and then people are much quicker to pick up on stuff that you’re doing wrong. And it’s a shame because actually, those people almost more so than people like me actually come from probably a better place like they really, really, really want to try and change the world. 

[22:30] Kiran: Yeah, I think as long as your intentions are good, and you are continually aware, and you’ll upscaling yourself all the time as well. You know, I don’t come from a, you know, a background of deep intellectual environmental knowledge. You know, I’m continually reading and learning and, you know, understanding how we can make a positive difference and it’s an ongoing process. And if anybody wants to join that journey, I highly recommend it because we need more people who are willing to do their bit, each of us honestly just make this much positive impact each day, the world will change overnight.

[23:10] Will: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And where can we find out more about Bloom and Grace and well obviously, put your social handles and website and stuff on the website?

[23:20] Kiran: Yeah, I mean, if anyone’s got any questions, I’m more than happy for them to contact me directly. And so, you know, you can share my email address and we’ve also set up a discount code for the Green Elements, so if anybody wants to buy any of our products, you can just use green20.

[23:38] Will: Brilliant, thank you very much. That’s really kind. Thank you so much. That’s great. It’s been really, really good listening to how you started Bloom and Grace and learning more about Bloom and Grace. And I implore all of our listeners to take advantage of your great discount code and go to your websites and buy some purpose driven products.

[24:00] Kiran: Purpose driven jewellery.

[24:03] Will: Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.

[24:09] Kiran: And thank you so much. 

[24:13] Will: Thank you so much for listening to the end of this episode of the Green Element Podcast. Do take a moment and share this with your friends and colleagues and rate and review the podcast wherever you get your podcast. I’d love to know what has been your biggest takeaway from this conversation, what are you going to do differently? Please share your thoughts across social media and tag us so we can see them too, @GE_podcast. For links and show notes for this episode, visit our website greenelement.co.uk/podcast. Thank you again. I hope you will join me on the next episode and together we can help create a better world.

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