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A reflection on 2021 from luxe.zen’s founder Sarah | luxe.zen

A reflection on 2021 from luxe.zen’s founder Sarah

Through my university days at the University of Waterloo, and my time volunteering with Engineers Without Borders, I was always encouraged to speak about both the successes AND failures of any project I was involved with. When organizations failed to recognize the failures, they often repeated them, so we were taught to always lean into failures in order to learn. Engineers Without Borders would often step into areas where other organizations had project failures, and was able to study the situations, and develop solutions. This taught us to identify weaknesses in advance, and then avoid them completely. While this methodology was initially a way to monitor and evaluate international development projects at completion, we carried this way of thinking into everything we did. 

At the end of my University career and after 3 years volunteering with EWB, I participated in the Circle of the Baobab ceremony. Modelled after the iron ring ceremony for graduating engineering students, the Circle was a lifelong commitment to living in a way that honours all people and works towards a sustainable poverty-free future. Although I don’t remember all the specific words I wrote in my application to the Circle, I remember saying that this knowledge and belief would colour the rest of my life, like a piece of art. At the time I was gearing up to work in the corporate world and wasn’t sure where or when this mindset would come into play. I just knew that I deeply cared about embodying the Circle’s commitment. 

Fast forward to late 2020, when we at luxe.zen were considering our next steps for the business, and the culmination of the voices inside were growing louder and bolder. My intuition knew it was time to step into what only I could do: marry my jewelry design company with the values of a better future for all humans. I knew conditions in the mines and cutting centres were hard at best, and inhumane at worst. I honestly could not bear the thought of continuing to perpetuate the problems in the industry. 

So, despite the fact that the pandemic continued to rage, we jumped in with both feet. It was a risk, but not living my values felt risky too. And in the spirit of owning up to both the good and the bad, we’re sharing with you what we accomplished in 2021, what we failed at, and what we’re planning for 2022.

What we accomplished

With the global community
  • We committed to donating 1% of our global revenue to artisanal and small-scale mining international development projects that focused on the miners. Since markups at each stage of the supply chain are based on percentages, we knew the very first person involved in our supply chain, the miner, earned the lowest income from the finished piece
  • We donated $2500 USD to Moyo Gems Programs via our 1% pledge, with funds directed to support resources for the Tanzanian Women’s Mining Association and future expansion of the program into new geographic locations
  • We donated 10% of the proceeds of our pandemic surprise boxes ($250 CAD) to Women’s Crisis Services Waterloo Region. They’re an incredible organization that supports women and their families in getting on their feet after leaving domestic violence
  • We donated 10% of the proceeds from our spring and fall sample sale ($250 USD) Gem Legacy purchasing 1 miner toolkit and $100 for COVID-19 relief for mining communities in East Africa
  • We donated 10% of proceeds ($50 CAD) from the sale of crystals in October for mental health month to Carizon in support of offering counselling services at an affordable cost in the Waterloo Region
With our business
  • We made bigger moves into updating our existing catalogue with new, more traceable stones
  • 90% of 2021 new releases featured an ethically sourced stone
  • 40% of our existing catalogue was re-released with more ethical stones
  • 25% of our catalogue was discontinued where no more ethical gem option was available
  • Ensured each of our part time staff, interns, and contractors earned at least $18 CAD per hour - above Waterloo Region’s liveable wage estimate

With our environmental impact
  • We switched to 100% post consumer fibre recyclable shipping boxes, and fully recyclable paper void fill, shipping labels, and compostable packing tape to reduce the carbon footprint from shipping orders
  • We reduced our mosaic ring breakage rate to 2% via no-VOC 2 part resin
  • We adhered to the Ethical Metalsmith’s guidelines for a clean and eco-friendly studio workspace. This included using salt-based acid pickle, cadmium-free solder, utilizing palladium alloyed white gold rather than nickel-based white gold, and ensuring N95 grade face coverings were used with abrasives to ensure healthy lungs for our team
  • We produced less than 1 bag of garbage per week 
  • We captured 90% of scrap metal to be sent to our metal supplier and re-refined into new components

What we failed at:

  • We struggled with financial stability - we ate most of the costs increases to shipping, raw materials, and Etsy changes 
  • Our sales decreased on bestsellers where ethically sourcing stones increased the product costs more than 5%
  • Our fall Moyo sapphire restock shipment was lost by DHL in transit, which reduced availability for the holiday season
  • We didn’t implement product-based SKUs. This would help us to better manage inventory, ensure we are not overconsuming, and to better track the impact of our ethical buying
  • We didn’t find a solution to capture and recover precious metal dust and the small pieces created when prongs are trimmed

Reflecting back on the year allows us to appreciate how far we’ve come, and also understand how far we still have to go. We like to say that we’re on an ethical journey, and that there’s always room for improvement, and 2021 has really proven that to us. While we’re proud of all the things we achieved, we’re looking forward to all the ways in which we can keep improving.

Here are some of our goals for 2022:

  • We plan to offer Fairmined 14k yellow gold and sterling silver options
  • We plan to reach financial sustainability this year. This includes the following:


      • We want to change our 1% revenue pledge to 3% profit to ensure that we give back while still covering costs
      • We’re looking to reduce our overhead costs where possible
      • We’ll be searching for opportunities to operate more efficiently
      • We’ll ensure that all staff is paid fairly, including our owner Sarah, which like many small business owners, shouldered almost all of the financial challenges the company faced in 2021


  • We plan to re-release the rest of our current catalogue with ethically sourced gemstones, creating a catalogue that only includes gemstones that we have completed our due diligence to ensure they are are proven to be ethically sourced
  • We plan to expand our current network of ethical gem suppliers to strengthen our supply chain, and to avoid raw material shortages that our industry is prone to
  • We plan to round out our collection by releasing gemstone-free core jewellery pieces to compliment your every move
  • We plan to streamline our digital presence and really lean into who we are at the core

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