Interview with Arabel Lebrusan, founder of Lebrusan Studio

Discover how glimpses into the ugly side of the jewellery industry has Arabel Lebrusan, founder of Lebrusan Studio to create jewellery that was as ethical as it was beautiful.

What’s your career background?

I’m an artist, a designer and, as one of the world’s very first Fairtrade Gold licensees, a key founder of the ethical jewellery movement. Born and raised in Spain, I studied Gemmology and Fine Art in Madrid and Utrecht, Holland. Since then, it’s been almost 20 years of dedication to beautiful jewellery.

I began my journey as a fashion jewellery designer, travelling the Far East and learning the ins and outs of the trade as I went; the good, the bad and the ugly. Unsettled by much of what I’d witnessed, a Master’s in Design at London’s Central St. Martin’s followed, with a deep investigative focus on ethics in the jewellery industry.

I then went on to spend five years as Creative Director of Leblas Jewellery – the first ever ethical jeweller on London’s famed Sloane Street – before winding up as designer and conductor of my very own brand, Lebrusan Studio.

Today, I use my platform as an artist and designer to establish social commentaries and ultimately try to succeed in altering the face of the luxury jewellery industry for good.

How did your career change after having children?

Through much trial and error, I have adapted my business into one that is now largely autonomous. This enables me to exist as both a mother and businesswoman simultaneously, with neither role compromised for the other.

I employ a small team, each with an important and dedicated role. The entire business is based online – from the customer-facing shop to the admin behind the scenes.

These remote but reliable aspects allow me to work from wherever I happen to be in the world; a model that affords me plenty of time at home, the ability to work on the go, and thus the freedom to take five minutes with my family whenever necessary.

Though my routine might involve a few more school runs and playdates nowadays, I feel very fortunate that my career remains unscathed by motherhood!

Where did the idea for your business come from?

When I was a child, my mother had a beautiful pendant in her jewellery box; a miniature eagle clasping a sapphire in its claws that she only wore on special occasions.

To this day, I still remember my fascination whenever it was taken out; the exquisiteness of the carving, the deep midnight blue of the sapphire, the sheen of the yellow gold, and how beautiful my mother was when she wore it. That one jewel settled my fate; it had me hooked on beautiful jewellery forever.

Though I knew from a young age that jewellery was to be my forte, it was my experiences along the way that dictated the course of my career. I still recall fondly my trips to Hong Kong at the very beginning and the incredible stones that surrounded me; carved, engraved, whittled into miniature sculptures, cut to enhance their natural flaws… I felt like a kid in a sweet shop.

However, it was during those trips that I became aware of the dark side of the jewellery trade and everything that was wrong with the precious metal and gemstone industry; the cheap prices, the child labour, the abuse of natural materials and the appalling mining conditions.

Later, when I was researching for my Master’s in Ethical Jewellery, I was told bluntly by a London diamond dealer: “When you work in this trade, you sell your soul to the devil.” It was at that point that I became adamant to make a change. Seeing a gap in the market for sustainable luxury, I took matters into my own hands.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

I’ve always worked in jewellery, but the idea of ethics in jewellery really began to blossom in my mind during my early professional years, when I was travelling the world designing for a variety of different companies.

It’s no coincidence that my Masters degree came next, with its deep focus on sustainability and ethical practise. My investigations revealed to me what ethical jewellery could really look like; and it was these revelations that enabled me to convert my ideas into a tangible reality.

Two years of research and personal development served as the perfect foundation on which to build my own ethical jewellery brand.

What’s your USP?

I’m incredibly lucky to have people speak highly of my work, I’ve been told in the past that I’m blessed with an observant eye and an ability to connect the seemingly unconnected.

My designs are unusual in the way they marry a broad range of cultural, historical and aesthetic inspirations – from my Spanish roots to twentieth century architecture and the beauty of Mother Nature.

I’m also passionate about the skills and traditions of others, and commission only the most accomplished craftspeople to bring my ideas to life. What emerges are unique heirloom pieces, distinctive in design, luxury in quality and sustainable by nature.

It’s these creations – works of art that I am so proud to share with the world – that I consider my unique selling point.

Who’s your target audience?

Though Lebrusan Studio specialises in ethical engagement rings and wedding bands, we also offer an award-winning bespoke service and a collection of ready-to-wear silver jewels; we’re not just limited to brides- and grooms-to-be.

Ultimately, our doors are open to anyone who’s passionate about sustainability, craftsmanship and fantastic jewellery.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

Lebrusan Studio is a clicks-and-bricks business. In order to remain present we invest a lot of time and energy into ensuring that our online presence packs a punch.

We’re very proud of our website and work hard to keep it jam-packed with content – from blog posts to style guides and informative pages about our ethical materials. Alongside the website we run our social media platforms, which are updated daily with behind-the-scenes insights, interesting articles and information about our jewels.

Our subscribers benefit from a monthly newsletter, and when we have something particularly exciting to shout about, our fantastic PR guru Becky distributes images and a news release to the press.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

At heart, I am a campaigner. In order to make things better – not just for ourselves and our own businesses, but for the ethical jewellery sector as a whole – we need to be sharing knowledge with one another.

I’ll keenly accept any opportunity that I’m offered to speak about what I do and why I do it; be it a seminar, a social media take-over, a radio show, a press interview, a pop-up talk or a student questionnaire.

Over the years, I believe that this passion has propelled me upwards. The Spanish fervour in me overflows when I speak about the jewellery industry’s issues and I believe that’s a voice that makes people want to listen.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

The harsh reality for jewellers who wish to create sustainable pieces is that ethics majorly limits material and manufacturing options. 10 years ago, when I first started out, the process of bringing an ethical jewel into fruition was unbelievably awkward.

What we’re working with is an old-fashioned industry. Many of the people involved are of early generations and would prefer if things simply stayed the way they were 30 years ago. The old boys and large diamond companies who control the market are adamant not to disclose the provenance of materials.

Whilst the trade has progressed since I first started my journey, my palette is still far more limited than if I were to produce jewels en masse, using industry-standard materials.

It’s not just the processes of sourcing and creating that are challenging for ethical jewellers like myself, but the costs incurred – ethically-sourced materials and sustainable manufacturing techniques are simply more expensive to commission.

What’s more, we’re speaking to a much smaller market; one that we need to convince constantly of the worthiness of this price premium.

And your proudest moment so far?

Becoming one of the world’s first ever Fairtrade Gold licensees back in 2012 was a huge turning point for me. The Fairtrade brand is synonymous with ethics and recognised globally, and so the founding of Fairtrade Gold propelled the notion of ethical jewellery into the mainstream. It was really exciting to be an integral part of this pioneering movement.

I feel very fortunate to have been recognised with a number of accolades throughout my career – from the NAJ’s Jewellery Designer of the Year 2017, to a place on Professional Jeweller’s Hot 100 in 2013 and, most recently, my role as an Ethical Retail Ambassador for the Women’s Jewellery Network.

Much like our Fairtrade Gold license, having this kudos against my brand’s name affords me an ever-so-slightly higher platform on which to push my cause. 

Delivering my very own TEDx talk in 2015 was also a huge milestone in my campaigning career.

Why is work so important to you?

I simply cannot see myself doing anything other than this. The work of ethical jewellers is crucial if the industry is to evolve. Every day I wake with the knowledge that my work, and the work of others in the field, is transforming jewellery into an active force for good, for millions of people around the world. That’s pretty big.

Who inspires you?

Initially, I was driven purely by my desire to reveal truths, disrupt the status quo and alter the face of the jewellery industry for good.

Now, as Creative Director of my very own ethical jewellery brand, the people who most inspire me are the people I work with; from small-scale miners to skilled stonecutters and hand-engravers, my colleagues and my business partners.

We are all valuable assets in a sturdy, interwoven net that uplifts me every day, providing me with a sense of purpose and the drive I need to continue creating.

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar? 

The world is overflowing with voices; some much better at shouting than others. If you are to carve yourself a long-term place in your field, it’s crucial that you are not just unique, but authentic.

Take some time to sit down and really consider what it is that makes you unparalleled. Ask yourself these three simple questions:

  1. What’s your innovation?
  2. Why do you care about pursuing this?
  3. What makes your work stand head and shoulders above everyone else? 

Once you’ve found the answers to these questions – and you believe in them – you are unstoppable. 

Find out more about Lebrusan Studio.