Lilian von Trapp is one of those women who takes pride in inspiring others to reach their potential – and, indeed, to exceed it. Conscious of the deteriorating state of the environment and the global communities that suffer in the name of consumerism, the jewellery designer works with master artisans under regulated fair labour conditions to fashion delicate pieces made from recycled gold and vintage diamonds. 

Despite her brand’s own good practice, the Berlin-based designer knows more still needs to be done to counteract the vicious cycle of mining, which is why Lilian has set herself the challenge of working with the people directly affected by the industry, and to give back to the African communities that have mined and died in the pursuit of gold.

As she ventures to the continent for the very first time with the support of the Earthbeat Foundation – an organisation that enables less economically developed communities to grow independent from exploitative industries – Lilian met with Because Magazine to tell us more about her plan and its long-term potential.

Your ethical stance on jewellery, and the commitment you have to a production line that is both environmentally sustainable and fair to workers is totally unwavering. Where did such a powerful opinion stem from?
Very early on, I learned that gold mining is not only one of the worst polluters for the planet, but also that people are suffering and dying at the hands of the mines.  There’s approximately 170 million kilograms of gold in circulation currently – the selling and trading of the material dates back to 500BC, and once gold has been mined it doesn’t get destroyed – so I ask myself, why is there the need to mine more? Why go on killing people and polluting the environment in the process, when we’re sitting on so much already?

Though it’s impossible to avoid using mined gold altogether when recycling it, I do want to close the circle and give something back to the affected communities in Africa. It’s not about giving them money, it’s about being there for the people and educating them on how important it is to send their children to school so that they’re not destined for a life of gold mining. It’s the only solution to the bigger problem.

What does your work with the communities in Africa actually look like?
I’m working alongside a group in Uganda, where I also visit and stay; it’s a small-scale gold mining town of about 2000 people in the middle of the country, all of whom have been working with a mine for the past 50 years. With no one to oversee what they’re doing, they’re exposed to all sorts of toxins and mercury poisoning. Not equipped with gloves or any knowledge on first-aid, death from blood poisoning is still a very frequent case there and, because the soil has become polluted over the years, it’s meant that nothing can grow. Their agriculture and farming industries have been totally wiped out, which in turn, has made them totally dependent on the mines.

Working with the amazing foundation Earthbeat, we’ll be planting bamboo with the community during our first trip. Bamboo has the ability to decontaminate soil through extracting toxins from the ground – this means that we can work towards reviving agriculture as a way of earning a living.

So this is a long-term vision for the community, then?
We’ll be heading back to Uganda in six months time to track progress. Meanwhile, we’ve got a contact on the ground that knows the community well and will be keeping up the communications with us.

My goal is to emphasise that the community can grow independent from gold mining; they don’t have to endanger themselves or their children. However, for those who will continue to work in the mine, we’d like to educate them on first-aid and how to effectively protect themselves. It’s a whole process of conducting education meetings with the entire community, including the children, to discuss the impact of schooling to give them options in their lives. We’ll be providing them with school materials and, because the closest school is a five-hour walk away, a school bus.

As for the agriculture side of things, when the bamboo grows it will enable them to build houses and eventually a school. The next step will be to plant coffee and avocados (which will thrive organically in this climate), and so provide alternative work options to the mine.

Such a powerful and sustainable initiative is reflected in all areas of your brand, including the aesthetic. Yours are not the kind of pieces that are designed to be worn once, and once alone.
Exactly! It’s important for me that the pieces I create are embraced and worn on a day-to-day basis – not just once in a blue moon, which is the antithesis of sustainability! My jewellery echoes my standpoint about buying consciously and wearing it over and over again. Once you’ve ‘had enough’ of using it, then you can then give it back to the circle and recycle and exchange it to create something else, which is a system I am aiming to implement in the future.

Click here to discover more about Lilian von Trapp.