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Upcycled seaglass jewellery for mermaids

My Sea Horse is handmade, plastic free & ethical jewellery

This upcycled seaglass jewellery uses glass and shell pieces are straight from the beach in Spain. The entire process is handmade and uses eco silver to create beautiful necklaces, bracelets & earrings.

We interview Lesley Elder, a social & eco-entrepreneur who started My Sea Horse bringing a stunning collection that even mermaids would be proud of wearing. Her walks on the beach led to start a beautiful & ethical seaglass jewellery brand made from upcycled stones and shells collected by hand while cleaning up the plastic from the oceans. Hope you enjoy this fantastic interview as much as we did!

Upcycled seaglass jewellery for mermaids
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Hi Lesley, we’d love to hear a bit more about your background and what led you to start the ethical seaglass jewellery brand My Sea Horse?

Well, I had a fairly typical corporate career after University, working as a project manager in banking for over 20 years.  One of the things I liked about project management is that you get to learn a little bit about lots of different business areas, such as marketing, finance, etc. As a project manager, you also need to be super organized and quite proactive and all of this is a great experience for running your own business.  

So I already knew that I wanted to be my own boss and that I had a lot of useful skills. And I knew I wanted to have an ethical business that, at least, didn’t harm the environment, if not help it in some way. 

The inspiration really came one day when we were walking our dog, Rambo, on the beach near our home in Alicante in Spain. I found this stunning aqua colored piece of sea glass and I said to my husband that I really wished I knew how to make jewelry then I could make a necklace with it. So I did a bit of research and one thing led to another and here we are! 

What is the mission of the brand, what’s the type of positive change you are seeking to create?

We are proudly plastic free! I’m really upset about the amount of plastic that’s ended up in our seas. And furious when I see creatures that have died because they have eaten plastic and starved to death. Or have got caught up in abandoned fishing nets or plastic packaging. We only see a tiny fraction of it, the stuff that washes up on our beach. We pick up plastic every time we go to the beach and especially when we are collecting glass.  

So it was really important that whatever we did at Seahorse that we didn’t add to the problem. It’s not been easy to be completely plastic-free on the packaging side – sellotape for example! Luckily there are so many packaging companies that now offer plastic alternatives and use recycled materials. The next step is to encourage our suppliers to use less packaging; thankfully most of what they use is biodegradable, there’s just a lot of it! 

Upcycled seaglass jewellery for mermaids
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We upcycle and recycle! The other thing we became increasingly conscious of while we were setting up the company is the amount of harm that the fashion industry does to the environment. There is a real awareness now of the wastefulness of this industry and we are really proud of the fact that nearly everything we use in making the jewellery is upcycled or recycled. Our glass and shell pieces are straight from the beach. And we use eco silver wherever possible which is silver that’s been recycled rather than mined. Silver mining is really bad for polluting the environment, especially the water table. There are still a few components that we can’t get in eco silver but we will keep putting pressure on our suppliers to change this. There will only be a supply of eco-friendly materials if businesses like ours demand it. 

Our glass and shell pieces are straight from the beach. And we use eco silver wherever possible which is silver that's been recycled rather than mined. We pick up plastic every time we go to the beach ~ Lesley Elder founder My Sea… Click To Tweet

How do you actually find your crystals, stones, and pebbles?

The majority of the glass and stones we use come from local beaches and are washed up after a heavy storm. Although we do like to have a little scout around any time we go on holiday and we have been very lucky in the Canarian Island of La Palma this year.   

Some of the quartz and crystals come from the beach but most come from our hill walks with Rambo. We like to venture up into the Crevillente mountains around 30 minutes from where we live for a nice long walk on a Sunday. The crystals can be seen sticking out from the rocks at the side of the path and we will take a handful from different spots along the path. 

Upcycled seaglass jewellery for mermaids
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We’re very conscious not to take too many “natural” items from the beach or the mountains. Despite the fact there is an abundance of quartz in our mountains you won’t see too many jewellery items with this as the main component.  Its quite hard to find a piece that’s strong enough for jewellery when it’s cleaned up, but apart from that, we want to keep the business sustainable and not cause any environmental damage. Similarly, we don’t use too many shells and will only take 3 or 4 that have a really good mother-of-pearl sheen to them on any glass collecting trip. 

And do you keep the shape of the crystals as they come from nature?

The glass is cleaned with soapy water only and is used as it is. So we are always looking for interesting shapes, strong colors, and a smooth or frosted finish. The quartz and stones that make the crystals need to be cleaned and then polished with hand tools to remove bits of rock, sand, etc. The shape is really determined by what’s left after that process. We can then round off the edges before its made into jewellery but most often we leave it as it is as I think that’s more interesting! Mother nature is a wonderful artist.

Upcycled seaglass jewellery for mermaids
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You make all the seaglass jewellery pieces by hand; what does the process look like?

Once a piece of sea glass has been cleaned it gets sorted by color and size. If it’s not “ready”, for example, it’s not completely smooth or frosted it goes into a box for recycling.

I’ll choose an interesting shape or color and create a design around that. I’m a big fan of aqua and teal but sometimes we find something unusual like the purple sea glass we had recently. I mark up where the piece needs to be drilled, which can sometimes be quite delicate so it can take up to 10 minutes to drill one piece. 

I’ll then work on the design using eco silver wire or silver bails and fittings. Once I’m happy it’s then cleaned and polished ready for photographing. We tend to do the photos in batches and then add several pieces to the online shop at one time. Each piece is allocated to a collection to await its new home! 

Tell us about your collections, what makes each of them special?

Some of the collections are simply based on the color of the glass, e.g. emerald green or amber. However, where we have particularly clear, smooth, or translucent glass with a simple design that will usually go into the “Pure” collection. My personal favorite is the Mermaid collection.

Upcycled seaglass jewellery for mermaids
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All your pieces are stunning, but the seaglass jewellery Mermaid collection… pretty sure it has many fans?! 

I have a very big imagination and when I find a really pretty pink shell or pastel color of glass I imagine this being something that a mermaid would covet as she sits in her bedroom under the sea! In my imaginary under-the-sea world mermaids collect very pretty things. I try to make something that I think they would want on their dressing table. 

The colors are very soft and my favorite embellishment for the glass is finding a shell with a clean mother-of-pearl finish that compliments the color of the glass. My particular favorite is the mermaid purses and I don’t think anyone else is making anything like that. 

Upcycled seaglass jewellery for mermaids
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When it comes to sourcing the silver, how do you ensure it is ethically made?

We buy eco silver from one of the most reputable jewellery suppliers in the UK. Their eco silver wire is certified as being from recycled sources and it’s very high quality. The silver we use has a purity of 0.925, the same as standard sterling silver. 

And what makes Eco-Silver sustainable, compared to the traditional silver?

It basically avoids the need for mining. Silver mining can be very hard on the environment with water tables, rivers, and of course, eventually, the ocean being polluted with the chemicals used in the extraction process.  Eco-silver avoids that whole process. 

Upcycled seaglass jewellery for mermaids
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People who have purchased your ethical seaglass jewellery are very happy with your sustainable packaging. What do you use to make it more eco-friendly?

We completely avoid plastic in our packaging. This was one of the first rules I set when we started out, that we shouldn’t add to the problem we were seeing on our beaches every day. So that means no plastic bags, no plastic inserts in the jewellery boxes, no polyester ribbon, and no sellotape! Everything we use in our packaging has to be biodegradable and non-polluting and it took some time to source boxes and wrapping paper that met those criteria.  We use paper tape and colored hessian string and we will often re-use the outer packaging from suppliers’ deliveries eg, cardboard boxes. We also wanted to keep everything lightweight to minimize the carbon footprint of our deliveries.

The Guide for Eco-Friendly Packaging Ideas

Why should people buy ethical jewellery instead?

I think consumers are now becoming more aware of the impact of their purchases on the environment and of the welfare of the people producing them. There has been a real backlash in the UK for example against fast fashion, thanks to campaigners like Stacy Dooley who has made some really eye-opening documentaries.  People want to feel good about their purchases and not have to worry or feel guilty that their necklace or bracelet has poisoned the water source of the people who made it. Or that it was made by women or children earning $2 per day. 

Buying something ethically made and sustainable means enjoying a quality product that often gives something back to society rather than making things worse. 

Aside from creating ethical seaglass jewelry, with the Beach Pebble collection you give back to a cause. Can you share a little bit more about the impact you are trying yo make?

At the moment we are supporting a local dog rescue charity here in Spain, Paradise Rescue Kennels. We had some very bad flooding in our area in August 2019 and the rescue center was particularly badly hit. They had around 100 dogs and puppies in at that time and the kennels were completely flooded. Food, bedding, and even the washing machine were completely destroyed. 

When we set up Seahorse I wanted to make sure that we supported a charity and it made sense to choose one on our doorstep. There’s no ASPCA/RSPCA in Spain, so animal rescue is down to independent charities and rescues doing what they can. We have been donating from the sale of our beach pebble collection but at the moment they are struggling to buy food for the dogs. They have had to close their charity shop because of the coronavirus and that is their main source of income. So we are running a fundraiser at the moment to raise 1000 euros to pay for their food delivery for the next 2 months. 

Upcycled seaglass jewellery for mermaids
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In fact, there is a very special team member… who is Rambo?!

Rambo is our Head of Security, and also a Procurement Support Officer! He was a rescue from Paradise who came to live with us when he was just 10 weeks old. He had been abandoned in the countryside and left to fend for himself at only a few weeks old and thankfully he was found and taken to Paradise. That was 3 years ago and since October he has been an important member of the team. He guards the workshop during the day when he’s not demanding tummy rubs. And, of course, he accompanies us on all of our beach trips to look for sea glass.  We haven’t yet trained him to search for the sea glass but we’re working on it!

One of the key distinctions most of the eco + social entrepreneurs have in common is that they tend to collaborate. How do you perceive collaboration and how has it helped your business?

I’m an advocate for female entrepreneurs and I belong to a network here in Spain called Costa Women, founded by Ali Meehan. There is a social element to the network but it also has a strong business focus. The members try to help each other by promoting each other’s businesses, providing free training on their area of expertise, and helping to resolve issues. This has helped to broaden our reach and also given me the confidence to start a business and really go for it. 

We now want to take this to the next level by spreading the message about sustainable consumerism and buying eco-friendly products and we’re very excited to work with OurGoodBrands on this project. 

What has been the greatest success of the brand so far?

Our silver charm seahorse pieces have been selling really well. But the thing I am most proud of is getting the message out there about re-using existing materials to make something new. Upcycling glass and re-using silver minimize our environmental impact. 

Is there any advice you’d like to give to other small businesses trying to make a difference?

Find your tribe! There are lots of other people out there who have the same beliefs and concerns as you. Not only can they become your customers but they will help to sustain you when things get tough. And they will get tough. You will make mistakes but the important thing is just to keep going, do the best you can and be honest when you mess up.

In the 6 months since we started our workshop has been flooded for a week, we’ve dealt with the uncertainty in our UK market with Brexit and now we are weathering the coronavirus. Not many new businesses have to deal with all of this in such a short space of time but we are still here! 

You are based in Alicante, Spain, how does a social entrepreneurial venture look like there? Do you feel there’s a change happening in the city? 

Spanish consumers generally are becoming more aware of the impact of their choices on the environment. And with Alicante, because we are a coastal city, we see the impact of plastic pollution literally on our doorstep. I’ve seen a number of new shops opening up with an eco-friendly theme, e.g. plastic-free or using natural ingredients and hopefully, this will continue in the longer-term. I’m worried that the coronavirus will impact these new businesses and they won’t survive an economic recession.

If each of you could write a message on a big wall that the entire world could read, what would it say?

Roke & Lesley:  Stop Using Plastic! 

Rambo:  Keep my beach clean, please! 

Finally, where can we find you? Shop, online, worldwide…?

We have an online store at myseahorse.co.uk. We ship worldwide and offer direct gift delivery with free (environmentally friendly) gift wrapping. We are also on Facebook and Instagram so please come and say hi!

10 Tips for starting an ethical jewelry brand

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by My Sea Horse. Ourgoodbrands only features brands and contents that are aligned with an ethical, sustainable, eco-conscious world, which means we have carefully researched and written the contents in this article, and specific product information is checked with the business. For the interviews, any opinions expressed are the writer’s own, generally being the founder of the brand. Images supplied and approved by the brand featured, or credited accordingly otherwise. For more information about our policies, click here.

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