Charlotte searching for sea glass - Credit: Hannah Bullock

All this week we’re covering sustainability stories, ahead of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, where climate change will be a key agenda item for world leaders. Here we talk to Cornwall-based creative Charlotte Carpenter about the impact environmental concerns have had on her life and career

In the same way fast fashion has plagued the clothing industry flooding the market with cheap, poor quality, trend-based garments in recent years, the jewellery industry has also been inundated with low quality, unsustainable pieces.

From South-East Asia to Silversmith

Charlotte Carpenter 25, is a silversmith and jeweller from Cornwall who is going against the grain and striving to create unique, high quality pieces in a sustainable way.

“I have always been quite a creative person,” says Charlotte, “My dad is really creative, and he always tried to push that side of us.” From a young age Charlotte had a fascination with all things shiny “I would go around the house and collect all my parents’ silver keys, later I found my mum’s jewellery box.”

It was while traveling around Asia that Charlotte realised she had a passion for making jewellery. “Me and my best friend were traveling around Bali, we found some local workshops that were making jewellery and trinkets for tourists and asked if they could show us the basics,” says Charlotte.

“I live in Falmouth, which is a really arty, creative place. When I got home from travelling it was really easy for me to keep practising,” says Charlotte. Wanting to further her hobby, Charlotte was able to contact a local silversmith and booked five lessons to develop the skills she already had in a more professional setting. “Up to this point it was purely a hobby, it was just a new skill I was learning and I really enjoyed making things for myself and friends,” says Charlotte.

Abstract Earrings by Charlotte Carpenter – Credit: Charlotte Carpenter

In 2019 Charlotte travelled to France to spend the winter as a chalet host in the Alps. “We were forced to come home early because of Covid. The day after I got home Boris announced the first lockdown.” While the rest of the country was binge watching Netflix, Charlotte decided to start silversmithing again. “I had a message from the lady I was doing lessons with, she told me I had the ability to do it, and that I should buy a few of the tools and turn it into a creative outlet through lockdown,” says Charlotte.

What started as a hobby for Charlotte began forming into a real business when she started an Instagram page about her jewellery. “I was making something for a friend – she asked to see some photos of other pieces I had made so she knew what I could do. Setting up an Instagram so my friends could see my work was the obvious next step,” says Charlotte. This Instagram page spread the word fast and Charlotte was inundated with commissions. “Then people I didn’t know started messaging,” says Charlotte, “Suddenly it sort of clicked that I could make a bit of money from this.”

Inspired by her dad’s business acumen she set out a business plan, “My dad has got a real head for business, he explained that my time was a commodity, which is something people don’t always get in the arts,” says Charlotte. After a period selling purely through Instagram, Charlotte set up a website “I did all the photography for it, I really focused on making it look professional and like a website someone would trust buying from,” says Charlotte.

Light Blue Sea Glass Silver Pendant – Credit: Charlotte Carpenter

Sustainability

Growing up in Cornwall, the ocean played a major role in Charlotte’s life. “I have always been inspired by the ocean, it grounds me, and I think you can see the influence running through my work,” says Charlotte.

Charlotte has also seen the coastline change in a negative way. “Living in Cornwall I have been doing beach cleans all my life, the amount of stuff you find washed up is ridiculous,” says Charlotte. Public concern around plastic’s lack of biodegradability combined with beach waste that is either left behind or washed up is also growing. “It’s got worse in the last 15 years too,” adds Charlotte. “As I have got older, the volume of people has increased the amount of rubbish that gets left behind, it’s so bad.”

Throughout Charlotte’s jewellery you will find lots of sea glass. “Sea glass is essentially bits of broken glass that has been smoothed and polished by the tumbling of the waves,” says Charlotte. One of the reasons she chooses to use sea glass is because often gemstones are mined in horrific conditions using workers with few rights. As the gemstones are difficult to trace it is almost impossible to guarantee they have been mined in a sustainable way. “Every piece of sea glass I use is one that I have actually picked up from a beach,” says Charlotte. “I love that each bit has its own story, it’s fun to imagine one of the pieces is from a pirate ship or something old like that.”

Some sea glass collected by Charlotte – Credit: Charlotte Carpenter

Charlotte also sources her silver in a sustainable way. “I often buy silver off cuts from suppliers, and any bits I have left over I melt them down and reuse them,” she says.

Charlotte is a leading light in the world of sustainable independent businesses and her work can be found here: https://charlottelydiasilver.co.uk/