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Organic Jewelry Shines

by Rachel Easter,

OneTribe partner and Operations Manager
Interviewed by Susan Lutz,

ATH Co-Editor of Organic Living



Handmade jewelry is often sought after, yet organic, natural, handmade jewelry is truly a prize. OneTribe designs absolutely gorgeous jewelry that are stunning and functional. Stretched piercings have been a world tradition in body adornment, relating back to times of the ancient Mayans. As it finds it's way into today's culture, the appreciation of beautiful materials from the earth spreads into the crafting of more jewelry that crosses an even bigger market. OneTribe is also impressive in it's dedication to supporting human rights and dignity as it digs for those willing to treat miners and Mother Earth in search for those sparkling, smooth, and lustrous pieces that catch our eye.

Susan Lutz: Organic jewelry. I never thought of the term until I saw your work. What is this?

OneTribe: Organic and natural jewelry is made from materials that were once living or come directly from the earth.  "Organic" refers to materials that were living or attached to living creatures, and these would include wood, horn, bone, antler, bamboo/grasses, shell, quills, tusks, feathers, and amber.  "Natural" is a term that we use to refer to anything that comes from the earth and is not man-made, such as silver, gold, titanium, niobium, stones, volcanic glasses (obsidian), and petrified materials. 

Susan: Besides the idea of organic, I was very struck by the process that goes into finding the pieces used to create your jewelry. How do you find your materials?

OneTribe: We have spent the last 8+ years meeting with vendors or materials, talking with mine owners, handpicking rocks at shows, and sometimes physically going to a mine and handpicking rocks from the ground.  We try to get as close to the source of the material as possible for a few reasons:

a) eliminate mark-up charges by middlemen, 
b) make sure that the material we are getting is as untouched and pure as possible,
c) it allows us to talk with people at the source and we not only get more info that way, but we can make sure that the vendors we use are honest and treat their employees (especially the miners) with respect.

Susan: After the materials, how do you decide on design?

OneTribe: Our designs are sometimes dictated by the material, sometimes by the design, and we allow ourselves the flexibility of deciding ourselves or allowing nature to decide for us the best "new thing."  For example, we recently completed a project that involved inlaying fossilized fern fronds into wood.  The fossils dictated what size at which the pieces would be made and what type of wood would be best to "frame" the ferns.  Onetribe's owner, Jared Karnes, also felt that the design called for a hidden metal bezel that would not interfere with the fossil itself, so while metal was used, all emphasis was given to the fossil and not to any of the other materials.  In the art world, we would say that "form follows function," or in this case, "form follows fossil." 

Susan: What is someone searching for when they come to you for jewelry?

OneTribe: When people approach us about jewelry, they are generally searching for pieces that will be for traditional stretched piercings, and although we are capable of making jewelry for standard piercings, our focus is on the enlarged piercing, but we will address this in detail in a later question.  We like to call jewelry "adornments" because we feel that it explains more about why people want jewelry in the first place:  People want to adorn themselves.  It's a very simple concept that we as human beings find the need to decorate our bodies in all sorts of different ways.  There are a few main reasons:

a) personal expression for one's own self
b) expression meant to be recognized by others
c) acceptance or position in society
d) transformation or rite of passage

When you break down the reasons for why people adorn themselves in the first place, it is very easy to explain why people wear gold jewelry and diamonds (position, social status), stretch their ears (transformation, personal or societal recognition), or choose to wear nothing at all (acceptance in society).  The jewelry that we make for people will vary based on all of the different needs of the person, although all of our customers tend to prefer natural and organic jewelry over other types!

Susan: Your mission statement states that your project is "a love and be loved project that gives us the chance to be around amazing people from all facets of life and provide adornments that help individuals in their quest to feel complete." It is an impressive mission in creating jewelry, how did it arise?

OneTribe: Necessity is the mother of invention, and Onetribe was born from a desire to find quality jewelry for stretched piercings.  In 2003, there wasn't a lot of choice, and no one was specializing in the retail market, only wholesale.  Finding jewelry that an individual could purchase for personal use was difficult, so Jared felt compelled to go out on a limb and start a business.  He was already well-versed in HTML and CSS design, so building our first website was a natural extension of his creative talents.  I followed his lead and in our early stages was responsible for support, organization, and finance. 

Susan: The photos on your site of some of the pieces you create are stunning. How do you keep coming up with new designs?

OneTribe: As I mentioned before, our designs can be fluidly designed around a material, but we also take inspiration from other sources.  Our good friend and tattoo artist, Mike Moses, designed quite a few of our illustrative designs and hanging styles.  Some are totally original, but others are based on a particular region's design, a cultural reference, religious imagery, or historical sketches.  In every corner of the globe, one can find inspiration for new designs, all you have to do is look in all those nooks and crannies the right way to see the potential that exists.  We feel that we really do stand on the shoulders of giants, and a lot of our designs have their basis in historical adornments. 

Susan: Lobe stretching and body piercings seem to be a big part of your work. What is this and why to people choose to do it?

OneTribe: Our jewelry is centered around traditional stretched piercings because we like it and it is a new and exciting field in which to work.  The techniques that we use to carve and combine materials are becoming more innovative everyday, and we are able to bring fine jewelry to people who have piercings that can display the richness and fullness of nature and history.  Someone with stretched ears can physically wear a Cavansite in Stilbite mineral specimen instead of simply looking at it on a shelf or feeling resigned to wear it as a pendant around the neck.  There are simply more possibilities to be had with stretched piercings (on the ear, the labret, nostrils, septums, nipples), and cultures would center their adornments around the materials that they had to wear in their environment.  For example, the Mayans valued jade, so they stretched their ears to be able to accommodate large pieces of decorative jade. 

In our modern world, the reasons for conscious body modification, that is, the permanent nature of stretched ears and stretched piercings, have been explored over and over again.  Suffice it to say that if people can, they will.  The reasons will vary from person to person, society to society.  If people can stretch their ears, they will.  If they can get tattoos, they will.  If they can get plastic surgery, they will.  If they can wear high heels, they will. 

Susan: How do worldwide traditions play a part in your work?

OneTribe: Our work is based on worldwide traditions that span across the continents and ages.  Our process of design and growth is the same as an individual's growth and development, and we are constantly researching methods, materials, designs, cultures, plants, and animals that will speak our passions to others.  We have a growing collection of antiquities from both global hemispheres that we display in our Richmond studio, as well.  They are constant reminders that what we do is rooted in history and we use these cultures and their adornments as inspirations for our projects and designs.

Susan: "How does your product differ from going to a jewelry store and buying something from under the class case?"

OneTribe: First, you can't get our jewelry anywhere else.  We make everything we sell and we do not wholesale.  Second, we have a specialty market for stretched piercing jewelry, and this is not typically something you can get at a regular jewelry store.  One is limited to tattoo and piercing shops and the occasional Hot Topic mall store or jewelry kiosk, and for the most part, this jewelry is sub-par, mass produced, sweat shop, poor quality wastes of time and money.   Of course, there are exceptions for some tattoo and piercing shops that buy quality jewelry for reputable vendors, but by and large, the jewelry with the lowest cost and the highest markup wins  But the customers lose, and that's why we came into being and are working so hard to build a better business.  Even if we don't reach every person out there who is looking for jewelry, perhaps we can inspire change for the better in our industry.

Susan: What is next for Onetribe?

OneTribe: Our next big step (coming this year) is a website redesign that will allow us to blend our retail front with our historical research.  Our main goal is always to take what we are doing now and make it better, and that is what motivates us to keep going day in and day out.  We are of the mindset that if something can be imagined, it can be done. Maybe not today, but one day.  Jared and I built Onetribe with no prior experience in the field of jewelry-making or business, but we knew that what was imagined could be real with enough work and dedication.



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About Onetribe

Onetribe is an experiment in modern ethical business. A love and be loved project that gives us the chance to be around amazing people from all facets of life and provide adornments that help individuals in their quest to feel complete. The idea that the mind, body and our surroundings are all interconnected and interwoven into a fine web of existence. Onetribe is the realization that the things we say and do directly influence beings and objects around us.

Through intelligent use of natural and economic resources and a passion for providing beautiful people with beautiful objects, we aim to inspire wellness in the world one individual at a time. Our mission is to be a model for conscientious, socially engaging and environmentally responsible business. By providing a quality product with unparalleled service and respectable ideals, we aim to educate and influence the world one personalized interaction at a time.

For more information visit OneTribe.




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