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An interview with LILIAN VON TRAPP

Based on Lilian von Trapp’s beautifully made minimal fine jewellery pieces, you would never guess that she actually began her career as a lawyer. After upcycling some inherited fine jewellery from her mother, Lilian found her true calling in jewellery design and her eponymous brand was born. 

Lilian von Trapp has had sustainability at the center of her work since day one. While her collections are 100% handmade in a small family owned factory in Germany, her sustainable vision goes beyond her supply chain. Not only does Lilian von Trapp produce outside the traditional mining system, a significant portion of her profits goes to the Earthbeat Foundation, where she helps counter the negative effects of the gold trade on impoverished mining communities. Lilian von Trapp is a wonderful reminder that beautiful things don’t have to come at the expense of the environment. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background, how did you fall in love with jewellery design? 
While I come from a law background, I have always been very specific about what I like when it comes to fashion and jewellery. When I first began designing, it was actually out of necessity in a way. On the one hand, I’d inherited jewellery from my mother and thought: I really don’t want to wear this, but I don’t want to lock it away either. On the other hand, I was looking for specific designs that I couldn’t find anywhere. So, I decided to melt down my mother’s jewellery and just create that design myself. At one point I realised, that it wasn’t just me who was looking for this kind of unique style and that I was onto something. 

Lilian von Trapp began through upcycling your mother’s gold and diamond jewellery. In what ways has your brand evolved since then?
Lilian von Trapp has been sustainable from day one, which probably made it more difficult to start. However, the response I got throughout the past year has been quite overwhelming! It has helped me form new partnerships with like-minded people, in order to get our message out and expand the brand’s reach. Lilian von Trapp stands for minimal and timeless sustainable fine jewellery. To me, sustainability is not only about materials, but also about designing things that women will want to wear beyond the short-lived trend. My designs have evolved from small and intricate pieces, to a very self confident current collection.
Aside from upcycling diamonds and gemstones, In what ways does your brand reduce its carbon footprint? 
Lilian von Trapp is 100% handcrafted in Germany at a small family owned factory. This ensures that we have sustainable and ethical operations every step of the way. Additionally, we only use recycled materials for all physical correspondence, invoicing, and packaging. Also, part of our revenue goes to projects that help fight the horrible toll of gold-mining on third world communities.
Not only do you operate outside the traditional gold and mining system, you also support the Earthbeat Foundation and donate two percent of your earnings to counter long term social and environmental effects of communities ravaged by the gold trade. Tell us about your work with Earthbeat, and how you are helping these communities? 
Small scale gold-mining is the largest producer of mercury emissions in the world. This poisonous heavy metal is used to separate gold from rock and pollutes the soil and ground water, causing genetic defects among other deadly conditions in nearby communities. The contaminated soil becomes unusable for farming. Making the affected third world communities fully dependent on badly operated and unsafe mines to generate their income. It really is a vicious cycle, one that we are trying to break. We have initiated our first project at a mine in Uganda, where we show the local miners how to decontaminate their ground using permaculture principles, as well as help them rediscover farming as a safe form of sustainable livelihood. 
Do you think that upcycling is the future of jewellery?  
It really is all up to the customer. A revolution is already happening in food and beginning to take a hold in fashion. Mainly because more and more people are becoming discontented  with the status quo and are looking for alternatives. I would like to see the same thing happening in jewellery. Ask yourself: Why am I not buying jewellery specifically made from recycled gold, when the quality is identical to its mined counterpart? The more people ask for it, the more brands will see that there is a market in sustainability. So yes, I think it will be happening but there is still a long way to go.

Today, sustainability is more important than ever, with fashion brands becoming more and more concerned about their carbon footprint. What role does the fashion industry play in the effort to minimise our environmental impact as a species?
Everybody communicates through fashion, not just through style, but also through the materials we choose to wear on our skin. We constantly influence one another, therefore the fashion industry plays a crucial role. It is often the first gateway to leading consumers to understanding the underlying principles of what we need to do and who we need to become as a species, to make us last on this planet. 
As consumers, how can we make a difference in protecting the future of our planet?
Fast fashion has conditioned us to think we should be able to get everything we want right now. We have to rediscover patience as a virtue, never stop asking questions, and seek out alternatives. Even if it means we have to wait a little longer for our fashion fix.

Interview by Hannah Tan-Gillies

Portraits by Curtis Gibson