Interview With Monica Stephenson, Founder of ANZA GemsLaryssa
In episode #177 of the Joy Joya Jewelry Marketing Podcast, I share my interview with Monica Stephenson, founder of ANZA Gems. She started her company in 2015 with the mission of improving the lives of artisanal gemstone miners and helping East Africans participate more fully in the global gemstone trade.
They buy gemstone rough directly in East Africa and support individuals all along the supply chain by paying fair prices to miners and dealers, and use artisan cutters to facet one-of-a-kind spectacular gemstones for the wholesale trade, with a percentage of sales going to educational and entrepreneurial initiatives in the regions where they buy.
Monica also co-founded Moyo Gems as a collaboration between international traders, NGO Pact, NGO Tanzania Women Miners Assoc, and Everledger (Blockchain platform) to bring the gemstones of the women miners of Tanga, Tanzania to market.
If you didn’t think she was busy enough, she’s also:
The current Board president of Ethical Metalsmiths
On the international board of WJA
On the Board of Gem Legacy
On the advisory board of Black in Jewelry Coalition
Let me tell you – this woman’s a powerhouse!
Check out the transcript below.
00:08 Laryssa Wirstiuk
Welcome to the Joy Joya podcast where jewelry is joy, and everyone is encouraged to add more polish and sparkle to the world. With topics ranging from marketing tips to business development, best practices, and beyond, this is the go-to podcast for ambitious jewelry industry dreamers like you. Hi, I’m your host Laryssa Wirstiuk, through this podcast I aim to empower and inspire jewelry entrepreneurs and professionals so they can thrive while adding more beauty to the world. I’m passionate about digital marketing for jewelry brands and I’m excited to share my passion with you. As we all know jewelry is joy, so I’ll gladly seize any opportunity to talk about it.
This is episode 177, and today I’m very excited to share my interview with Monica Stephenson, founder of ANZA Gems. She started her company in 2015 with a mission of improving the lives of artisanal gemstone miners and helping East Africans participate more fully in the global gemstone trade. They buy gemstone rough directly in East Africa and support individuals all along the supply chain by paying fair prices to miners and dealers. And use artisan cutters to fascinate one-of-a-kind spectacular gemstones for the wholesale trade, with a percentage of sales going to educational and entrepreneurial initiatives in the regions where they buy. Monica also co-founded Moyo gems to bring the gemstones of women miners of Tonga Tanzania to market. If you didn’t think that Monica was busy enough, she’s also the current board president of ethical metalsmiths on the international board of WJA, on the board of gem legacy, and on the advisory board of black and jewelry coalition. Are you impressed yet by Monica?
After I recorded this interview a few months ago, I actually got to meet Monica in person briefly at AGS conclave and I listened to her speak on a panel about female leaders in the jewelry industry. Let me tell you this woman is a powerhouse. At the end of this interview, Monica actually talks about going on a trip to East Africa in May, of course, it’s now June, and she did get to go on that trip. So, you can check out her Instagram handle @idazzle to see some photos from that trip, and I’m so happy she was able to go on that trip after a hiatus from traveling due to the COVID pandemic.
But before we get to the solid gold of this episode, I’d like to take a moment to remind you that this podcast has both an audio and video component. So, you can either listen on your favorite podcast platform or watch on YouTube by searching Joy Joya. I love creating this content as my active service to you my awesome listeners and you can support the podcast for free by taking the time not only to subscribe, but also to leave a rating or review on iTunes, which helps other jewelry dreamers find it too.
In this segment of the podcast, I give out my sparkle award for the week. During this segment, I highlight a jewelry brand that’s impressing me with their marketing. This sparkle award is also interactive, so you can visit sparkleaward.com to nominate a jewelry brand that’s inspiring you these days and I might feature your submission on a future podcast episode. So, this one, it came from gucci.com and I am giving this week’s sparkle award to Gucci and Oura. I hope I’m saying that correctly, It’s “OURA”. Oura is a Finnish health technology company and it’s known for creating a smart ring used to track sleep and physical activity. The new “Gucci x oura” smart ring comes with 24/7 heart rate monitoring, sensors, and sleep analysis. This smart ring decodes each individual day through three daily scores measuring sleep and readiness. Each score adapts and responds to the wearer according to their personal platforms. The collab plays a subtle tribute to Gucci’s origins in the world of sports and leisure. I find this really impressive that heritage luxury fashion house is pushing boundaries and thinking in an innovative…, thinking in an innovative way. Thinking about jewelry not just as adornment, but also as a way to improve and enhance your life. As I mentioned, you can visit https://joyjoya.com/sparkle-award/ to nominate a jewelry brand that’s inspiring you these days, and I might feature your submission on a future podcast episode.
Let’s discuss some recent news related to jewelry or marketing. Each week I share my thoughts about three relevant articles, and you can get those links by visiting https://joyjoya.com/signup/. Once you’re on that VIP list, you’ll receive our weekly digest filled with new episode announcements. So the first article actually comes directly from Pinterest, and I was really excited about this because it shows the ways that Pinterest is really working to make itself an interactive shopping platform. So, Pinterest is evolving their shopping vision by focusing on technology integration to better brand relationships, customer experience, and transactions. On June 2nd, they announced that they’ve signed a definitive agreement to acquire THE YES, which is an AI-powered shopping platform for fashion that enables people to shop a personalized feed based on the user’s active input on brand style and size. The Yes, CEO Julie Bornstein, will report to Pinterest co-founder and CEO Ben Silbermann and will lead a shopping vision and strategy across Pinterest. The Yes will potentially help other categories on Pinterest besides fashion, such as home beauty and food. Again, it’s really cool to see how Pinterest is taking steps to evolve to be more of a shopping platform, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how this acquisition changes the game for Pinterest.
The next article comes from Gartner. And it’s all about what marketing budgets are looking like in 2022. So, they did an interview or a survey of CMOs or Chief Marketing Officers, to see what the average marketing spend is this year. And this will kind of give you an idea, of course, maybe you’re listening you have a small business, and this article focuses more on large businesses and corporations. So, the numbers might not actually, actually apply to you. But knowing the percentage of revenue that CMOs are investing in their marketing can kind of give you an idea of what a marketing budget should be like. So, here’s what the 2022 survey reveals. One, marketing budgets are climbing back. The survey reveals that marketing budgets are climbing back with the average spend increasing from 6.4% to 9.5% of company revenue, and that’s across almost all industries. So that percentage really gives you an idea of what portion of your annual revenue you should be investing back into your marketing. Also, the survey reveals that CMOs are optimistic despite signs of future disruptions. So, despite inflation, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, supply chain issues, unprecedented talent competition, a majority of CMOs think inflationary pressure will actually have a positive impact on strategy and investment in the year ahead. But it’s really vital right now to take time to plan for uncertainty by building plans into your business and into your marketing. The survey also reveals that customer journeys are changing. I mean, they’re always changing. It comes as no surprise that customer journeys are evolving. It’s imperative for CMOs, for business leaders to listen carefully to their customers and pay attention to the channels they are using, so the brand can really be present on those channels and invest in them. Many CMOs are shifting from digital first to more hybrid multi-channel strategies in terms of digital spend, social advertising is topping the list closely followed by paid search and digital display. So, there’s a big emphasis on social advertising this year for marketers, also marketing is embracing this back to the basics approach. So according to the survey, the top three investments by CMOs, are one, Campaign Creation and Management, two, Brand Strategy, and three, Marketing Operations. Those are kind of like the three pillars of marketing. So, they’re really the top areas of focus for marketing leaders this year. It’s becoming clear that the “Back to Basics” approach in 2020, building awareness, engagement, having a compelling brand, being effective with campaigns that resonate with customers. It’s nothing more complicating or mysterious than that. It’s very straightforward, always coming back to the customers. I’m really interested to see what happens in the second half of the year to lead us up into 2023.
And the last article comes from marketing dive. It’s called Google Reimagined Search Beyond ‘10 blue links, as they say. And if you’re not familiar with that reference, when you search anything on Google, the very first page of search engine results are ten, they are blue, and that’s what they’re talking about. And this has been Google’s standard way of displaying search results since forever. So, this article is really about what Google is doing in the future to evolve search. Although the digital boom of the pandemic is subsiding, Google is pushing for really a more interactive digital advertising experience. And they are placing their bets on AR or Augmented Reality shopping ads in search results. So, during the annual marketing live event, this year, Google presented their makeover plan to address the emergence of what they’re calling “Omni buyers” and alter features to prioritize really a visually active experience. So, Omni buyers, they’re defying as, defined as, consumers who more intensively research and browse on their shopping journeys, both online and in store. And I think that that’s becoming a majority of consumers lately. They’re kind of using both the online and the in-store experience to help them make decisions about what they’re going to purchase. During that marketing live presentation, this was a really great quote from Chief Business Officer, Philip Schindler, quote, “let me be clear, it’s not about virtual worlds, it’s about making the real world better today by bringing in the best of what the digital world has to offer to the real world”, end quote. I love that, because I think there’s so much talk right now about NFTs, about the metaverse and people are wondering, what does that mean? How does that apply to the quote, unquote, “real world”? And I think that this is a really balanced approach to reimagining the shopping experience and how it can live both in the digital and in-store realms. So, Google is reimagining search and even recently unveiled a multi search functionality that allows users to search the web using multiple methods such as taking pictures and using voice commands. Again, they’re very much emphasizing a highly visual, visual experience, and they have plans even to allow brands to show visual shopping ads that will display images, pricing, and reviews in search results. And one more thing that really has potential for jewelry brands, businesses that have 3D models of their products will also be able to run, ‘our ads’, directly in search. So, for example, users can use AR to test out what furniture looks like in their living room, and I’m sure even what a piece of jewelry can look like worn on the body. Google has also revealed that in the coming months, merchants will be able to promote, promote their loyalty programs to users exposed to ads on Google. So really exciting stuff. Google is always thinking ahead of the curve, but they’ve really been focused on the shopping experience lately, just like Pinterest. So, it’s cool to see these innovations.
As I mentioned, if you want to get the links to the articles I share in this segment of the podcast, you can become a Joy Joya VIP by visiting https://joyjoya.com/signup/. Without further delay, let’s get to my interview with Monica.
13:38 Laryssa Wirstiuk
Well, Monica, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. I’m so excited to have you as a guest today and to share you with my listeners and viewers.
13:46 Monica Stephenson
Thank you so much for having me. It’s such a, such an honor after listening to you over the last couple of years to actually join your show. So, thanks.
13:55 Laryssa Wirstiuk
Great. So, tell our listeners and viewers how did you first enter this amazing and wonderful jewelry industry? And then how has that role changed and evolved over time?
14:07 Monica Stephenson
Absolutely. I always love listening to people’s jewelry origin stories, because I feel like there’s a lot to learn about how people kind of come into the industry and what makes them stay. So, I always love listening to it. I actually started, it was my first real job in college, and I worked for an independent jeweler who was an American gem society, you know, guild level store, really beautiful store, and was really kind of at the forefront of the designer jewelry movement before this became really like a big thing. It was kind of in the beginning stages. And so, I was an art major and so for me it was this natural like, oh, this is, this is, small sculpture. This is art in its own way. And I just I was just totally hooked and so even though that was my college job, I ended up staying and working for him for a while and really got a great overview. I strongly recommend retail as a great starting place for entering the industry. You really get a feel for what the final, like what is that final important thing to the customer about a piece of jewelry and what makes them buy. And I feel like that can kind of inform the entire, you know, supply chain, the entire chain. So, I’m really grateful for my start.
15:31 Laryssa Wirstiuk
Totally. So, you were a salesperson there?
15:32 Monica Stephenson
I was a salesperson. And then…
15:35 Laryssa Wirstiuk
It’s also how I entered the jewelry industry and retail. And I agree with you 100%.
15:41 Monica Stephenson
I think there’s some great foundational stuff there. And just being passionate about it, because when you are passionate about it, you communicate that to your customers. And that’s ultimately what ends up with jewelry on people’s bodies, right. So, so that was my start. And I ended up doing a fair amount with, kind of on the tech side too. So, I was an early adopter for an online presence. I had a diamond referral service that I linked people up with retailers in their area to purchase diamonds after they’ve researched online. And then that sort of led me to actually, I was a consultant for Amazon to launch their jewelry store back in the early 2000s.
16:27 Laryssa Wirstiuk
16:28 Monica Stephenson
Yeah. So, it was…, I knew it was going to be this one-of-a-kind experience, I knew it was like once in a lifetime opportunity, so I kind of went for it and I learned so much. And then I took a little step back from, I couldn’t really do retail or tech while I was…, we had young children. And so, I started blogging at that time and ended up really kind of growing that into a fairly important kind of readership. And for me, it was this very incredible lifeline back to the industry. Even though I was working from home, kind of working when the kids were like napping or in you know, preschool. It was this a way to…, it really connected me back to designers, and to trends and to events and things in the jewelry industry. So, I really loved being kind of immersed back in that. And then, I was an early adopter of social media because I wanted to kind of promote and, and kind of elevate the blog that way. And so, I ended up really kind of very active on, you know, Twitter and Instagram. And that’s kind of where things led me to kind of my…, the next part of my story.
17:41 Laryssa Wirstiuk
Sure, so let’s hear, when did you become passionate about the ethical gemstone mining and trade, because that’s where you’re at right now? Was there like, a specific moment in time that you can remember that like a light bulb went off in your head, or did it kind of happen gradually?
17:56 Monica Stephenson
You know, that’s a great question. Because I, I actually took GIA courses, I did, diamonds and diamond grading, color gemstones, color gem grading, I had gone through a number of those classes through GIA. So, I, and I’ve worked with gems, I’ve worked with diamonds, many times over the years, really immersively. And…, but what I found was with the blog, I ended up doing an interview with Jennifer Dawes, who is a designer who has had kind of a message about responsibility and sustainability since, maybe 2005 or…, that like very, very early on and, and when it was, she, she would say that the, that message was not very open at that point. It was very, it was a little on the fringe. You know you were, people looked at you like you have two heads when you’re talking about some of these things. It was just early days, and no one was really talking about that. So, I knew about her and I interviewed her probably in 2012, 2013. And it really resonated with me that the kinds of decisions she was making, he,r her path and it kind of opened up this whole other world of talking about jewelry, and I also interviewed Dorothee Gizenga, who was the executive director for Diamond Development Initiative. And they work with artisanal miners in Sierra Leone and some of the most marginalized places in the world. She just recently passed away, which is really, really sad. But she was this incredible driving force about recognizing the needs of artisanal miners and this whole segment of the industry. And all of these things kind of put together, which was when I was working on the blog, kind of made me much more open and receptive to this idea of ethics and responsibility in the industry, and I found myself more and more drawn to those kinds of stories. And one day, a tweet crossed my desk that talked about a documentary film that was going to be filmed in East Africa following the journey of a gemstone and they were going to be visiting mines and kind of looking at that whole mining community. And for some reason, I just, I was completely compelled. I think all of this, my whole life had kind of prepared me for this idea that I need to see where things come from. And so, I ended up going on this trip, and that was life-changing pivotal, clearly, it made a huge impression.
20:42 Laryssa Wirstiuk
That is so inspiring. So, this, hold on. So, this documentary, was it something that you were like, invited to, or did you just happen to notice it, and then like find a way that you’re like, I must be involved in this, can you say a little more about that.
20:57 Monica Stephenson
It was, it was a little bit more B, like, I was like, I saw this, I saw this tweet, and I immediately DM, the whoever was behind it, it was, you know, like, just the film title. It was like, I didn’t know this person, I had no idea what, what was happening, and we ended up starting a conversation. And he’s like, well, you know, if you, if you want to come along, you know, there are a few extra seats available besides the film crew, and the, you know, the, the main protagonist of the story, and so I’m like, oh, okay, this is really, this is, this is real, like, I could actually, I could actually do this, and I, my kids were still pretty young at the time, this was like 2014. And it was super random. I mean, this was really, really random for me to just say, I want to go to Africa. And I ended up doing a little more due diligence, and, you know, checked out who all was involved, knew no one. And then I flew, you know, thirty-five hours to Tanzania landed and was part of this kind of amazing experience for the next I think it was a, you know, a couple of weeks.
22:05 Laryssa Wirstiuk
Wow, talk about following your intuition. And just like trusting that, you know, that’s amazing.
22:13 Monica Stephenson
Again, I don’t, I can’t truly explain why we’re such a need to go. But for whatever reason, this was, this was my path. And it sorts of chose me, I guess.
22:26 Laryssa Wirstiuk
22:27 Monica Stephenson
So. So, after that trip, like I couldn’t sleep, I had. it, it was, it was truly life-changing on a couple of levels, just to see where people what people were working on, and how hard they’re working for very little reward. Like they don’t, they don’t see accolades, they’re, they’re not really recognized. There’s not, they’re certainly not known by name. And they’re, you know, they lack access to, you know, education and certain resources that kind of limit how much they’re actually participating in the global gem trade. And I just couldn’t stop thinking about that disparity of like, what happens in the last mile, and all of that, you know, sort of wealth and the things that are generated at that point, versus where things begin, and this red dirt, and I felt like, this is something I can do, this is something that I can work on. And I felt like, if I created the right business model, it can bridge that gap. So, I, after thinking and thinking and, you know, I’m talking like back of a napkin, you know, like business plan, you know, kind of things, I figured out a business plan that is a little bit more circular in nature. So, it, it involves me traveling to East Africa to the mining regions, purchasing gems from the brokers, miners, dealers there, they’re in rough form, usually, and then import them to the US. I have them cut by artisanal cutters here in the US, which is a little unusual. And then when those gems are sold to designers and retailers, it’s a really short supply chain. And then 10% goes back into the mining regions in the form of investment in say, primary education, trade, trade, you know, vocational training, community development, just things where we see a need to kind of help make their lives better or bridge that gap again, in between kind of where we are at and where they’re at. That’s kind of where I went with my business plan.
24:56 Laryssa Wirstiuk
Amazing. So that was the birth of ANZA Gems.
24:59 Monica Stephenson
25:00 Laryssa Wirstiuk
And when was that what year was that?
25:03 Monica Stephenson
That was after the 2014 visit for the documentary film. So, I think it was maybe 2015 when things really kind of got rolling. And Anza means ‘begin’ in Swahili, so it was so crazy that I just was like, I just have to start, you know, we have to start somewhere, just begin, just that one step start. And so, when I go, and I introduce myself to the miners and villagers, like they’re, like, ANZA start, begin, like, they know, they, they recognize kind of my, my business name. So, so that was 2015. And, you know, I’m the overnight, what, you know, seven years sensation at this point. It’s, you know, it takes time to build a brand, it takes time to kind of, you know, build, build the business, but it’s been very successful. I’ve made fifteen trips or so to, to Tanzania and Kenya, where I buy the rough, I have some really amazing cutters, some of whom are women, which is really wonderful. And, yeah, we’ve, we’ve done some great things, both in terms of the business but also the philanthropy.
26:21 Laryssa Wirstiuk
You mentioned earlier when you were talking that it’s a little unique that you have the cutting happen by artisanal cutters in the US, what’s unique about that.
26:31 Monica Stephenson
So, most gemstones, I would say I don’t know the percentage, but I would say a large majority of color gemstones are cut, they’re source from countries like you know, Tanzania, Kenya, Madagascar, Australia, like all, all corners of the globe, every continent, every, every country probably has some, you know, some gem, but most of them are cut in overseas. So, Jaipur, Bangkok, in China, increasingly, and Sri Lanka. So, there’s, there’s a lot of skill that’s located in those centers, and a lot of gemstones kind of flow to those places. And so, the labor tends to be less expensive, things are often very automated, or they’re very hand you know, cottagey, so it’s like kind of a spectrum. But usually, there’s a cost benefit for having them cut overseas. And when you’re talking about garnets or amethyst, you know, you want to make sure that you are not pricing yourself out of the market. So, it’s understandable why people choose that path. For myself, it was just very important. There’s about a hundred and fifty or so US, sort of Guild level fasteners and they are they’re incredibly talented and a lot of them are hobbyists because there’s not enough business generally for them to maybe even make a living from that. So that’s not very many if you think about it, and then a fraction of those are actually women. So, I really love supporting and nurturing that and we have the most creative most incredibly talented cutters I think so. So, there’s a handful of women but we’re you know, we love to kind of, any anyone we can nurture anyone we can kind of like bring along with us and I’m a little bit unusual in that I identify who cuts my gemstones. So, it just, it’s part of the you know, the provenance of those these gems. It’s a very short you know, I buy it in East Africa, it’s cut in the US, and then it’s yours. So, it’s a very, It doesn’t change hands twenty-five times before you know, you, you get to it.
28:56 Laryssa Wirstiuk
That is amazing. It kind of reminds me, it’s like a totally different category but I don’t know if you’re familiar with the beauty brand Lush. They put the name of the person who like made the actual product on the packaging, and I really liked that sense of transparency, and it sounds kind of like you’re doing something similar with, with that.
29:19 Monica Stephenson
Yeah, and actually we, we even go, we haven’t really talked about Moyo yet but that is Moyo gems is a collaboration that has come about since I started onset. So probably in 2017 or so is when the origins of Moyo kind of came about and, and it’s going to tie into what your point is in a second. But we I heard about this GIA artisanal gemstone mining, artisanal miner training program that GIA had instigated and was rolling out and doing a pilot in Tonga, Tanzania, which is the Umbra Valley. And I have been there multiple times, I have purchased the gemstones there. There’re beautiful gemstones that come out of that region. And when I heard that GIA had this, first of all, this training program that felt to me, like it was very appropriate for what…, the kind of knowledge that they need there, you know, a microscope extension class isn’t what this region needs. What they need is to understand the minerals that they are mining. And actually, you know, they sometimes they don’t know actually what it is that they’re mining, they definitely don’t know the value of it, they don’t know how to prepare it for the market.
30:43 Laryssa Wirstiuk
30:45 Monica Stephenson
So, so when I saw this program, a, it instantly resonated with me, the fact that they were piloting it, to the Tanzania women miner’s association was like, wow, like that, that really got my attention. And, again, I’ve been to the region, I’ve seen women on the periphery, in a lot of these mining areas, mining regions. If artisanal miners are marginalized, in general, like they are, they’re mining in remote areas, in countries that often have very little infrastructure. And then they, they lack access to, you know, education, to funding to so many things. But women artisanal miners are even more on that periphery, they are literally on the edges. And any…, like when I, when I heard that they were targeting this program, specifically for the women miner’s association, that really resonated with me. At that point, like a lot of parts of my business, were starting to really hone-in and focus on supporting women, if possible, in in from everything from photography, and packaging, you know, to, to anything that we could kind of incorporate into the business. So, this really resonated with me, and I ended up meeting, Christina Viegas, who works for PACT. They’re a worldwide NGO, and she’s the director of their minds to markets program. And so, they have experience with artisanal miners all over the world. And happened to kind of focus with GIA on this on this program in this region. So, I ended up speaking to her along with Stuart Pool of the gem company, ‘Nineteen48’. He’s based in the UK. And he’s mostly about Sri Lankan gems kind of mind to market like a total vertical supply chain. But he was very interested in Tanzania. And we all decided that we should build on the GIA education because they were…, the women were excited after this training, they were sorting their gems, they were they were washing their gems like so and, and they finally kind of understood what they were finding, and maybe a little bit more about the value of what they were finding instead of bagging everything, including, you know, gravel and, you know, things of a very little value with actual gem quality gems. Now, they were learning to separate and, and just, there was like a whole leapfrog of, of learning that had happened from this program. So, we really wanted to say, build on that and actually bring these women’s gems to market or technically actually bring the market to them, to their gems, because for them to come to Tucson would be, you know, it would be, it would be like a miracle. And it’s, it’s not, it’s not like, you know, out of the question. So, you know, that would be a great goal, is to have like a contingency, you know, at Tucson every year, but we could take the market to them. And so we actually traveled there in 2018, we spoke to the women, we met with about fifty or sixty of them in a schoolhouse in Kalahari Tanzania, and ask them, what are your challenges, what do you want from a market and so we built the program kind of around that information.
34:22 Laryssa Wirstiuk
That’s amazing. So that’s Moyo gems that you just did there.
34:26 Monica Stephenson
Moyo means ‘heart’ in Swahili. And it just really resonated with us that this could be, you know, a really great a great thing for the region. So, we have a few things that…, we don’t want to just buy their gems, we actually do really want to kind of support them and empower them and kind of scaffold them to participate more. That’s kind of ultimately my goal with ANZA or Moyo, it’s just that greater visibility and participation and empowerment of the miners. So, we build on that…, all of the miners in the Moyo program are members of TAWOMA, the Tanzania Women Miners Association, there are men who participate, it’s maybe 70/30, 60/40, depending on the market day, mostly women, but some men. but they have to be members of TAWOMA, and they have to pay into the system and support TAWOMA as well. And we do that for, for gender equity and parity and just respect in the region, I think it’s, it’s a good, it’s a good thing. But they have all taken the GIA training, we did a free occupational health and safety training for the miners in their villages before the first market day, in 2019, it’s probably time to redo that again. And then we asked that they all be legally registered to miners as well. So, kind of starting with that basic building block of legality so that we can kind of you know, build from there.
36:03 Laryssa Wirstiuk
That’s so inspiring.
36:05 Monica Stephenson
So, it’s, it’s, um, and, and what’s really an amazing byproduct of this, you know, the main motivation is to kind of give them visibility and, and buy their gems and bring those gems to market and they’re beautiful gems. If you follow along on Instagram, either idazzle or hands-on gems or at Moyo gems, you can see the kinds of things that we are finding and having cut. But what’s really, what’s really amazing about this is that by shortening that supply chain so radically, we’re able to tell you the miner who we purchased it from. So that’s a, that’s a very unusual, people straight up looked in my face and said that can’t be done a couple of years ago. And you know, we kind of have to say, watch us, we’re doing it. So, by having PACT involved, and TAWOMA, we have those assurances of these are registered miners, they’re all legally registered to mine. And then when we buy their gemstones, we can track and trace them directly from the miner. So, Salma, Agnes, you know, Raheme, you know, everyone, we can actually like, trace it through the system. And I can actually tell you who cut you know, like, who mined that gem, but also who cut that gem. All of our Moyo gems up to this point have been cut by Beth Steer, who is a precision cutter in Michigan. And so, she has cut all of the oil gems that ANZA the markets so far. So, we have this beautiful story and have an incredibly traceable product, which, as we’ve realized, even more recently, that’s such an important thing is to be able to know exactly where your, your materials are coming from.
38:02 Laryssa Wirstiuk
Monica, good for you for not taking no for an answer and for challenging things that people told, told you could not be done. And now look at what you’re doing and serving as an amazing example for people moving forward and for the industry.
38:16 Monica Stephenson
Thank you, it’s hard work. It’s like one foot in front of the other. And there are challenges with everything from export, you know, it feels like the rules change every time we tried to export and import into the US. COVID was a huge challenge, right, so, the way our model was built was that we would travel to them, and we buy their gems, and they get to sit across the table from an international gem trader. And, and then I give them you know, the purchase price, we negotiate, I give her the money, which is very different than a traditional broker arrangement where she has no visibility into what the broker actually gets for her gems. But it involves me sitting usually across the table. And so, the problem with COVID is obviously we can’t travel. How do we have the same assurances that we’ve been able to tell people? How do we physically buy their gems? So, we actually have a, an export broker, who he’s, he sat beside us like at the market days previously. So, he kind of knows what we are looking for. He knows what we want to buy. We give him very specific instructions. We wire money, and he buys on our behalf for the last, at least for the last two years since we haven’t been able to travel. So, so there’s lots of challenges but we have by having this team and by having incredible local partners. You know TAWOMA is amazing. PACT has an office in Tanzania so we could get to the mining sites, even if we couldn’t go ourselves from the US. So, I would say having great local partners is an enormous benefit and, and a necessity for something like this. But it’s, you know, every day I feel like I’m like proving somebody wrong that we can’t do it. We can actually, we can actually do this.
40:13 Laryssa Wirstiuk
I love it. So, in addition to ANZA and Moyo, you are like, I don’t know how you have time in the day. I really…, can you explain this to me. You’re involved in so many organizations, including I’m going to read them off my notes here. Ethical metalsmiths, you are the board President, Jim legacy, you are on the board, black and jewelry coalition, you are on the advisory board, the ethical gems Suppliers Group. Let’s discuss each one of these to give our listeners and viewers an overview because again, you’re so actively involved in them. And I think you are a good like, starting point resource for people that want to learn more. So why don’t we start with Ethical Metalsmiths? Can you tell a little bit more about that?
41:00 Monica Stephenson
So, I’ve been involved in ethical metalsmiths, since about, I want to say maybe 2017 or so. And I joined the board at that time. And now I’m board president since 2020. Right? Right, as the pandemic hit, I had the honor of stepping into that role. So, it’s, again, so many challenges, but it’s been around since about 2004. I want, I want to say it was founded by a couple of very concerned, very committed metalsmith makers, Christina Miller, and Susan Kingsley. And they again, no one was talking about these issues at this time. And so, it was kind of an uphill battle, like they would speak at conferences, or they would speak at industry gatherings. And people would like almost like, you know, look at them, you know, from a distance in the elevator, like, you know, you’re talking about things that were a little bit uncomfortable talking about. So EM has always been kind of, there’s a little bit of that activism kind of streak, there’s a little bit of that education focus, like just, it’s okay, wherever you are in your journey, like, if you’re just, just getting started, or you have been practicing, you know, responsible things in your studio for years like it doesn’t matter, all are welcome, like, you have to start somewhere once you know, you know, and then you can kind of build on that. So, EM is a nonprofit, it’s a “501c3”, and really dedicated to kind of responsibility and jewelry, through…, mostly through this really committed amazing community. So, when you join, you kind of have access to you know, forums and education and resources that might help you kind of crowdsource or find your own path, kind of in all of these decisions that you have to make. So, there’s also kind of a, there’s an Action Coalition, so if you really care very deeply about, you know, no mercury in gold, there’s probably a way for you to engage in that actively and productively. So, it’s kind of about putting humans first in the supply chain and, and everything kind of goes from there. So, I would say it’s a great place to start, there’s an emerging jeweler membership that is, comes with mentorship comes with some mentoring. And so, and it kind of gives you an overview of the industry but through that lens of responsibility, so not just creating a vision or how do you communicate that vision? Or your you know, your materials, that you use, but, but through the lens of like, how can I do this in a way that’s a little bit more responsible, either for the planet or for people? So, it’s a great, I think it’s a great place to start for a lot of people who are curious about this idea and this you know, this path.
44:07 Laryssa Wirstiuk
Amazing. So how about Jim Legacy?
44:11 Monica Stephenson
So, Jim’s legacy is also a “501c3”, and it focuses on supporting East African mining communities through vocational training, entrepreneurship, and, you know, education and then community support kind of wherever it’s, it’s kind of needed. So, when I first traveled to Africa with, it was with Roger Dairy and so his family Roger, Ginger, and Rachel are the founders of this organization. And it’s serving the very communities that I buy from so it, it is sort of tailor made for my philanthropy vehicle, right like this is the way that I can reinvest in the…, in the region, before it was always, you know, I would, every time I would go this, this has been around for about three years. And before I would go and I would have money that I could like put towards the, the primary school or, you know, maybe towards the lapidary school, but, you know, it was a bit ad-hoc, just kind of as needed. This is much more like structured, there’s initiatives that we research because some of us travel on the board back to East Africa, we can check on those initiatives, we can measure the success of those, of those endeavors. And there’s been a lot of really incredible success stories, including a hot lunch program at a Maasai primary school that’s located near a Ruby mine. So, this community really kind of exists because of this ruby mine, and many of the Maasai villages, you know, villages kind of work at this ruby mine. And a couple of very concerned, local traders noticed that the kids had just, you know, nope, no school, it was like kind of the kids would gather because the parents were working. And the school was very sort of, you know, just, it kind of sprung up from me, but it wasn’t very organized. And so, these traders, again, Tanzanians organized and lobbied for the government and there’s now a full-fledged school there. And for a while, the World Bank was doing a lunch program, but they pulled out so one time we went, and the kids were all having hot lunch. And then like another time we went the next year, and there was no lunch. And actually, attendance had dwindled dramatically, test scores had dropped. So clearly, the hot lunch, these kids are walking sometimes five kilometers to the school. And there’s there are Maasai villages with no electricity, there’s no leftovers, there’s no, you know, there…, lunches is hard to come by. So, for about $16,000 a year, we can feed 800 Kids, hot breakfast and lunch, it boils down to $21 per kid per year. So, it’s like not, it’s not that much money. And so, a little goes a long way. And so, this is kind of typical of our initiatives like see a need, break it down and, and have the local partners who can go execute it. Because it’s one thing to say, let’s do hot lunch, it’s quite another to actually, you know, physically do that every single day, you need the village cooperation, you need the school core…, you know, cooperation. So, what I love about Jim legacy is it’s like very much boots on the ground, involved very hyperlocal, very targeted things that are helping mining communities specifically. And then there’s a lot of transparency there. And then the board takes care of all of the administrative fees so that 100% of all the donations that others make, go towards these initiatives. So, there’s some really cool things on the horizon. JCK just gave gem legacy a really, really lovely grant that is going to help provide education and silicone masks, masks for Tanzanite miners to prevent silicosis, which is something that can happen when you’re under, doing this underground mining. And it’s, it’s life-changing, you know, so there are some really amazing initiatives and I just obviously get kind of excited about working, working on those things. So, when I say I give 10%, a lot of that 10% goes through Jim’s legacy, to these initiatives that can be defined and measured and, and, sort of monitored over time.
48:53 Laryssa Wirstiuk
And it must be so amazing to be able to go there and see for yourself the impact that these things make. I think in any like nonprofit’s situation, when someone’s donating money, it can just be like, okay, I guess like I feel good about this. I guess this is like making an impact, but you’re…
49:12 Monica Stephenson
Drop it out into the world and you hope it does what it’s supposed to do.
49:15 Laryssa Wirstiuk
Totally, but you’re able to see it and that must like just motivate you in your missions even, even more.
49:22 Monica Stephenson
It’s, it’s incredible to step out of the vehicle in Matate Kenya, to the…, there’s a children’s orphanage there. A lot of, a lot of the kids who are there, perhaps their parents were involved in mining in some capacity. And so, they’re you know, they’re, they’re orphans now and so we…, to go and see the solar panels that are installed that will power the lights so that the kids can do homework. It gets dark at six o’clock, it’s, it’s on the equator, so it gets dark at 6:00 or 6:30 every day. So, the kids can actually do homework for longer and study longer because there’s… and take warm showers because there are solar panels that didn’t exist last year, and now they’re here. So, it’s actually really, it’s, it is truly this really visceral reaction of like, okay, this is making a big impact, and you can see it immediately.
50:19 Laryssa Wirstiuk
Absolutely. So, tell us about the Black and Jewelry Coalition. And again, another thing you’re involved in.
50:27 Monica Stephenson
I guess. So black and jewelry coalition was pretty recently founded, it’s been since 2020. And it really works for the advancement of black jewelry and watch professionals through networking through access to resources. You know, they, they provide, I think, a lot of value to their members. I think it’s something around 3% of the jewelry industry is black, and with, but I would say a lot of us haven’t had a lot of visibility of that. Because they have, there’s been, you know, barriers to representation. And so, I’m very passionate about that, in my, in my usual work, right, my whole point is to give visibility to people who normally don’t give visibility, don’t get visibility. Most jewelry materials come from black and brown communities all over the world. And you, you rarely see them participate. And so, it just fits with my mission. My…, I think, you know, again, access and visibility is kind of what I’m all about. And this is what this organization is kind of doing for black professionals. And they’ve done, I’m in awe of what they’ve accomplished so far. And by being members, you know, you have access to, there’s some really incredible like GIA education grants. There is, there are opportunities to go to the American gem society conclave, there are other kinds of educational opportunities and other resources that they can connect members to. So, I think it’s, I think it’s needed and necessary. And I’m really happy to kind of help support them however I can.
52:17 Laryssa Wirstiuk
And how about that Ethical Gem Suppliers Group, what is that?
52:21 Monica Stephenson
So, that’s not really a…, that’s not like a nonprofit or anything, we’re just this loose, sort of coalition of a few gem dealers who, we all kind of deal with different regions in terms of like, where the gemstones come from. But we all are focused on a supportive, you know, supply chain, and wherever we’re located, whether that’s Ethiopia with “A One” and a Gary Treasures or myself. Stuart Pool, in Sri Lanka, is where his primary business is located, Australia. So, there’s, and then Brian Cook with golden Rutile, Rutilated Quartz, so, beautiful gems from all over the world. And with each of them, there’s there’s a lot of transparency, traceability, but also just support for those communities. So, there’s maybe ten of us or so. And we just showed in Tucson at the ethical junk fair, close, close to kind of where all the other shows are just…, yet another show, but it’s very edited. And then you, you kind of know, all of, all of us are very committed to our responsibility in various areas. And we’re happy to share our stories. And we’re happy to kind of share our knowledge where, where we can. So, it’s not, it’s not a nonprofit, but a lot of us have work going on that’s kind of tied to, you know, or related to nonprofits in various areas in the world.
53:57 Laryssa Wirstiuk
So, beyond all the all the things you’ve mentioned, if someone listening or watching, maybe they’re a jewelry maker, or they just have curiosity about ethical gem mining sourcing at the gold jewelry making practices, do you have any great resources to recommend in addition to what you’ve already said?
54:18 Monica Stephenson
So, I would, I would say a great place to start is probably that ethical metalsmith kind of link. Just, you know, again, with the emerging jeweler membership tool, if you’re just starting jewelry or just starting down that path, that could be a really great opportunity. You know, we’re not going to have all the answers with any of these resources. And I’m trying to think, I think, I’m trying to think there’s some other options to just even follow I think if you, you know, just doing a little bit of looking even on social media and seeing whose stories kind of resonate and following along, I think the important part is just to ask the questions. So maybe if you’re a designer, and you already have your suppliers, you know, even going back to your existing suppliers and asking them a little bit more, where did this come from? Do you know who were, you know, do you know who mined it? Is there, is there any knowledge about who cut it? And under what circumstances? So, I think the important part is just ask the questions, and then really listen, and, and be prepared to maybe make some changes based on what you what you hear. And, you know, it’s not always going to be possible, and I don’t know is actually an okay response. Because rather than greenwashing or rather, rather than saying, you know, something about origin, or how, you know, material comes into your possession, don’t, don’t make it up, either to yourself or to a customer, just, you know, acknowledge that we don’t, we’re not perfect, don’t let that get in your way, just kind of start and kind of like my story just begin. And, and once you know, you know, and then you can do better.
56:18 Laryssa Wirstiuk
That’s a great answer. I love that. This has been…, I’m so inspired. I am like, just full of kind of energy from all the things that you said, I hope everyone listening and watching is inspired as well and kind of is more aware of the resources that are out there. So, thank you so much for sharing all this wisdom and for beginners as you said, and to kind of being like a trail, trailblazer in this space. Before we wrap up today. Is there anything else you’d like to share that we didn’t touch upon? What’s on the horizon for you, Monica?
56:55 Monica Stephenson
I’m hoping to go back to East Africa, soon. I’m hoping May, to you know, to get back to you know, what, my passion and it’s been a long couple of years not being able to actually go, so that’s that’s exciting. Moyo is expanding to Kenya, from the, the original Tanzania market. So that’s, that’s actually really, really exciting. But I also just want to say like, you know, and I, it didn’t occur to me till just now but like, you know, jewelry is so you know, so beautiful. And just the idea that we don’t lose sight of like, like, I can have a great story, but it also, it has to be pretty right like that. There has to be beauty. There’s a reason why we do this. But it doesn’t mean we can’t do both, right? We can’t be aware and make conscious decisions. And also, like really just say, it sparkles and it’s beautiful.
57:59 Laryssa Wirstiuk
It’s so true.
58:02 Monica Stephenson
So, if I can live like that, like, you know, just remember like, there’s a reason why we do, why we do this like, and it’s okay to be unapologetic about the beauty and maybe, you know, maybe just ask a few questions along the way.
58:17 Laryssa Wirstiuk
Thank you so much, Monica. This was awesome.
Thank you. Thanks for having me. It was so nice.
58:27 Laryssa Wirstiuk
What did you think? Would you like to learn more about Monica and her company ANZA Gems as well as all her many other initiatives? Follow her on Instagram at “idazzle” or visit
https://anzagems.com/, that’s ANZA gems.com. You can always email me Laryssa, that’s firstname.lastname@example.org. If you love this podcast, please share it with a friend who’d appreciate it, and don’t forget to subscribe as well as leave a review on iTunes. To purchase a signed copy of my book Jewelry Marketing Joy, Visit https://joyjoya.com/book/ for more information. Thanks for listening. Remember to subscribe so you never miss an episode. For more information about working with Joy Joya, visit, https://joyjoya.com/ where you can sign up to download our free eBooks about various topics in jewelry marketing.