Updated: Feb 3
ASTOR + ORION IS A SUSTAINABLE ACCESSORIES BRAND THAT STARTED OUT AS AN IDEA DREMT IN SHANGHAI, CONCEIVED IN BALI, AND BRON IN SEATTLE. KAREN HARTMAN, A PASSIONATE CREATIVE WHO SPENT NEARLY A DECADE AS A MANUFACTURING AGENT IN SHANGHAI, WAS LOOKING FOR A NEW WAY TO EXPRESS HER CREATIVITY. ONE 3D JEWELRY DESIGN CLASS AND A FEW TRIPS AROUND THE WORLD LATER, ASTOR + ORION WAS BORN ON JANUARY OF 2018.
What inspired you to start Astor and Orion?
My purpose in life is to create. Astor + Orion is the reconciliation between my need to create beautiful things with my need to do my part to leave the world a better place for my kids.
In more concrete terms it means:
- We utilize Circular Design philosophy and so we make our jewelry from recycled metals and do not use stones in our design so that they can be easily recycled again.
-We design beautiful jewelry for bold women who take space as they move through life. All of our creative messaging comes from a place that recognizes the inherent worth, beauty and power of our customers.
-We reject the idea that something of beauty can come at the expense of the people who made it. So we produce our designs with a certified factory that believes good work starts
with fair and safe workplace.
Where do your recycled metals come from?
Scrap metal from the production waste of other companies is an abundant resource. On average our designs utilize 70% recycled metals.
Where is your company based?
Design and operations are in Seattle, WA and our production is done in Thailand.
When did you know you wanted to make jewelry?
My whole life I have been turning waste into jewelry so in hindsight it seems inevitable that I would be doing this but I started working creatively as a costume designer in LA. At one point I was designing a bunch of post apocalyptic costumes for an art film and needed to create jewelry to complete those looks.
My friend showed me a place in the deep valley that sold surplus stainless steel nuts and fittings for airplanes. I just fell in love with these little precision milled bits of metal and turned them into jewelry.
I was mainly focused on my career in Hollywood, but eventually started a jewelry brand using those up cycled parts. I had no idea what I was doing business wise but was able to go pretty far based on the fact that my work was original and well made. I sold that business in 2005 when I moved to Shanghai.
Do you have a muse? What/who inspires your designs?
Yes I have a muse. She's demanding and fickle but I love her and will serve her all of my days. (Because you can't hear me laughing at I type this, let me be clear- my muse is not a flesh and blood person! It just feels like it sometimes.)
The active part of my creative process is where I define a problem or acknowledge some sort constraint. If I have asked the right questions, my muse serves up these amazing, fully formed ideas. On days like that I feel like I'm cheating because it's so easy to create. Other days I really struggle with finding the right questions to ask. Luckily Astor + Orion was one of those projects where I asked the right questions and things fell into place rather easily.
Why did you choose to create consciously?
After I left Los Angeles, I spent 10 years living and working in Asia as a manufacturing agent. The experience of spending countless hours working with people at the factory level gave me a frontline view to to the costs and benefits of globalization. When it was time to launch my own brand, there was no way I could ignore all that I learned during those years.
Where is your factory and what is your relationship like with them?
They are amazing! My favorite fact about them is that 65% of their managers are women!
As an organization, they really do understand that quality work is dependent on good systems. When I was introduced to them, it was quickly apparent that their commitment to their environmental and labor practice was beyond just checking the boxes to get their certifications.
They do a lot to make sure that they are training and retaining workers so their business can grow and their local community thrive. Their soccer teams and other social programs have contributed to their low employee turnover rate and their average worker has been there for longer than 2 years.
What advice would you give someone who is looking to start their own sustainable brand?
Take the time to really think through why you are making more "stuff". Who are you truly serving with your product? It's really not enough to make a mediocre product and try to sell it based on your support of a charitable cause. But once you do figure that "why", don't wait for perfection because it will never happen. Instead, let your "why" drive your commitment to improvement based on your values.
Images provided by Astor + Orion