The Hawaiian word for responsibility is kuleana, and eco-conscious jewelry designer Catherine Weitzman feels the weight of this word as a resident of Hawaii, a citizen of this planet, and especially as a mom.
Weitzman’s newest jewelry line, Kuleana, repurposes microplastics that were polluting the ocean and beaches around Hawaii. She has made them into colorful mosaics, which are set within her brand’s signature branch-inspired frames. Prices range from $85 for a necklace with a small pendant to $175 for a gold ring.
The goal, Weitzman says, is to show how beautiful jewelry can be made from recycled materials. She has long used such materials, and her jewelry is handmade. The Kuleana collection also brings attention to the importance of reducing plastics use (and the pollution that can result when plastics are not properly recycled) and of protecting the planet now and in the future.
“When taken out of its context of beach trash, the colors are really vibrant and look beautiful the way we are setting them,” says Weitzman. “I love that you can pair a simple opal with some microplastics and they can hold their own—such an amazing example of high and low.
“I wanted to bring awareness to the huge microplastics problems on coastlines all over the world. I know that the amount we are using in the jewelry isn’t doing anything to reduce the amount of plastics on the beaches, but at least it is shedding light on the issue,” Weitzman adds.
The designer says she is donating a portion of the proceeds from the Kuleana collection to Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii (SCH), a local organization that hosts beach cleanups and is her collaborator for collecting the microplastics she uses in these jewelry pieces.
“They are the ones who clean up the beaches on Oahu where I live. The work they do is amazing,” Weitzman says. “I have been fortunate enough to call Hawaii home for the past 20 years, and in that time I have personally seen a huge uptick in the amount of plastics on the beach. SCH organizes so many beach cleanups and informational events.
“Most of the plastics coming to Hawaii are not coming from Hawaii—they are coming from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but it is still an issue that needs to be tackled locally,” she adds.
Selecting the microplastics for the jewelry was one challenging part of the process, Weitzman says. She also uses a special eco-friendly resin to set the mosaics into their frames.
“We usually use mineral crystal only, but to elevate the aesthetics of the microplastics, we realized we needed a different approach, and so the hunt was on for an eco-friendly solution that could suspend the microplastics,” she explains.
“As a brand we have always embraced environmental responsibility. It’s central to who I am as a person, and what we strive for as a company,” Weitzman says. “I remember 15 years ago when we first started to use recycled silver. Our customers were concerned it was dirty—it wasn’t—so we couldn’t advertise it, and kept it quiet for a while. Things have certainly come full-circle since then, and now some of our customers are even more educated about this than we are.”
Weitzman says one of the most gratifying parts of this collection was including her daughter in its creation.
“It is never too early to start to teach our keiki [children] about the environment and the little things they can do to help. I’m going to a huge beach cleanup with my 4-year-old and her friends this weekend, and they all love to get out the sifters and see what they can clean,” Weitzman says. “My daughter has been wearing the mini necklace from the Kuleana collection since we made the first one and loves to tell anyone who will ask that it is made from the yucky stuff [opala in Hawaiian] on the beach.”
Top: The extra large necklace ($140) in silver from Kuleana, a new collection released by Catherine Weitzman in April that recycles plastics collected from the ocean waters around Hawaii (photos courtesy of Catherine Weitzman)
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