By Grace Kelly, Semester at Sea, Spring 2017

Everyone wants their jewelry to be aesthetically pleasing, but is it possible for it to be environmentally and economically sustainable as well? This was the mission of the founder of African Fynbosgems, a local South African enterprise dedicated to making pendants, earrings, and rings from recycled plants.

 The pieces are all made from fynbos, a type of shrub native to the Western Cape of South Africa that produces diverse, colorful foliage. Table Mountain alone contains over 2,200 species of fynbos. Because fynbos species are so heavily concentrated in the Western Cape, they are considered endemic to the area and are particularly vulnerable to non-native invasive species. Invasive species are not only one of the leading causes of global biodiversity loss but they also take up usable water. 

The South African Department of Water Affairs and Forestry employs 20,000 local unskilled workers per year in order to remove the invasive species and care for these endangered shrubs. The flowers from these shrubs are collected by locals, dried and compressed into a solid block, and then shaped into pendants and lacquered. The final result is a bright, beautiful piece of jewelry with an engraving of the continent of Africa on the back. Not only do these pieces add a pop of color to any outfit, but help to provide a living for some of the 25% of South Africans that are searching for work.

My friend Megan bought a gorgeous blue and green necklace on our first day in Cape Town and loved it so much that she bought two more pieces for her friends at home! What’s your favorite locally-made souvenir that you’ve bought while traveling?