Upcycling Bone, Transforming Lives

Upcycling Bone, Transforming Lives

Check out this short video to see the process of how our upcycled bone jewelry is made!


 Meet the Makers

Before they began their bone jewelry craft eight years ago, husband and wife Naseem and Nasima didn’t have a steady income to provide for their family. Community unrest had caused them to flee their ancestral home and livelihood in Northern India, resettling on the outskirts of Delhi. But with the help of a local fair trade organization, the couple built up their workshop cooperative and developed a strong customer base through Mata Traders. Naseem and Nasima now support their seven children and their parents, as well as provide jobs as jewelry artisans for members of their new community.

One of major difference that the cooperative makes in the lives of its artisans are the opportunities afforded to their children. The crafters earn enough from the co-op that their children do not have to work to supplement the family income and are able to attend school.

Not only that, incorporating the principles of fair trade into their work, such as gender equity, has had a big impact. The sons and the daughters of every artisan in the co-op receive an education, which as Naseem explains, is not the norm. “In our community, 99% of daughters aren’t sent to school, but because of my association with fair trade, our thinking has changed and we see the value of sending our daughters to school. Now we are part of the 1% who do.”

Women working outside the home is another rarity in the community. Social norms dictate that women are not free to seek employment, but Naseem and Nasima’s bone workshop is unique in that they employ female and male artisans, giving both men and women opportunities for steady work.

In fact, Nasima played a significant role in starting up the workshop, working diligently to learn the various processes involved with crafting the bone jewelry, including the dyeing techniques.  She is in charge of managing all the designs in the workshop and producing the dyes.


Behind the Process:

From Bare Bones to Beautiful Jewelry

In the workshop that Naseem and Nasima lead, the artisans craft earrings and necklaces from bone they purchase at a government-run bone market. The market sources this material as by-products from farms, restaurants, and slaughterhouses throughout the region (the bone is mainly from water buffalo). Just how do they upcycle bare bones into stunning, vibrant jewelry? Take a peak behind the process to see how the transformation happens:

A Design in the Rough

The artisans cut, sand, and smooth the bone to sculpt it into the outline. Then, they carve the silhouette and etch delicate designs into the pieces.  They finish off this segment of the process by cutting holes in each piece so that they can be strung through the wires.

Transforming a Blank Slate with Bright Hues

Once the bone is shaped, the artisans at the workshop color the pieces with vibrant pigments. Rather than using chemical-intensive dyes with health and environmental hazards that are commonly used in the industry, the cooperative introduced the artisans to AZO-free and natural dyes, along with techniques that create richer, longer-lasting colors.

The artisans string the bone pieces and brass beads through wire by hand to transform the miscellaneous components into gorgeous jewelry.  As these photos show, this is an incredibly intricate step requiring great attention to detail!


Naseem expressed his gratitude for all those that have supported the growth of their workshop:

“First and foremost I really thank my wife, who is the pillar of support.  Secondly, Mata Traders who provided us with the opportunity by bringing us samples which helped us to create new designs that we wouldn’t have thought of on our own.  And thirdly, I want to thank the customers who are buying our products, therefore making us successful.”