To call Sasha Jattansingh’s appreciation of the environment a passion would be an understatement. Her entire professional career has been based on education, research and developing environmental policy. Now, she’s chosen a different medium to raise awareness for sustainability — by launching her hand-crafted jewellery line, Gaia Couture.
“Gaia Couture’s underlying philosophy is to integrate sustainability with everyday elegance through our handmade, contemporary and unique jewellery pieces. Our jewellery is inspired by nature – the colours, textures, shapes and motifs are all inspired by the beautiful natural environment. I am blessed to live in the Caribbean where there is so much natural beauty around me as my inspiration,” Sasha told WMN.
Launched earlier this year with its Reef Collection, Gaia has been making the rounds at local craft markets, where the reception has ranged from curiosity to fascination.
Reef was inspired by the myriad coral reefs in the Caribbean, especially Tobago’s own Buccoo, that has in recent times been hit hard by climate change and other environmental stresses, including overfishing and pollution.
“I hope through the Reef Rhapsody collection, people are more aware of the unique environmental asset that we have in our coral reefs and the need for more stringent conservation activities. I also want people to start thinking about waste – and how we can rethink our current consumption patterns and rethink our current waste management practices,” she said.
Gaia uses gold and silver wire as its base material, as well as several natural stones, including pearls and amethysts in its designs. But what really sets it apart is its use of recycled plastic bottles.
Plastic bottles take over 450 years to disintegrate yet takes just a second to throw away carelessly, she said, and more than eight million tonnes of plastic waste entering the oceans every year.
“I currently work with single use plastic bottles (polyethylene or PET bottles) which are your typical water and soft drink bottles. These plastic bottles are the most popular plastics which are recycled through plastic recycling programmes in other countries,” she said, lamenting that in TT, recycling hasn’t caught on as much despite projects established to encourage it.
She has, therefore, caused her own mini revolution among family and friends, who willingly supply her raw material.
“My friends and family would not normally collect and sort their plastic for recycling on their own, but since they know that these bottles will be used in my jewellery or sent for plastic recycling they are incredibly supportive, and they don’t even realise that they have incorporated new recycling practices in their daily lives,” she said.
Policies and programmes that support waste recycling and reduction in TT, she says, definitely need to reconsider the culture, values and rewards when it comes to changing behaviours and attitudes towards waste management.
When she’s not designing jewellery, Sasha is an environmental policy consultant. She was recently commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme to develop the framework for the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) of TT under the Paris Agreement. It outlines sectoral implementation plans, a climate finance plan, and governance for achieving the greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets as stipulated in Trinidad and Tobago’s NDC by 2030.
She is also an adjunct lecturer for the MBA Sustainable Energy Management programme at the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business in Mt Hope, where she teaches climate change policy, economics and science and its relevance to energy policy in TT and the Caribbean.
Jewellery, then, is just another way to get the conversation going.
“Through Gaia Couture I am hoping to create and maintain a conversation about sustainability and environmental issues and solutions; about policies, projects and people which support environmental sustainability in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean,” she said.
She utilises her blog, as well as social media, to share, not just her designs, but also her thoughts on different environmental concepts, encouraging her visitors to share their thoughts on policy and behavious.
“Jewellery can be the conversation piece to get people thinking about how our lifestyles, behaviours and actions contribute to environmental degradation and how we can change that to promote more sustainable lifestyles,” she said.
Materials like single use plastic bottles, discarded paper, glass bottles and seeds and leaves have low economic value on their own but when repurposed and combined with other jewellery material they can be turned into something beautiful, functional and with higher value — whether economic, sentimental or aesthetic.
Through Gaia Couture, Sasha is advocating for the circular economy, which attempts to maximised the use of resources through recycling and repurposing — a core concept of Gaia.
“I think this is the key to changing our values and mindsets about environmental management – by rethinking our understanding of what is value and incorporating that into our everyday lives” she said.