“BaYou with Love isn’t really about the jewellery. It’s about how the jewellery makes a person look at the rest of their lives.”
Nikki Reed is a woman on a mission: to create timeless, sustainably-made jewellery and products that make customers think about how they might help solve the climate crisis.
The 32-year-old actress and designer founded her sustainable, direct-to-consumer lifestyle brand BaYou with Love in May 2017. Pregnant with her daughter Bodhi at the time, Reed had already been creating sustainably-minded products in partnership with American clothing retailer Anthropologie when she was approached by tech giant Dell. They had a whole heap of gold they had found in the motherboards of their discarded technology, and they thought Reed might be able to make something with it. They were right. Within two days, the whip-smart creative – who co-wrote and starred in her first feature film Thirteen when she was just 13 – had pitched her sustainable jewellery line idea to Dell. Three months later she launched the idea at CES, one of the world’s most influential tech conventions.
“It was weird to launch jewellery at a tech convention, but I was excited by the idea of merging worlds,” says Reed from her home outside LA during our FaceTime chat, wrapped in a floral robe she tells me is made from a recycled sari that she’s had repaired twice, and looking every bit the Hollywood starlet-turned-designer.
“I THINK THAT’S WHERE WE SUCCEED – WHEN WE’RE COMBINING. WHETHER IT’S COMBINING PRODUCTS, COMBINING WORLDS, OR COMBINING PASSIONS. THAT INTERSECTION IS WHERE I FEEL THE MAGIC HAPPENS.”
Magic might not be too lofty a description when you consider what Reed has pulled off: an almost alchemical feat of extracting disused gold from the motherboards of old computers and turning it into fine jewellery – transforming, as she puts it, “one industry’s trash into another’s treasure.” For Reed, a passionate environmentalist who uses her enormous Instagram following of 3.1 million to mostly champion environmental and humanitarian causes, creating her own company was as much about making beautiful things as it was about opening consumer’s eyes to the kind of startling facts she quotes on her website. That only around 12.5 percent of electronics are responsibly recycled globally, for example, and that Americans throw away more than $60 million in gold and silver every year, in phones alone.
Recycled gold, however, is only part of BaYou’s impressive circular design approach. You can hear the excitement in Reed’s voice when she talks about sourcing diamonds from the world’s first certified 100 percent carbon-neutral diamond producer, who grow their diamonds sustainably from tiny seeds of pre-existing diamonds – meaning no conflicts are funded, no groundwater polluted, and no land, wildlife or communities displaced. Also, when she talks about the highly innovative process of mixing an ink distilled from extracted air pollution into enamel, which she then uses in her jewellery designs.
Reed realises that the tiny amount of pollution included in each enamel ring is not the answer to clearing our smoggy skies. But that ring can then become a powerful symbol for how we can take something harmful and transform it into something beautiful; a symbol that can then start important conversations and cultivate a more conscious mindset, and a sense of stewardship, in the consumer.
“THE THINKING PROCESS IS, WHAT IF THAT ONE RING THAT’S MADE FROM RECYCLED GOLD AND AIR POLLUTION OR DIAMONDS THAT ARE GROWN WITH SOLAR ENERGY, MAKES THAT PERSON BUY A HYBRID CAR BECAUSE THEY’RE THINKING ABOUT THEIR FOOTPRINT. IT STARTS TO TRICKLE INTO THE REST OF THEIR LIVES.”
Making the ‘recycled tech’ angle sexy was always going to be a challenge. But Reed herself, a poster girl for how sustainability can be chic (she wore a stunning vintage Armani dress to this year’s Vanity Fair Oscars party, for example), and the very nature of the materials she was using, helped customers make the leap. “When you’re selling in the luxury space, there’s an education that has to come along with why you’re selling products that are recycled or used but at a comparable price point to products that aren’t, because there’s a misconception that used means less than,” says Reed. “But gold was such a beautiful way to crack that door open, because gold is gold no matter where it comes from; it doesn’t lose its value.”
Persuading the workers in her LA factory to work with gold in a form they had never received it in before was another hurdle. “When I first started, I remember talking to my factory and them being like, ‘how are we receiving the gold? Is it in trays? Is it in pellets? Do we have to melt it down? It was just completely foreign, and we had to figure out how to actually transfer gold like that.”
BaYou has recently entered the apparel space, producing a small range of products including recycled activewear, chemical-free cupro (an otherwise discarded by-product of cotton) pajamas and organic cotton baby clothes – but Reed admits to having “mixed feelings” about apparel. “I’m always asking, what happens when we go beyond the lifespan of that piece? Where’s it going? Rather than using it once or twice, how do we ensure people use it 50 times?”
To address this, Reed and her BaYou team of six avoid colourful trends and patterns, sticking to timeless, versatile pieces in neutral tones which she says, “have a better chance of being purchased in their second or third life if they end up in donation centres.” Reed’s ultimate goal is to move beyond sustainable and into regenerative manufacturing, asking herself such questions as, “how can I now create partnerships with cotton farms that are contributing back to carbon sequestration?”
Because she pays more for her sustainable materials, and because her factory is in LA so she can visit it several times weekly and ensure her workers are being treated equitably, Reed says her profit margins are much smaller than they could be. “On a daily basis I’m given a laundry list from my team saying, ‘here’s how you can make this more efficient and cheaper’. Cheaper equals more successful and profitable, but that’s not my mission!” she says with a laugh.
“MY MISSION IS TO CREATE PIECES THAT ARE CONVERSATION STARTERS, AND TO INSPIRE PEOPLE TO MAKE OTHER CHOICES AND CHANGES IN THEIR LIFE. I SAY IT ALL THE TIME, I’M NEVER GOING TO GET RICH FROM THIS. BUT I BELIEVE IN BAYOU AS AN ENTITY THAT CAN CREATE AND EFFECT CHANGE.”
Reed hasn’t yet paid herself a salary from BaYou, and continues to work two other jobs in order to keep running the company – one in a marketing and sustainability strategy role for organic baby food company Raised Real, and another as an events coordinator for 1 Hotel West Hollywood, a mission-driven luxury hotel brand. But she remains resolutely focused on mission over profit.
“We love and protect what we feel connected to, and what we feel is beautiful,” says Reed, who believes strongly in the innate wisdom of nature, and the importance of our relationship with it. “That idea inspires me – I want to create beautiful products that people feel connected to. Because that, hopefully, will have them protect the things that BaYou was born to protect.”
THIS STORY FIRST APPEARED ONLINE HERE