Three brands, each creators in their own right, making jewelry, clothing, and functional backpacks, all with an eye toward sustainability without sacrificing style. We’ll take at least one of each.
All that Glitters
For Erdem Kaya, owner and master craftsman at VirtuE Jewelers in Newburyport, creativity is always at his fingertips. Customers know Erdem, a local jeweler for 24 years, for his friendly demeanor, unwavering commitment to quality, and passion for creating jewelry pieces. The name Erdem is Turkish for “virtue” and everything Erdem flows from the high standards he has for his business.
Just one visit to VirtuE and you can’t help but notice the shop’s atelier toward the back of the showroom. This is where Erdem creates custom pieces. Speaking of his workdays, which are spent not only running the business but also creating jewelry, Erdem says, “I love coming in every day and would be bored if I was to do this any other way.” Designing and creating is not only fulfilling, but it’s also sustainable—and the backbone of the store. “I have taught myself a lot and I love a challenge, so a client coming to me with an idea, that is something I get excited about,” he explains. The variety of materials Erdem works with is also a big part of what keeps his job interesting. From diamonds (lab or naturally mined) to colored stones and metal work, every day brings the opportunity to create something different.
This month, the shop is celebrating one year in business, and Erdem says the support from returning customers and meeting new people are some of the best parts of the job. In opening VirtuE, Erdem has created a beautiful space that is refined yet relaxed. “We have seating because I want people to feel comfortable when they come in. We want them to take their time and share their needs and ideas. This community means so much; this is where I work and where I am raising my family, and to be here on State Street alongside these great businesses, I just can’t say enough about all of it,” says Erdem. Following VirtuE on Instagram offers a look at the creation process, where followers are treated to behind-the-scenes images and, of course, glimpses of the final product.
Originally from Istanbul, Erdem sprang into action this winter, raising more than $21,000 for his home country of Turkey in the wake of its devastating earthquake. In a testament to his own generous spirit, Erdem was touched to receive support from customers and community members, who supported his efforts.
Mike Lamagna is a North Shore native and the founder of Long Wharf Supply Co., and if you think the idea of turning oysters into sweaters is a big one, you’d be right. But Lamagna would say it’s been worth it. Driven by the need to help clean up local waterways, Lamagna found a way to combine two of his passions—the seaside communities of the North Shore and a desire to produce clothing from recycled materials.
Each year, millions of pounds of oyster shells find their way to landfills, where they become toxic as they break down. Long Wharf’s sweaters are made from a blend of recycled oyster shells, recycled water bottles, and natural lambswool or cotton, making Lamagna’s idea to use oyster shells a two-for-one deal. To turn an oyster shell into a sweater, the shells go through stages of grinding until they become a fine powder. They then go through an extrusion process during which they are fused together by lasers, and recycled polyester comes out the other end. The filament is spun with other fibers to achieve different desired properties of the sweater. Every garment diverts at least five oyster shells and eight water bottles from landfills, says Lamagna.
The brand’s signature line, the SeaWell™ Collection, is quintessentially New England in style. Lamagna is looking forward to the SeaWell summer collection launch, which features three tee shirt styles each on the men’s and women’s sides. Styles include an embroidered shirt, a pocket style, and a Henley tee shirt. The shirts are made from a blend of recycled oyster shells, recycled water bottles, and either cotton or rayon. Lamagna is especially excited about this collection because it is “the heart of who we are as a company and as a brand. We have such a strong maritime identity, and so to have these pieces, which are perfect for warm weather wear, is a such a natural fit for us.” Remaining consistent with the brand’s commitment to sustainability, “every tee shirt sold will seed 100 oysters by the end of 2023,” says Lamagna.
Bryn Mill cofounders Andrew Purdy and Justin Lin came up with the idea of making a better backpack just before the pandemic, but as Covid took shape, they realized that major shifts in the work landscape were going to shake things up. Fewer people were commuting on the highways, and more people were on foot or finding themselves working in more unconventional locations. As Purdy explains it, “Work weeks are more fragmented. Essentially, each day you’re picking up your ‘desk’ and moving it somewhere else, so we saw an opportunity to create a bag that better catered to this reality.”
Bryn Mill is a small coastal town in Wales that was a stop on the world’s first passenger railway more than 200 years ago. “The name is a little nod to the origin of the modern commute,” says Purdy. Purdy and Lin first met at Northeastern University. As Purdy puts it, “Justin was the first person I ever spoke to at Northeastern . . . pretty wild!”
In explaining the need for a better backpack, Purdy says, “Many backpacks look pretty unprofessional. Yet, compared to luxury shoulder bags, backpacks are more functional and ergonomic, especially if you’re commuting.” The duo set out to create a bag that looked like it was designed for work, but with more functionality.
The end result features “magnetic pockets to keep chargers from tangling, hidden antitheft pockets to keep valuables safe, a place to store gym shoes,” and more. The backpack maintains its shape and can stand up on its own. Purdy says his favorite part of the bag is the straps, which are a “dual-layered design with neoprene and EVA that has this gel-like cushioning to it, but enough support that it’s extremely comfortable to wear, even for hours on end.”