garbage ny is the fine jewelry brand turning trash into treasure
Meet the downtown designers making cheeky, sustainable charms out of recycled gold and silver.
Photos courtesy of Garbage NY.
When Elise Shatz and Shelby Scudder first discussed starting their own fine jewelry brand, the word garbage was used merely as a placeholder for its name. But what started as a playful joke over a bottle of wine one night ended up sticking, and Garbage NY was born.
“We both live in the Lower East Side and we wanted something that kind of resonated with the neighborhood,” Shelby explains. “We love it and we’re obsessed with it, but you can’t get around the fact that there is garbage everywhere! And we’re making everything from recycled gold and metal, so it was technically considered garbage to someone.”
Though the pair have experience working in jewelry, they founded their company last fall to fill a void in the industry—given the fact that few companies produce fun, sustainable jewelry in New York and at a price point that people can actually afford. With the help of Instagram, Garbage NY has made a name for itself. Its cheeky designs have attracted a following that includes Maggie Rogers, who loved the charms she wore on her recent Teen Vogue cover shoot so much, she bought them for herself. The growing collection of vintage-inspired earrings, necklaces, and rings, are adorned with miniature cowboy hats (“Howdy Partner”), tiny tombstones (“Dead 2 Me”), and frisky kittens (“Pussy Power”). There’s even a diamond studded Juul necklace. Each piece is made in solid gold or silver and meant to last forever—acting as a sort of IRL, wearable time capsule.
i-D talked to the founders of Garbage NY about the ways in which their Lower East Side neighborhood has inspired their designs and how they make their jewelry sustainable.
How would you describe the style of your pieces?
Shelby: They’re really an embodiment of our own style and really random. [The designs] are what we wanted to see made into jewelry, and that we now have the power to make ourselves.
Elise: I always think about how the pieces last forever and I want to make some things that are like a stamp of the times that we’re living in right now. I’m probably going to pass these down to my kids, if I ever have them. And I want these designs to be sort of representative of my life. Like the Juul pendant. I don’t know how people are going to feel about this in 20 years. It might be pretty hilarious. Like, ‘Oh, people used to smoke these and now they’re dying at a rapid rate.’ (laughs).
Shelby: And they’re timeless. I think it’s going to be iconic.
It’s like a time capsule.
Shelby: Exactly. I like whatever piece of gold I’m wearing to have a special meaning—for some occasion or specific time in my life. Like the R.I.P. charm, we just thought it was really funny, but you can get it when you breakup with an ex or when you start a new job and a new chapter. It can be representative of so much more.
Elise: Yeah and it stays with you. It’s kind of like music. It makes you feel empowered.
Or like tattoos. How has New York City inspired your designs?
Shelby: I get really inspired by the Lower East Side, Little Italy, and Chinatown. There’s so much to look at and see. Chinatown is such a huge inspiration for us. We walked through there today and there are so many things that I want to go back and photograph. Just the color schemes of everything right now I’m really into. We were at the pasta shop and I sent a photo to Elise and she was like, ‘Oh my god, we should make a tortellini charm.’ I find everything that I need as far as inspiration right here, within a two mile radius.
Elise: I’m fully inspired by Midtown too. I know it’s a disgusting hellhole, but there’s something about it! It’s so crazy. Times Square is disgustingly close. There are so many tourists, but I love the Diamond District. There are a lot of stands that sell vintage rings and chains. It’s a wonderland for jewelry. I also really like bathroom stall graffiti. We love that.
What is the process like when you design a new piece?
Elise: For most of the pieces that we’ve made so far, we’ll find a vintage casting, usually in brass or another cheap metal, and then you bring it to someone to put in a mold. They fill it with gold, silver, or whatever you want, and when it comes out it looks like a less shiny version of what we have. It kind of looks chalky. Then you bring it to a metalsmith to polish and then assemble. Obviously, earrings need posts and you need to have those attached.
Shelby: And for things like the earrings Elise is wearing, the mermaid studs, we’ll go and handpick the pearls. If it needs a gem, it will go to the gem setter.
Elise: The custom pieces are definitely my favorite because it’s super creative and you have every opportunity to adjust whatever you want. When everything’s done, we’ll photograph it and upload it. We both kind of hate Instagram, but we try to have fun with it.
Shelby: We want it to feel really natural. If people like it, hopefully they do, and if not maybe it’s just not for them.
What sort of practices do you employ to make sure your jewelry is sustainable?
Elise: A lot of it comes from being a small company and the core of the sustainability aspect for us is the materials. They’re all recycled. We found [a castor] who is completely transparent about where their mine is located and what kind of regulations they have in place to make sure the workers are being treated fairly. I think sustainability and ethics go hand in hand, though working with vendors overseas is a lot cheaper.
Shelby: Exponentially cheaper, but you have no idea what’s going on. In my experience working in jewelry in the past, there was a lot of waste involved and over-ordering. We don’t do that. Everything is made to order and there’s a two week lead time. This way, we have a lot of control over our manufacturing and our products. We don’t plate our gold, so it is forever. Silver is another really great option, if you’re trying to get a lower price point piece.
Elise: A lot of the time, high end costume jewelry is not significantly less expensive. It’s so much better to spend a little extra and then you can wear it in the shower. I’m so lazy that I don’t take any of this off. If I die in my sleep, I want to look chic.