Behind the Designers: Midori Ferris-Wayne

Sulusso interviews founder of Okomido sustainable jewelry
Oct 7, 2009 9:00 AM ET

Hear from Okomido jewelry founder, Midori Ferris-Wayne. Learn about her inspiration and where she can be found when not at the jeweler's bench.

1.       How did you get started in making jewelry?

I have fond memories from a very young age of playing with my grandmother's jewelry and dreaming of collecting my own treasures. So jewelry has really been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. The idea of actually designing jewelry was a more gradual process. I immersed myself in jewelry history when I worked at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and then transitioned into the Fine Jewelry auction world. Eventually, through those connections I began designing one-of-a-kind pieces. Creating a full line was a logical extension of this process when I moved back to California.

2.       Sustainability in the jewelry sector is pretty rare, what inspired you to use only reclaimed materials?

Two reasons, really. First, I've never been one to do anything halfway, so once I started finding out about the horrifically negative impact of traditional mining practices there was really no turning back – particularly as it became evident that it isn't as challenging as most designers think to commit to sustainability.

The second reason is that the story behind each piece of jewelry is significant to me, and I love the connection to other people's histories that comes from recycling. A particular ring from reclaimed materials isn't just timeless because of the exceptional components and design, but because it literally contains fragments from other jewelry with incredible sentimental value to countless other owners. I think that is tremendously meaningful, not to mention fun.

3.       What one thing would you like all jewelry shoppers to know about traditional jewelry?

I generally try to avoid getting preachy about this issue, but since you asked...  I've done my homework enough to know that it's not just hype--traditional mining really is "as bad as they say." Personally, it's definitely a matter of conscience to find alternative sources for my materials, and I think if most people took the time to educate themselves, they would find compelling reasons to demand full-scale change in the industry. I sometimes think of it this way: very few people would enjoy eating even the most delicious food at their favorite restaurant if they learned that the people growing and cooking the meal were exposed to horrible toxins in the process. A purchase as consequential as jewelry should merit at least as much consideration.

4.       Who are you outside of the founder and designer of Okomido?

  I make jewelry in part because I am inspired by the beauty of my surroundings. So, it’s no accident that you are most likely to find me taking advantage of everything our small town in Sonoma County has to offer: picking apples in the orchard next to our house, going to quirky, local festivals like the Gravenstein Fair, or taking the short drive out to the ocean. I spend as much time outside as possible playing with my kids on the trampoline. I'm also a Project Runway addict, with a weakness for great food and Dwell Magazine. 5.       Who would you be most thrilled to know is wearing your jewelry? It would thrill me equally to know that the gloriously stylish actor/environmentalist Emily Deschanel was wearing an Okomido Twig Bracelet as it would to know that my grandmother cherishes her Honesty Pod earrings and wears them almost daily.   6.       Could anyone who knew you as a young girl have predicted that
you would be a pioneer of sustainable luxury?

Living in the Sierra-Nevada foothills during grade school, just minutes away from one of the oldest hydraulic gold mining sites in the country, made an undeniable impression on me. Any of my family members familiar with that wasted moonscape in the midst of lush forest would agree that it's hard not to be changed by that experience, and none of them are surprised that I've built a business, which reflects that.