Nadja Swarovski may be best known for her family’s crystal brand. But she’d like to make an impact in the realm of sustainability, too
Nadja Swarovski is the great-great-granddaughter of the founder of the Austrian crystal producer Daniel Swarovski. Considered to be more ethical and eco-friendly than mined gems, Swarovski‘s shimmering crystals have enchanted wanna-be Cinderellas for generations.
Nadja is currently the head of the company’s corporate communications and design services, and has been successful in keeping the brand relevant thanks to a series of collaborations with the likes of Alexander McQueen and Zaha Hadid. She has also been working hard to raise Swarovski’s ethical and sustainability profile.
Here, in our exclusive interview with Nadja Swarovski, we talk about working with Penelope Cruz, changes in the jewellery industry, and her passion for philanthropy.
Why is sustainability so important to the Swarovski brand?
This is an issue at the heart of our DNA and it goes back to my great-great grandfather Daniel Swarovski, who founded our company in Austria in 1895.
Daniel was committed to the principles of respect and responsibility for the environment, the craftspeople he employed, and the families and wider community he supported. His use of clean hydro-electric power to drive his innovative cutting machines was truly revolutionary at the time, and it directly connected our business to the natural world.
Five generations later, we continue to lead the way with compassion and sustainability at the heart of our company. Today, 70% of our total water demand is met with recycled water, and we have overseen a 26% reduction in total energy consumption since 2010 across our manufacturing and production locations. However, this is just a small part of an ongoing journey we are on to help inspire the wider industry.
Swarovski works with design schools globally on sustainability projects, as well as supports scholarships in jewelry and fashion design. Why is this so important to the brand?
We believe it is our mission to be a role model for individuals and other companies on a global scale, across different creative industries and sectors. Part of this is about how we inspire others – especially younger designers at the beginning of their careers – to create their products and collections responsibly.
Through our ‘Conscious Design’ programs, Swarovski strives to be a positive mentor and partner for the next generation. We have recently expanded our longstanding partnership with Central Saint Martins to create a Conscious Design program which will form part of the curriculum for students on three MA and BA courses, and the Swarovski Foundation has enlarged its scholarship support to now cover eight final year students across the BA jewelry and fashion courses.
Given the brand stresses philanthropy so strongly, there must have been many positive changes you’ve helped facilitate. Tell us about a few that you’re most proud of?
I am extremely proud of our work with the Swarovski Foundation, which we established in 2013 to celebrate the philanthropic legacy of Daniel Swarovski by partnering with inspirational charities and NGOs to create positive impact across three areas: supporting culture and creativity, promoting human empowerment and preserving the environment.
We have had enormous success with one of our partners, Nest, which works with mainly female artisans in developing economies such as India. Last year 100% of the artisans Swarovski supported reported that they were able to send their children to high school now with the money they have gained through their craft business. 59% of the artisans Swarovski supported in 2018 have been able to open a bank account which will enable them to start saving money so they invest in their business, children’s education and healthcare.
And 61% of artisans Swarovski supported in 2018 were able to electrify their homes using the income they had gained from their craft business. We are thrilled to help spark change in these people’s lives.
There have been major changes in the jewelry industry over the past decades. Which ones stand out most for you?
We are seeing truly revolutionary changes around conscious consumption, especially with regards to increasing customer awareness and desire for ethically sound, environmentally responsible materials. Therefore, we have been delighted to collaborate with Penélope Cruz and acclaimed fine jewelry designers Stephen Webster and Paige Novick on new Atelier Swarovski’s fine jewelry collections, which are made with Swarovski Created Diamonds; created emeralds and rubies, which have a lower impact than mined stones; Fairtrade and recycled gold; and responsibly sourced Swarovski Genuine Topaz.
Penélope, Stephen and Paige share our commitment to using the most responsible mix of materials to give consumers a choice of beautiful products which have been crafted with care and respect. We call this ‘Conscious Luxury’ – a new way of doing business that puts compassion and sustainability at its heart.
Swarovski makes so many beautiful products. If you could give everyone in the world a little present, what would you select from the brand?
Water is at the heart of our family and our company and we recently launched our Swarovski Waterschool necklace this World Water Day in March. It celebrates and helps raise funds for our Waterschool project, which was set up in 2000 to take action against the global freshwater and water access crisis. Over the past two decades, we have educated over half a million young people globally to help to protect our most valuable resource and shape a better future as agents of change and water ambassadors.
Your great-great grandfather started the company. What are the advantages, in your mind, of keeping Swarovski a family company?
One of the major advantages is that we are able to take the time to evaluate the present, examine our experience in the past, and innovate for the future. As we like to say: ‘we think in generations not quarters’. Our family connection in Austrian means that today we are a global company but we are truly rooted in our community, and I am truly proud of that heritage – of our creativity, collaboration and commitment to responsible business. It requires a certain amount of patience and tenacity, but we are constantly reinforcing those core values, while we evolve to remain relevant for our customers.
You once said because you’re a woman, you see things differently in the business world and value things men may not. Can you give us an example?
On a personal level, I do think that being a woman in a company with a majority of female customers, gives me some unique insights on our product. And we know from the work undertaken by McKinsey for the World Economic Forum that gender-balanced leadership teams in business outperform unbalanced teams.
This is a positive impact that all companies need to embrace to remain competitive, and as a brand we are committed to embracing the incredible power of diversity. This is why we recently began to roll out our Breaking Bias training, which we are using to challenge and overcome the effect of unconscious bias in business decisions. I hope in my role as the first female member of the Swarovski Executive Board that I can help drive that change.