This month, join us as we discuss entrepreneurship, celebrating love, and championing sustainability with Anna Bario of Bario Neal fame.
A perfect collaboration between two best friends, Bario Neal is our go-to site when we want to fantasize about our next statement piece of jewelry. From their unique, asymmetrical cluster rings to their rainbow hoops, each piece is a statement of joy, love and sustainability — and a great pairing to any Neu Nomads outfit!
What really makes Bario Neal so special, however, is their continued emphasis on social and environmental causes. We have a particular affinity for other sustainable brands, and Bario Neal champions their social justice values at every turn. This makes Anna an inspiration to us: she knows the exceptional challenges that face a sustainable business, but navigates them in her own entrepreneurship with deft and clarity. Dive into her story with us here.
Hello Anna! Thank you so much for joining us as a Neu Woman, welcome to the community. You’ve been a particular source of inspiration to us and to our readers for a while, so it’s a pleasure to have you on board.
We always start with an introduction for those who are encountering you for the first time, so who is Anna Bario?
Hello! My name is Anna Bario and I am a designer moonlighting as an entrepreneur.
My incredible friend Page Neal and I founded and co-lead an ethical jewelry brand called Bario Neal, which we launched in 2008. We set out to create a brand that would intersect our creative, social, and environmental passions.
Today, Bario Neal is proud to be an industry leader in ethical sourcing and mindful production, fighting for more transparency in the industry at large. Our jewelry reflects individualism and equality with non-gendered styles and inclusive sizing. Our HQ and workshop is located in Philadelphia, and most recently we opened up our second brick and mortar in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Congratulations, and welcome to the neighborhood!
For those who aren’t yet familiar with your incredible jewelry collection, we certainly recommend a browse here. Your designs are striking, beautiful, and oh-so-unique, they certainly tell a story.
Tell us, what sparks your creative process? How do you begin and end the design process?
I tend to start with a texture or form, or a specific image — it may be a loose sketch or a material that just stays with me until I start working with it. Page and I have a strong design practice where we’re able to both collaborate and communicate our different visions.
If I’m honest, as a parent of two young kids, I end up sketching at night. There’s something of a positive charge to being the only one awake. Then I’ll bring those sketches to the studio and start working with materials or our CAD designer to render them. I love how contemporary jewelry allows us to bring together ancient processes like lost wax casting with tech like 3D printing and scanning.
All of our jewelry is made in the U.S. in our Philadelphia workshop with responsibly sourced materials. If a client is shopping our collections or looking to create something custom, it will all be made-to-order to reduce our use of materials and ensure that every bespoke piece is crafted to size.
Those in-between hours are definitely the creative hours! We can relate to that – the stillness, the darkness, there’s something about it that fires inspiration. Yet working in a creative industry can be a lot of pressure. It can be difficult to spark creativity when you’re working to a strict deadline, for instance.
How do you overcome this ‘jewelers-block’? Do you have any tricks to re-spark inspiration?
This feels like a played example, but it really tracks for me — I go for a run and then come back to a notebook and pencil, no screens and no outside influence other than books or gemstones.
Having collaborators brings so much along with it — we have an incredible group of people in our studio, including Aliyah Gold-Whetzel and Em Shank, both jewelers and designers that have the technical skills and the depth of knowledge of Bario Neal’s aesthetic, that we definitely turn to them when we’re stuck.
One of the things that really resonates about the pieces from Bario Neal is that each piece is there to tell a story. At Neu Nomads, we like to think our pieces do the same – they’re there for each of life’s moments, and they become well-worn favorites that remind you of when you wore them last; your beach holiday, your mom’s 60th birthday, your wedding – why not?!
You aim to recycle a lot of your materials from old jewelry designs. We love this idea, as each recycled diamond in your collection has its own history, its own narrative. The things that stone has seen! It’s truly owning a piece of history. How do you find your recycled stones, and do you ever know the story behind them?
In the case of repurposing heirlooms, we love to learn the stories behind our clients' gemstones and jewelry, like this story of Jenna and Alicia both using gemstones from their maternal grandmothers’ rings — so many generations of women carried forward!
Our recycled diamonds are repurposed from old stock or other jewelry. While we can’t determine their initial origins, no new mining is required, eliminating the environmental footprint and making them a sustainable choice.
Bario Neal is such a diverse brand offering incredible products for every occasion, but probably the biggest jewelry purchase that we make in our lives is an engagement or a wedding ring, just like Jenna and Alicia’s story.
How have fashions in weddings changed over the last decade you've been making these important pieces of jewelry? What big wedding trends do you predict for the future?
Jewelry styles were so focused on delicacy for quite a few years, and recently we've been designing work jewelry that is bolder, with wider bands and more complex collaged gemstones. We're seeing so many more men's engagement rings, and designing engagement jewelry that is expanding beyond rings.
One of the key features of all your jewelry is that it’s ethical, conflict-free and sustainable. For many years, weddings have been about the biggest and the best – the biggest party, the biggest budget, even the biggest dress! But now we’re noticing a rejection of that, a shift towards more sustainable practices and the recognition that bigger is not always better.
That’s the context behind our latest Wedding Collection – sustainable wedding outfits that can be repurposed and reworn so they don’t end up in the back of your closet collecting dust.
What advice would you give to couples out there that are looking for sustainable jewelry, attire, catering, etc… Perhaps you have specific vendors you usually recommend, or sustainable communities couples can engage with.
We always talk about repurposing, whether it's redesigning heirloom jewelry or looking in your family and friends' closets — what can you borrow, rewear or integrate that brings sustainability and connection to the event? Starting with what you have, what you can rent or borrow is an excellent starting point. [That’s why] we love the Neu Nomads Wedding Capsule for its timeless versatility.
For many gatherings, travel's carbon cost is one of the biggest impacts. Offbeat Wed does a great summary of carbon offset resources and calculators. Or, keep it small: our friends in Philly at the Maas building have an incredible venue for more intimate weddings. Alden Wicker at EcoCult has been a trusted resource for years and has recs for everything from invitations to registries.
One of the things that makes Bario Neal stand out is your brand focus on sustainability and equality. You have lots of information about where you source your raw materials from on your website, and it’s refreshing to see such transparency. We know that sustainability and a traceable supply chain is very important to Bario Neal, and it’s clear to see. But it can’t always have been easy to become sustainable.
What’s been the biggest challenge for you, building a sustainable business?
It’s definitely not the easiest or most profit-driven decision to be a sustainability-focused business. We’ve faced a lot of challenges finding and teaming up with the right supplier partners and aligning ourselves with truly traceable operators.
I’d say recently, one of the challenges we’ve had is continued education for our employees and customers. There is a lot of volatility right now in the diamond industry for instance with the expansion of lab grown diamonds into the market. People are confused about the true inherent value of their jewelry and what that means for future generations.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen a lot of companies jump into lab grown, but unless you are vetting your suppliers, it can become a case of greenwashing and take away from the potential to help communities that were impacted by the atrocities of the diamond industry in the past.
While Bario Neal is an incredible brand with sustainability at its heart, we believe here at Neu Nomads that sustainability is not a tick box. It’s a journey, and there are always more ways that we can become more sustainable, more thoughtful, more conscious.
What does the future hold for the sustainability of Bario Neal? Where will you be working next?
Couldn’t agree more — sustainability is a process. What product is ‘sustainable’ in the truest sense? Maybe biodynamic organic symbiotic agriculture?
A few things on the horizon that I’m excited to dig in with — we’ll be launching a circularity program for Bario Neal jewelry this year. We’re about to release our 2021-22 Sustainability Report, and we’ve just released a new collection that will give 15% percent of proceeds to Mercury Free Mining — an organization working to eliminate mercury from small-scale gold mining.
As well as earth-friendly sustainability, your brand is also supportive of social justice causes. Your blog is filled with excellent articles on intersectionality, gender identity and helpful tips for choosing an engagement ring. Have you ever faced push-back to your decision to align your brand in this way? How did you overcome that and stick to your values?
Well sure, but it doesn’t really land, because we’ve always just aligned the brand with our own values. In fact, we were one of the first jewelry brands to stand for gay marriage and have always sought for individualism in our designs from genderless designs to inclusive sizing.
It’s not like one day, we decided to make ‘cause-marketing’ part of our brand because it was cool or the right thing to do. Our customers often come to us because they connect with our mission and our activism. When we get backlash, we know they aren’t our customers.
You’ve built your business for over a decade, congratulations on a huge milestone! If you could go back and do it all over again, what would you tell the Anna of 10 years ago?
Hire a COO and do the things you love instead of trying to figure out how to run a mission driven company!
ANNA IS WEARING
You heard it here first: Soft suiting is having a moment. Gone are the days when the suit was just for the man about town. Now, suits are bringing back their curves with feminine shapes, delicate fabrics, and a whole color palette of wonderful shades. In linen or silky TENCEL™, we’re wearing a soft suit everywhere we go, and so should you.
The dappled sun, the shade of unique colonial architecture, the sticky sweet smell of cañoncitos hawked by street vendors, and the cool taste of Argentinian wine. This fall, we’re launching our neu-est collection in the fabulous Buenos Aires, where the streets are filled with infinitely stylish porteños enjoying the most incredible atmosphere in Latin America.