What motivates you to found your own sustainable company together with your partner? And how does it actually feel when suddenly stars are also wearing their own jewelry? BUNTE.de spoke to “BRUNA The Label” founder Helena Milchrahm.
Helena Milchrahm was just 27 years old when she started her jewelry brand – together with her boyfriend, Simon Rupp. Today “BRUNA The Label” is one of the first sustainable jewelry labels in Germany. What makes your creations so sustainable? The earrings and chains are made entirely of recycled silver and gold, among other things. Helena always proves that this does not have to be at the expense of design: sustainability and style are super compatible. Stars like Melissa McCarthy (50), Reese Witherspoon (45) and Ashley Graham (33), who regularly show themselves on Instagram with BRUNA accessories, think so too.
But how does it actually feel when your own ideas are suddenly carried by celebrities? We wanted to know that from the founder herself …
BUNTE.de: Helena, what made you decide to found your own jewelry label?
Helena milk cream: BRUNA came up with the idea of a trip around the world that Simon, my co-founder and friend, and I went on after our studies. On our last stop, Tahiti, we happened upon a couple of women in a market who were creating jewelry with small, misshapen pearls. There we learned that the pearls are usually sorted out and even often thrown back into the sea because they are too small or too misshapen. We liked the idea that something so wonderful and unique can emerge from a “waste product” – and BRUNA was born. In addition, I couldn’t identify with any jewelry brand on the market and was never really satisfied with the pieces of jewelry that I had tried out until then.
What does jewelry mean to you?
For me, jewelry has always been an essential part of my outfit and a part of me. I associate something emotional with every piece in my jewelry box and it reminds me of a special person or moment in my life.
What is it like to start a business with your own friend?
I think that since we are a very harmonious and well-coordinated couple and have also known each other for 10 years, it was never a big challenge for us to found a company together. For me personally it is the best thing in the world to be able to work with my partner and to see him every day and to be able to experience these experiences together.
Simon is very balanced, diplomatic and actually always keeps a cool head, no matter how tricky it can get. On the other hand, I am sometimes a little whirlwind and bring a lot of humor and a very large portion of emotions and passion into the relationship and also into the company, which thus creates a good balance. We’re a bit like ying and yang – with the same common goal in mind.
Of course, we also sometimes have conflicts and discussions, which in my opinion is also good and quite normal.
What tips do you have for women who want to start a business with their partner?
“So check out who binds himself forever”, Schiller’s famous words fit here, I think, quite well. In any case, I would advise you to have known your partner for a while. Both should also be honest with themselves and ask themselves certain questions: How do I deal with extremely stressful situations? Can I live with the pressure of being self-employed? What do we do if it doesn’t work right from the start, etc.? Just because you have a functioning relationship and harmonize privately does not automatically mean that you also do the same in the company and that you can master the ups and downs of the startup phase.
Speaking of founding a company: Tijen Onaran also has valuable tips ready for you!
Where do you get the courage and strength for your everyday life as a founder?
The fact that I can live my biggest dream with BRUNA is actually motivator enough for me. I also have the best team in the world by my side, which motivates and inspires me every day. But I also draw strength from all the great feedback from our customers.
You create the designs for your jewelry yourself, without ever having studied design. How do you deal with this challenge?
It never unsettled me that I didn’t study design. Even to this day I don’t have the feeling that I should have studied it because I think that you either have design in you or you don’t. In general, I think you can teach yourself almost everything. Women limit themselves far too often. You shouldn’t limit yourself.
When designing our jewelry, I am very much inspired by the vintage trends of the last decades, by old films, books, women on the street, international trends, but of course also by nature. Before Covid-19, of course, from our travels and beautiful place. I first collect my ideas on a mood board and then just start drawing wildly. Our goldsmiths then create a finished piece of jewelry from my ideas and doodles in many hours of manual work. We work on a design until I’m 1000 percent happy. Since I am an absolute perfectionist, it can take a few weeks to months.
Melissa McCarthy, Delia Lachance, and Ashley Graham are just a few of the celebrity women who wear your jewelry. How does that feel?
It’s still utterly surreal to be honest. I sometimes have to pinch myself when I see these wonderful women with our jewelry. I woke up this morning and Reese Witherspoon posted a picture on Instagram showing her with our Monaco Hoops. It’s just like a beautiful dream that you never want to wake up from.
Has sustainability always been important to you?
Growing up with my grandparents on an organic farm in Austria, sustainable management and living in harmony with nature have always been part of my DNA. I also did my master’s degree in environmental and systems science before starting BRUNA. Every decision I make in the company is therefore naturally strongly influenced by sustainable principles. Whether climate protection, circular economy or sustainable consumption: All of this has the highest priority for me and I also see myself as part of a new, sustainable movement.
How do you perceive the status quo of the sustainable jewelry industry?
In my opinion there are only very few sustainable and ethical jewelry labels on the scene in 2021 – and unfortunately also very many who claim to be but are not. Greenwashing is also a huge problem in the jewelry industry. When we started in 2019, we were almost the only ones. Today, labels claim to be sustainable only if they offer plastic-free packaging. In my opinion, this is the absolute standard and unfortunately does not solve the problem of the very energy-intensive, dirty and environmentally destructive mining practices of gold and silver mining and the associated environmental pollution. I would like many more companies to care more about sustainable manufacturing, resource procurement and their supply chain than about marketing that is as green as possible.
Which piece of jewelry is the must-have for summer 2021?
Necklace layerings are absolutely trendy again this year: Worn several chains on top of each other, add value to every outfit and that without any rules. Statement rings and earrings are also a must this summer. Pearls are of course the second big IT piece of summer 2021. We’re not talking about grandmother’s pearls, but new, fresh interpretations, such as our Rosemary ring or Antibes pearl choker.
What are your goals for the future?
We not only want to change the entire jewelry industry sustainably, but also set an example for other industries and act as a role model. It is time for companies to turn away from fast fashion and fast accessories and start producing quality again that will last a lifetime. Pieces that are produced in harmony with nature, fair for people and the environment. Our main goal is to create a closed cycle, a regenerative system in which we minimize the use of resources, waste production, emissions and energy waste by closing energy and material cycles.