When I was invited to PANDORA jewelry’s opening for their new facility in Chiang Mai I almost said no. I had very little time to think about it, the flight would be long, and more importantly I didn’t know much about the jewelry. I happen to be close to one of their stores so I went in for a look. The place was packed with women who were waiting in line. In that instant I had an “aha moment.” I realized that most of those women had no idea there the lovely trinkets they are looking at came from Thailand. I quickly became curious. Who are the people making the jewelry? Was PANDORA really on the up and up or were they appropriating a culture for a bottom line. For several reasons, jewelry can be quite controversial. I now had questions, I said yes to the the trip to go and get answers. And let’s be real, I’d probably be pissed at myself one day for saying no to a trip to Thailand.
When I arrived in the “Land of Smiles”, I was welcomed with happy greetings and sensuous flowers. It’s customary to give flowers to guests when they arrive. Flowers are such a big part of Thai culture that there’s a 24 hour flower market so that people can get them anytime. I was whisked away to the Dhara Dhari in Chiang Mai, the resort that PANDORA had selected for the events and dinners. The 60 acre resort was a place of healing and tranquility. The staff was divine with their consistent wai greetings which is a slight bow with hand together like a prayer. Traditional Thai art and goddess statues were everywhere. I wanted to take a picture of everything, it was so beautiful. I had a suite with a balcony to myself overlooking lush green trees. My note to self: spend as much time on the balcony as possible. I was so grateful to be there I cried more than a few times. The atmosphere was full of serenity very different than my home, New York City.
On the night of my arrival there was a jasmine flower filled welcome dinner for all of PANDORA’s guests which included staff and journalists. When I found my name plate, I noticed that I would be seated next to Minna Philipson, the Chief Marketing Officer. We immediately bonded over Australian white wine. At one point, she turned to me and said, “ so you’re a witch….tell me more”. I was not expecting her to know that, it kind of took me off guard. We then had a lovely conversation about witches, magick, and jewelry. There was a real “sisters are doing it for themselves” moment when Philipson said she loves that their line gives women the opportunity buy a nice piece of jewelry for herself versus having to wait for someone to buy it for her. That comment deserved a serious high five. A lady shouldn’t have to wait for someone to give her a sparkly gift. The best part is that the jewelry supports a developing country. A win win situation.
The ribbon cutting for the new facility was typical. You know a lot of nice words from CEOs and a ribbon is cut. I couldn’t wait to get inside the facility to see the workers in action. I got to see what happens with the jewelry from start to finish. Watching someone delicately put a stone in a ring was fascinating. I would never have the patience. It made me appreciate every piece of jewelry that I’ve ever had. What was the most fun was making eye contact with some of the workers who were just as curious about me as I was about them. I got several smiles from women who had mischievous gleams in their eye. Even though we didn’t share any words, I felt like they were kindred spirits.
PANDORA has made sure to comply with Thai customs to make their work environment up to par with Thai culture. For instance, there is a spirit house located outside of the new facility. A spirit house is in the form of a miniature temple for a protective spirit that surrounds a building.. I found out that people in Thailand will not work for a company that does not have a spirit house. I wish we did something similar in the United States. All of the workers are getting living wages, free lunch, being pregnant has some perks, and there are activities for the worker’s children. The company is so beloved that if they say they are hiring hundreds of people show up. It’s nice to see a company that is “woke”. Of course PANDORA isn’t perfect, but treating people with respect clearly is a priority.
The next morning I decided to not be a part of the scheduled activities so that I could have time for mindfulness. I walked the grounds of the resort and had a heart to heart with the universe. I never would have imagined that this trip would have such a profound effect on me. I was reminded how kindness should be at the forefront of everything. It made me think about who and what businesses I support. Do those things harm others or add value in the world? I never would have guessed a trendy jewelry line would make me have such a deep inner dialogue.
I won’t ever think of jewelry the same way thanks to PANDORA. Jewelry comes from a place that is most likely supporting a community of artisans and has it’s own story before it reaches me. Being globally minded, I want to support that story and have the honor of intertwining it with mine.