“Pura Vida” directly translates to English means “pure life.” For the people of Costa Rica, it is more than just a saying; it is a way of life. When two friends, Griffin Thall and Paul Goodman traveled to Costa Rica in 2010, they fell in love with the “Pura Vida” lifestyle and they wanted to do something to celebrate it. While in Costa Rica, they met two artisan bracelet makers, Jorge and Joaquin, and that is when Pura Vida bracelets came to be. Quickly, Pura Vida grew to be a multi-million dollar company, supplying from artisans all around the world. The Vice President of the supply chain, Eriko Bailey, states that “being socially and charitably conscious is the life vein of the brand.” As a brand that heavily promotes sustainability, charity, and simple living, they should be held to very high standards concerning their transparency and environmental impact. Pura Vida does have some sustainability initiatives in place and they do partner with many different charities (mostly mental health, environmental, and animal charities), but they still have a long way to go in order to live up to their name. I do, however, admire the affordability of Pura Vida, with this charity bracelet only being 6 USD and I do believe they are doing more for sustainability than their competitors at this price point. This bracelet gives donations to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the only racial justice charity the company donates to. While I don’t think donations are meaningless, this “racial justice awareness” is highly performative considering the lack of diversity within the company. Overall, I wouldn’t say this bracelet is necessarily unsustainable, however, I don’t think Pura Vida really understands how important the intersection between sustainability and racial justice really is. Pura Vida profits from the artisan work of minorities in various different countries across the globe, yet the ONLY racial justice charity they donate to is based in the United States. If being “charitably conscious is the life vein of the brand,” Pura Vida needs to step up in terms of diversity and give back to the communities that made them so successful in the first place.
Immediately, I was not impressed by the lack of transparency about the materials Pura Vida uses to make their bracelets. They do not state what material the string is made of, so I can only assume it is made of waxed polyester cord. The production of polyester uses harmful chemicals that, if emitted into water or air, can cause significant environmental damage. Pura Vida claims to only source their materials from Fair Trade operations, however, they don’t go into any detail about these operations. The positive side of waxed polyester is that it is durable and waterproof, so this bracelet is going to last the consumer a long time. The “P” charm on the bracelet is made out of iron-coated copper, but once again, they do not state where they source this material. As the consumer is unaware of the materials used in this bracelet, there is no way to know how to properly dispose of the bracelet if it becomes damaged. I would definitely like to see the company be more transparent about what exactly these materials are and give consumers guidelines on how to properly dispose of their products. I would also like to see some sort of initiative to look for more sustainable materials and maybe implement a recycling program for damaged items to ensure less waste going into landfills.
Looking at Pura Vida’s sustainability goals for 2021, they are looking to offer a plastic-free shipping option at checkout for consumers. While I admire the push for plastic-free shipping, it’s weird they are only offering it as an option rather than just making all of their shipping plastic-free. Making plastic-free shipping an option makes me think they might charge the consumer more money for it. If that is the case, Pura Vida should seriously reconsider this initiative as I strongly believe the price of sustainability should fall on the multi-million dollar company rather than the average consumer. If anyone has ever bought anything from Pura Vida, they know that all of their jewelry comes in these little reusable bags. I was surprised to learn that these bags are 100% biodegradable, which is great, but I would like to see this push for eco-friendly materials translate over to the jewelry itself.
Once again, there is not a lot of transparency about the manufacturing process of their bracelets. However, their jewelry is not mass-produced, rather it is created by artisans around the world. In an interview with the Vice President of the supply chain, Bailey states that Pura Vida did a “social compliance [audit] of the factories of [their] vendors and manufacturing partners, then [got] them up to a baseline; ensuring that fair wages are being extended to individuals at the ground level, that these facilities are at code, and that there’s a safe working environment for all.” While this is great, there is no third-party verification to back up these claims and even if there was, fair wages and safe working conditions are the bare minimum and not something to be praised for.
I appreciate that Pura Vida states some of the sustainability goals they are working towards in 2021. Along with a plastic-free shipping option, they are also looking to offset 100% of their carbon emissions from shipping by 2022 (a journey they started in 2019), and implement better recycling and waste reduction at their HQ. As they do import almost all of their jewelry, I’m happy to see they acknowledge the carbon emissions from all the shipping. Of course its always a good thing to reduce waste, but I think their goal for this is too small and they should definitely look into waste reduction within their whole company, not just their headquarters.
Pura Vida employs over 800 artisans in places such as Costa Rica, El Salvador, India, and more. I like that the website states which jewelry is made where, as it allows the consumer to know where their products came from. As stated above, Pura Vida claims to only source from Fair Trade operations, however, they provide no proof. While I would like to give Pura Vida the benefit of the doubt in this case, they should really look into getting a third-party certification or at least be more transparent about their suppliers.
According to Bailey, Pura Vida’s employees are very young, with ~85% of the company being millennial or Gen Z. With such a young employee base, I would expect to see better sustainability and social justice initiatives within the company. I do acknowledge that one of the goals of the company is to give back to people through charities, however, most of the charities they donate to are based in the US. Considering Pura Vida gets basically all of their jewelry from overseas, I find this extremely concerning. You just can’t preach about how important it is to be charitable when you don’t even give back to the people who make your products! As a company that profits off the work of local artisans around the world and highly emphasizes the importance of charity, simply paying your international workers a “fair wage” is not enough and I would really like to see more effort put into giving back to these communities.
Pura Vida currently partners with Surfrider Foundation, 1% for the Planet, One Tree Planted, and many more. They also offer a variety of themed jewelry for specific charities, with which this Racial Justice bracelet is one of them. 5% of the purchase price for this bracelet is donated to the NAACP Legal Fund, which is standard for all of their charity bracelets. The description of this item states that “Pura Vida stands in solidarity with the fight against racial injustice, systemic racism, and the historical oppression of the Black community.” I see that they are trying to support the black community, however, this was the first time I saw a black model on their website. Looking further into the models on their website, it looks like most of them are white. If Pura Vida really wants to stand in solidarity with the Black community, donations are simply not enough. I would like to see more initiatives within the brand to be more inclusive with their models and with their employees.