Jacques Christophe and Mia Branellec on Living Sustainably
In November of 2018, 16 leaders in the Southeast Asian retail, hospitality, and F&B sphere were invited by Tatler Asia to Koh Kood, Thailand for its first-ever sustainability forum. Representing the Philippines and their own companies were Jacques Christophe Branellec, the EVP and deputy CEO of Jewelmer, and Mia Arcenas-Branellec, fashion designer and CEO of her eponymous brand. Having been married since November 2017, they are united by the same passion for nature, life, and sustainability. Attending the forum together marked another step in Jacques Christophe and Mia’s sustainability journey as they continue to stand at the helm of their respective businesses. “We met like-minded people and learnt so much from each of them,” shares the couple. “It was an experience that enriched our own knowledge and practice.” Joining the family business of South Sea pearl cultivation and fine jewellery, Jacques Christophe is committed to the pursuit of sustainable luxury that Jewelmer was founded upon. Along the same lines, Mia creatively challenges the notion that fashion is wasteful with her innovative designer apparel and accessories.
In the beginning, Jewelmer depended on harvesting wild Pinctada maxima oysters to culture South Sea pearls. The founders, French pearl farmer Jacques Branellec and Filipino businessman Manuel Cojuangco, soon realised that this method was simply not sustainable due to the lack of proper controls of the fisheries in the area, leading to a depletion of natural oyster beds. “To make the process sustainable, [my father and Mister Cojuangco] decided to experiment in breeding our own oysters,” explains Jacques Christophe. He adds that being in control of the breeding process has allowed Jewelmer to not only be in control of the bio density within a given area, but also to repopulate other areas.
Recognising that pearl farming is dependent on the grace of nature, Jacques Christophe emphasises the necessity of protecting nature’s welfare. Changes in the environment have posed difficulties for the company. “In the past five years, production of high-quality pearls has become more challenging because of extreme variations in temperature, acidity, and plankton availability. “This trend indicates that the environment is deteriorating. As a living gem, the pearl is inextricably linked with the beauty of the place: the pearl, which is an end result to such a positive process, is nature’s reward for our stewardship,” Jacques Christophe says.
The company’s concept of sustainability is not just limited to pearl farming and business practices. Through the Save Palawan Seas Foundation, Jewelmer supports sustainable livelihood and environmental initiatives such as free-range chicken farming, organic vegetable farming, seaweed farming, coral rehabilitation, and coastal cleanups. Proper waste disposal and the reduction of single-use plastics are being implemented as well.
Facing similar issues in her own industry, Mia contends with the question of how to minimise waste in a field driven by constant and rapid production. Though today’s eco-conscious generation is putting in the effort to live more sustainably, options continue to be limited, and many retailers struggle to incorporate sustainability into their business models. Mia, who designs beautiful resortwear pieces and accessories, collaborates with indigenous artisans and turns to recycled materials for her creations. “I use retaso [fabric remnants], woven abaca, linen, and even recycled wood, glass, and fruit seeds, among others,” she shares. “It is important to always be thinking of ways to make fashion eco-friendlier, as this helps educate consumers with regard to buying quality, one-of-a-kind pieces that they can reuse often instead of turning to mass-produced items they can easily replace when a new trend comes in.”
Their professional pursuits reflect their shared vision of sustainability: “Sustainability is a mindset that needs to inform the decisions you make for your business. We have to always ask ourselves: is this decision going to harm the natural environment or the source of life for a community in that area? Will we leave this place in a better state or not?” Jacques Christophe adds, “My father and Mister Cojuangco always say: we are not in the life of business, but in the business of life.”
For the couple, sustainability is truly a way of life, and not just a practice that is limited to the confines of one’s work or when it is convenient. They acknowledge the challenges that living in a city posits on this advocacy, but they are motivated to practice this value in any way they can. “Now that we are parents, we have made great strides in bringing the sustainable lifestyle into our home,” shares Mia. As a mother, she strongly believes in the need to educate and set an example for children on how to take care of our surroundings. “We no longer use toxic chemicals for everyday cleaning; instead, we’ve turned to using vinegar with hot water and baking soda. We hardly use artificial lights—which we have switched to LED—during the daytime because our home has ac - cess to natural sunlight. We recycle fruit and vegetable peelings to use as fertiliser for our plants.”
Both proud nature lovers, the couple believes that small acts of love for the environment can make a big difference in contributing to the bigger picture. “Without nature, we wouldn’t be able to survive on this planet; it provides us shelter, and nourishes our minds, bodies, and spirits,” says Mia. Jacques Christophe echoes this simple but crucial idea: “It is important for us to realise how much we rely on the environment, not the other way around. Working in harmony with nature is the only way we can sustain a world for the coming generations.” Brilliant in their own fields and aligned in their principles, these two are certainly off to a strong start in living a sustainable life together.
- Photography Paolo Pineda
- Art Direction Monique Madsen