Arlene Barclay with some of her recycled plastic jewellery creations (Photo: Angus Blackburn)
Arlene Barclay with some of her recycled plastic jewellery creations (Photo: Angus Blackburn)

The Scot making something new from something old

Wave upon wave of plastic pollution is blighting Scotland’s wildlife, so Scottish entrepreneur Arlene Barclay is on a quest to save our seas through sustainable jewellery.

One truck-load of plastic is dumped into the ocean every 60 seconds.

Broadcasting the horrifying consequences, global news bulletins are now filled with haunting images – puffins making nests out of plastic straws, seals caught in man-made ties and seabirds pecking at bottles in search of sustenance.

This ocean pollution, which is growing by an estimated eight million metric tonnes a year, is a menacing sign of human error.

But how many of us are actively fighting to turn this plastic tide? ‘It’s horrific. How has our race managed to let it get like this?’ Shocked at the state of our seas Arlene Barclay – Aberdeenshire philanthropist and founder of jewellery business House of Halos – is tackling the problem head on.

Building a sustainable jewellery collection made from plastic washed ashore, she donates a percentage of her profits to global conservation charities that are working to protect our planet.

This isn’t the first time that Arlene has shown entrepreneurial spirit though. From the age of just 15 she made and sold trinkets to school friends. Fast-forward 29 years and her resourcefulness stands strong. Juggling a full-time job in the oil industry with a busy family life and business studies, Arlene still finds time to collect and dispose of the man-made trail of devastation that is strewn across north eastern beaches.

Among the rubbish she finds ‘secret jewels’ – plastic bottle tops to the untrained eye – which she carefully cleans, re-melts, pairs with sterling silver and transforms into sustainable bracelets and necklaces. Every piece purchased from her Ocean Collection supports The UK Marine Conservation charity.

Making her jewellery is a painstaking process – each handcrafted item demands at least eight hours of her attention. However, Arlene’s desire to preserve the environment for future generations is a constant motivation.

‘I’m mum to a 14-year-old and I just keep wondering, are my grandchildren even going to have a planet to live on? We can’t keep going the way we’re going.’ With the aim of raising enough funds for machinery to aid the bead-making process, Arlene’s commitment to the cause is unwavering.

Arlene Barclay with some of her recycled plastic jewellery creations (Photo: Angus Blackburn)

In many ways ahead of her time, Arlene pitched her forward-thinking business plan to a panel of judges at the Ideas Britain competition in 2013 where she came third. Her philanthropic venture hasn’t always been easy though.

‘I approached every luxury and high street store but none of them are interested in sustainable fashion yet. There’s just not enough pressure on them to produce it. Unless the consumer starts fighting back and says, ‘I’m not buying that because it’s not good for the planet’, we’re stuck.’

That said, with BBC documentaries and the likes of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet spearheading a revolution against single-use plastics, there is a demonstrable shift in people’s mentality. With our awareness of ocean pollution growing, Arlene is positive that she will soon be supporting more global conservation charities, including The Ocean Cleanup – a Dutch organisation trying to rid the world of the five ocean gyres of plastic pollution.

‘The Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Ocean is three times the size of France. It’s disgusting. In the Dominican Republic there’s just wave upon wave of plastic,’ explained Arlene.

With plans to launch five signature jewellery collections – Ocean, Wildlife, Ice, Earth and Peace – Arlene’s plans are extensive. ‘The vision for the Wildlife Collection is to support every endangered species on the planet. I’ve started with the UK Bumblebee Conservation Trust and the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation which protects rhinos and elephants.’

For her Ice Collection, she hopes to support the WWF’s Save the Arctic campaign by 2020, while her Peace Collection will donate to the War Child charity. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is high up on her list for the Earth Collection, explaining that ‘deforestation is happening at a rate of noughts because of the palm oil industry. The UK is also the fourth biggest importer of illegal timber.’

Driven by a desire to preserve the natural beauty of our planet, Arlene envisages a global brand for House of Halos. With the planet currently drowning in plastic, it seems certain that sustainable fashion is the future. In ten years’ time when we see global fashionistas dressed head to toe in recycled accessories, remember – you saw it in the north east first.

To see the full collections visit