In the wake of the global social justice movement in recent weeks, black jewelry designers have come to the fore as consumers seek ways to show their support. Like many other luxury industries, jewelry is notoriously lacking in diversity, and while the roundups of black-owned jewelry companies are a step in the right direction in terms of visibility, obstacles remain for people of color. access the industry. Emerging initiatives on both sides of the Atlantic aim to drive change, opening up the industry to more diversity, more creativity and more innovation.
“For too long, you have missed our voices”
New York-based designer Angely Martinez leads the way in the United States, with a new representative organization for BIPOC jewelry designers, the Jewelry Industry Task Force. “Our skill set and contribution remain valid and fair to our peers and contemporaries. We call on the jewelry industry to recognize the vast historical under-representation of BIPOC in the commercial facet of the industry. For too long you have missed our voices, we have not had equal opportunities, ”reads the group’s manifesto, which goes on to highlight the awareness and action needed for more equal representation. . It was sent out as an open letter to the industry earlier this month, signed by 29 BIPOC designers around the world, including Castro NYC and Emefa Cole, with the support of groups including the Jewelers’ Vigilance Committee (JVC).
A similar letter was sent to the UK in June, from a black activist and designer known for her ethical jewelry, Kassandra Lauren Gordon. After describing the challenges faced by black jewelers and calling for more inclusiveness, Gordon created a Go Fund Me page to raise funds and used it to provide grants to 20 black jewelers across the country. Kassandra Lauren Gordon Fund. The Fund is administered by the Goldsmiths’ Company, a historic organization dating back to the 1300s, designed to support the jewelry craft industry in Britain.
Other jewelry brands to launch fundraising programs include the Boma Grants Program for Emerging Black Jewelry Designers run by the sustainable jewelry brand with Thai roots. NYC Jewelry Week 2020, which is still slated to take place in November as a hybrid physical-digital event, also announced a grant funding initiative as part of the Here We Are Program to support diversity and inclusion.
Two industry-wide funds in the US and UK
In an effort to remove the barriers to access that black students and jewelers currently face when entering the industry, combined action in the US and UK has resulted in the creation of two major funds for the community.
Art Smith Memorial Scholarship Fund
Named in homage to New York-based black jewelry designer and modernist Art Smith, the Art Smith Memorial Scholarship Fund represents the investment of 50 industry brands who came together to fund jewelry design scholarships and mentorships for black students at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). Supporters including Jacquie Aiche, Spinelli Kilcollin and Anita Ko have raised $ 50,000 so far and the Fund is also supported by the brand agency For Future Reference. Smith himself received a scholarship to an art school, first trying his hand at architecture, before moving on to studies in sculpture that would eventually influence his geometric jewelry.
Jewelery Future Fund
In London, jeweler and educator Melanie Eddy, British Vogue Jewelery and watch publisher Rachel Garrahan and Vanity Fair on jewelry Editor Annabel davidson have joined forces to set up a program to facilitate entry into the industry for black designers. Originally conceived as an outreach program focused on education in schools and scholarships to get more black students to take design classes after Eddy approached colleagues at the Central Saint Martins School of Art in London, the planned program is already gaining momentum. Since then, the focus has been broadened to opening up internship opportunities, providing mentoring and guidance, as well as bench experience, retail space and media visibility through a large network of contacts. This is still in the planning stage, but the goal is to ensure that the industry is no longer dominated by brands capable of investing in advertising and public relations, leaving room for more diversity and a pluralistic approach to creating fine fine jewelry.
“My biggest barrier was in my own head”
For Eddy, who is also involved in the Kassandra Lauren Gordon Fund and the Jewelry Industry Task Force, the problem is more complicated than funding; Part of the Jewelry Futures Fund’s job is to identify the challenges faced by BIPOC people in the industry. “When I started out, access to finance was a problem, but a bigger barrier than that was that I didn’t even consider myself capable of having the levels of success that others around me aspire to. I just felt blessed to do what I loved. Much of the job is to change perceptions and build confidence; without examples to follow, there is no inspiration for success.
Greater media exposure for black brands can help with this, but it is also important to raise awareness of the BIPOC people who might work as jewelers for other brands rather than under their own name, or in other areas of business. jewelry industry such as retail or public relations. After the Covid-19 lockdown, many organizations are unable to contribute financially, but many have offered practical help in aspects such as marketing, or offered workspace and made contacts available for mentoring . “We are working hard in areas where we think we can make a difference,” concludes Eddy, “we may not see results for a few years, but it will be happening in the background in a way that we think is important. . ”
When protests die down and the tide of black-owned small business listings recedes, these initiatives represent tangible hope that for the fine jewelry industry at least, a shift is underway for a workforce. more inclusive and diverse work. It appears that the social justice movement has given black jewelers the confidence to drive change on their own terms.