Forged with Purpose: Elia Fulmen Jewelry Line Aims to Foster Empowering Communities

Whitney Wright. Photos courtesy of Elia Fulmen.

By Emily Williams-Robertshaw

BIrmingham-based fine jewelry brand Elia Fulmen seeks to foster empowered communities, one charm at a time.

The mission of the vermeil gold jewelry line, established by Birmingham resident Whitney Wright, is not so much about the product as its purpose.

“When I meet new people, most assume I’m a brand advocate, so they ask me how I met ‘Elia’,” Wright said.

The company name was inspired by Athena, the goddess of many things including wisdom, courage, justice and civilization.

Elia, Greek for olive, represents the olive trees that Athena would plant as a gesture of goodwill and peace after conquering cities. Fulmen, Latin for lightning, represents the power of Athena. She was granted exclusive use of Zeus’ lightning bolts.

The main players in the line are the charms which feature a variety of symbols, each representing four words of empowerment.

“They’re meant to be worn not just (as) jewelry,” Wright said. “Jewelry represents something that you embody.”

The charms can be worn on the brand’s necklace chain, which features a Wright-patented clasp, or on a set of threader-style earrings.

While the symbols are designed by the Elia Fulmen team, many were inspired by customers or people connected to the brand after being asked what was important to them.

“During the pandemic, our biggest selling charm was peace of mind,” Wright said.

The symbol is that of an olive branch and its words of empowerment are balanced, attentive, calm and collected.

During the pandemic, popularity has shifted to a True North charm, the Equality charm, and now that people are returning to offices, the Workhorse and Hammer charms.

The charms are also wrapped with intention. “When you open it, whether it’s for you or someone sent it to you, it’s immediately clear why it was sent,” Wright said.

Although she never considered a career in jewelry design, Wright conceived the idea of ​​Elia Fulmen and began working on launching the brand in mid-December 2019.

“I felt so awkward,” she said. “I took out a pencil and a piece of paper and drew things.”

For POS, the focus would be on box presentations, which would create an opportunity for customers to discuss the product’s purpose.

Wright planned to travel to New York on March 9, 2020 for a series of trunk exhibits.

“I had a friend in New York who said to me, ‘You can’t come here,'” Wright said.

While the full picture of the COVID-19 pandemic was still forming in the South, Wright’s friend saw runs at ATMs among other signs of public panic.

In response to impending closures and travel limitations, the business quickly pivoted to creating a website and moving to e-commerce.

“A big part of what Elia Fulmen is about is creating communities of women,” Wright said. “The pandemic has proven to be a tremendous opportunity to do that.”

Empowerment theory

“I’m not a jewelry enthusiast,” Wright said. “It was never my dream to be a jewelry designer or to be in this space. Elia Fulmen is really a by-product of the work that I started doing with Athena Collective. Athena Collective is a program of gender equity firm that Wright co-founded with Nicole Carpenter over five years ago.

Originally from Chicago, Wright began his career in engineering, but changed gears often. She studied journalism, went to culinary school, worked as a chef, and ended up in New York working for startups. She had been married, given birth to her daughter and divorced, and finally she saw that she needed a change.

“New York is an amazing place to live for a vacation,” she said, but it’s not a great place to raise a family.

She took a job with Time, Inc., which brought her to Birmingham for the first time.

“I think living in Alabama, more than any other place, has made me a better mother, better daughter, better sister, better friend, better businesswoman, just because I’ve been exposed and close to things that I didn’t have before. I don’t know or understand,” she said.

As she made the transition to a management fund, she began to draw inspiration for Athena Collective.

The original mission was to identify effective ways to foster a culture that empowers women.

Drawing on scientific data, including from Marc A. Zimmerman of the University of Michigan, Athena Collective has identified a three-step method to create lasting change that first inspires empowered people, then fosters communities of empowerment to create lasting cultural change.

“We felt like the company was missing the first two parts of the process,” she said.

While Athena Collective offers programming focused on supporting women entrepreneurs, Elia Fulmen seeks to reach people in their daily lives

Build a community

“The reason the Trunk Show model was so important is that charms are also meant to be discussed,” Wright said. “That would facilitate the community building component.”

While trunk shows have been on the back burner for much of Elia Fulmen’s existence, until now the inability to meet people in person has generated an opportunity to establish a self-sustaining online community.

Each charm has a unique number which was originally intended to be used to catalog each charm’s journey as it was traded between people. People would take this number and refer to a digital catalog containing the stories of the women who wore it.

“We were getting these stories that were bereft of their specific charm number, but the stories were so amazing and inspiring,” Wright said. Some of them were shared anonymously on Elia Fulmen’s social networks.

A woman has shared her thyroid surgery journey and talked about the sense of empowerment she felt wearing her necklace with the charm positioned right next to her scar.

“We’re going to redo the charm model a bit so everyone can see each other’s stories,” she said. “You can search widely by charm, but each of the stories is so moving.”

By far, she says, her favorite part of the process is the stories, whether she reads them or hears them when she meets people.

“It’s nice to sell jewelry and be able to make a living, but I’m in it because I’ve met some amazing women who inspire me,” she said.

As the company has grown, it refuses to hire co-packers or distributors for the products. When she packs the shipments herself, she can read the gift notes.

“It’s the most moving thing to read a note from one woman to another who may be going through a tough time.”

She has also seen many husbands buy charms as gifts for their wives who have recently given birth. The notes talk about how men are impressed by the strength of their partners.

It’s not only a great experience for her, but also for her daughter, who helps her for a fee of $0.25 per box.

“It always makes me happy for her to see her mom build something so meaningful,” Wright said.

She has also had the opportunity to partner with other women-led businesses locally and nationally. She will soon be partnering with Hey Mama, a resource for working moms that will soon launch a local network.

“That’s what it’s basically about,” Wright said. “That’s the brand’s mission. Bringing women together to collaborate and build communities.

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