How the jewelry industry is mobilizing to eradicate racism

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 roundups of black-owned jewelry businesses are a step in the right direction in terms of visibility, barriers remain for people of color accessing to industry. Emerging initiatives on both sides of the Atlantic aim to drive change, opening the industry to more diversity, more creativity and more innovation.

“For too long you have missed our voices”

New York-based designer Angelique Martinez is leading 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 remains valid and fair to our peers and contemporaries. We ask the jewelry industry to recognize the vast historical under-representation of BIPOC in the business facet of the industry. For too long, our voices have failed you, and we have not had an equal opportunity,” reads the group’s manifesto, which then outlines the awareness and action needed for fairer representation. . It was sent as an open letter to the industry earlier this month, signed by 29 BIPOC designers from around the world, including Castro NYC and Emefa Colewith the support of groups such as 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 outlining the challenges facing black jewelers and calling for more inclusivity, Gordon created a Go Fund Me page to raise funds and used it to offer grants to 20 black jewelers through the Kassandra Lauren Gordon Fund. The Fund is administered by the Goldsmiths’ Company, a historic organization dating back to the 1300s, designed to support the craft of jewelery making in Britain.

Other jewelry brands to launch fundraising programs include Boma Grant Program for Emerging Black Jewelry Designers run by the sustainable jewelry brand with Thai roots. NYC Jewelry Week 2020, which is still scheduled to take place in November as a physical-digital hybrid event, also announced a grant funding initiative as part of the Program We are here to support diversity and inclusion.

Two sector funds in the United States and the United Kingdom

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 plans for two funds major for the community.

Art Smith Memorial Scholarship Fund

Named after New York-based black jewelry designer and modernist Art Smith, the Art Smith Memorial Scholarship Fund represents the investment of 50 industry brands that have come 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 so far raised $50,000 and the Fund is also backed by branding agency For Future Reference. Smith himself benefited from an art school scholarship, first dabbling in architecture, before moving on to study sculpture which would eventually influence his geometric jewelry.

Jewelery Futures Fund

In London, jeweler and educator Melanie Eddy, British vogue Jewelry and watch editor Rachel Garrahan and Vanity Fair on jewelry Editor Annabelle Davidson joined forces to set up a program to facilitate entry into the industry for black designers. Originally conceived as an education-focused school outreach and scholarship program to get more black students into design classes after Eddy approached colleagues at Central Art School Saint Martins of London, the planned program already has great momentum. The focus has since expanded to opening up internship opportunities, providing mentorship and guidance, as well as a testbed experience, retail space and media exposure through an extensive network of contacts. It’s still in the planning stage, but the goal is to ensure that the industry is no longer dominated by brands that can invest in advertising and PR, leaving room for more diversity and to a pluralistic approach to the creation of beautiful and refined jewellery.

“My biggest barrier was in my head”

For Eddy, who is also involved with the Kassandra Lauren Gordon Fund and the Jewelry Industry Task Force, the issue is more complicated than funding; part of the job of the Jewelry Futures Fund is to identify the challenges faced by BIPOC people in the industry. “When I started, 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 aspired to. I just felt blessed doing what I loved. A big part of the job is to change perceptions and build trust; without examples to follow, there is no inspiration to succeed.

Greater press visibility for black brands can help with this, but it is also important to raise awareness among BIPOC people who might work as jewelers for other brands rather than under their own name, or in other areas of the 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 with things like marketing, or offered workspace and made contacts available for mentorship . “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 happen in the background in a way that we think important.”

When the protests die down and the wave of black-owned small business listings recedes, these initiatives represent tangible hope that, for the fine jewelry industry at least, change is afoot for a workforce. more inclusive and diverse work. It seems that the social justice movement has given black jewelers the confidence to drive change on their own terms.