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Commentary: The Business

BIPOC Designers Seek Education And Business Development Opportunities

It’s time for the jewelry industry to embrace change.

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IN THE WEEKS following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, I was inspired to pen an open letter to the jewelry industry. The response to Floyd’s death and the ensuing conversations it sparked surrounding systemic racism and inequality were largely taking place on social media, with companies and individuals being “canceled,” and tensions and anger flaring. Along with my mentor, fellow designer Jules Kim, founder of Bijules and the Bijules Incubator, I wanted to shift the conversation to a more productive one that had the potential to positively affect change.

I reached out to a group of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) designer colleagues to get their feedback so that the group could come up with a collective vision to present to the industry at large. The letter starts with a statement of its purpose: “Our skillset and contribution remain valid and equitable to our peers and contemporaries. We choose to be part of the jewelry sector and seek to communicate our combined point of view as BIPOC designers. We create jewelry that impacts our communities, that uplifts our spirits and that inspires the next generation of jewelers. We create heirloom pieces that contribute to excelling the arts; it is our art and how we choose to express ourselves. Our points of view are our pride and joy, we welcome support and ongoing conversations.” (Read the entire letter at bipocopenletter.com.)

In the letter, we lay out the changes we would like to see within the jewelry industry, as well as actionable directives for how these changes might be implemented, including its primary directive, “Act with grace, resolve and leadership, not defensiveness.” The letter contains an emphasis on creating education and business development opportunities for BIPOC across the entire jewelry ecosystem, beginning at the high school level.

We are not asking for handouts. I have worked very hard to get to where I am today, and I will continue to work hard because this is the industry that I have chosen to be a part of; this is my business, this is my art.

However, the lack of equity and diversity needs to be addressed through productive conversations that allow more BIPOC voices to have a seat at the table or create their own.

In closing, we ask the jewelry industry to contribute to this movement and recognize the vast, historical underrepresentation of BIPOC in the commercial facet of the industry. A swell of change is already taking place, and it’s time for the jewelry industry to embrace this movement and be accountable by implementing initiatives and programs that can fundamentally effect change.

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Born in Dominican Republic, Angely Martinez is an award-winning jewelry designer and maker based in New York City. Creating works that are big, bold and out-of-this-world, and mostly one-of-a-kind, her work is influenced by the beauties of nature and the world of fantasy with a touch of romanticism and the avant-garde.

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