10 BIPOC Influencers You May Not Be Following (Yet)

As our team continues the drive toward including a more diverse roster of jewelry designers into the content you read here, the ratio of offerings is still vastly uneven. I am keenly aware that this blog does not deserve praise for the simple fact that it has included a handful of offerings from BIPOC—that’s black, indigenous, and people of color—designers or brands. There are more discoveries to be made and more spotlights to be shone on contributors bringing beauty to our industry. The hope is that someday sooner rather than later, an incredibly diverse roundup will be the norm, not the exception.

The jewelry and fashion industries have some catching up to do too. Luxury sectors—not least of all jewelry—have a history of inequality, from racial profiling to lack of representation, with much of its marketing and customer service catering to what it appears to think of as the “default” customer—affluent, white, typically heterosexual.

We have made strides in how the LGBTQ community is represented in this industry in just the last few years. There’s still a ways to go, but there’s an inescapable air of “get with the program” that’s bound to leave businesses in the dust that refuse to adapt should they not open themselves to embracing—and representing—diversity in their customer base. But that’s just one part of the equation, and, to repeat the phrase you’ve seen numerous times on this website as of late, there is so much work to be done.

I think (I hope) that a lot of that is in the midst of change, and being introduced to a more inclusive range of jewelry designers and brands—and in the process, new perspectives, influences, and aesthetics—is a big part of that change. On a global scale it’s a small notch on the ladder to equality, but for the jewelry industry, the impact can be great.

When we embrace the work of BIPOC creators in our stories—and retail stores—we open our worlds to a host of potential new friends and colleagues as well as customers. People who see themselves represented in ways they hadn’t previously seen in jewelry stores before.

So it’s important to pay close attention to the continued spotlight on diverse business owners that our industry can and should continue to share. But there are other avenues for expanding our viewpoints, too, and they don’t all begin and end in this industry. By following BIPOC bloggers and influencers—plugging into their websites, following along on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok—you’re tuning in to the voices and views of communities that have been speaking for eons, but we’ve been too concerned with ourselves to listen.

There are so many resources for finding these voices—a quick Google search offers a gold mine of websites, many of which are blogs dedicated to spotlighting such businesses and notable figures. From sustainable lifestyle influencers (as our industry grows in its desire to minimize its impact on the environment, this is a big one) to bloggers in fashion or food, the topics are myriad. Whether jewelry related or not, opening yourself up to an inclusive world of viewpoints will ultimately help you as a business. You’ll learn how to serve an underrepresented customer base, learn how to use your influence as a successful business for good, and, ultimately, just learn.

This is coming at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement is all many of us can talk about, but let’s be clear: This is not a trend. This represents a tipping point in the way we conduct ourselves and our businesses—touching on a hot topic, yes, but because it feels imperative to do so, and to continue to do so. When you choose to follow any of these or other accounts, remember that it’s with purpose: We do not collect a host of new-to-us voices on social media simply because they represent an issue sweeping the nation, a box to check to make us feel as if we’re doing our part. We do so because we’re eager to learn and because these creators offer value through their work, a connecting point that brings us together for good. Something to bond over. I know that is a big topic of discussion as more and more of lists like these appear, so please: As they often say on those ridiculous (-ly good) reality TV shows, you need to know you’re here for the right reasons.

Here are some of the influencers I’m following, some new to me, some not, most not specifically jewelry related, but worthy of a visit and a follow for their exceptionally good work. Follow along with me. You’ll be so glad you did.

Dominique Drakeford

Dominique Drakeford Instagram
(Image via @dominiquedrakeford)

Drakeford’s Instagram feed not only offers some seriously enviable style (and jewelry), it does so with a focus on sustainability—and not just in fashion. Agriculture, physical and spiritual wellness, and travel are all covered here, with an overarching theme of health—environmental health, economic health, bodily health. Drakeford is the founder of Melanin & Sustainable Style, a platform dedicated to the issues and successes of communities of color in the ethical fashion and beauty sectors. She is also the cofounder of Sustainable Brooklyn, an organization working to foster the evolution of the sustainability movement across targeted communities.

Kristen Turner

Kristen Turner Instagram
(Image via @misskristagram)

The creative director behind Mae Jones magazine—a fashion and beauty publication that made its debut just this year, centered on brands that support black representation—Turner’s creative portfolio is a thing of beauty you could peruse for quite some time. Her Instagram feed brings joy. See for yourself (and don’t dare miss the appearance of some killer jewels).

Justina Blakeney

Justina Blakely Instagram
(Image via @justinablakely)

I’ve been following designer Justina Blakeney, founder of home decor brand the Jungalow, for years, obsessing over her art (I finally got one to hang over my desk at home a few years ago, in honor of the inaugural D.C. Women’s March), and continuously bookmarking her work as inspiration for a house I’ll (someday?) have. You cannot not be following both Blakeney’s personal account (which lends insight to her experience, especially most recently, as a black Jewish woman) and her business account the Jungalow, which you’d be positively sorry to miss.

Aurora James

Aurora James Instagram
(Image via @aurorajames)

James is the founder of Brooklyn, N.Y.–based brand Brother Vellies, offering exquisite, sustainably made goods (if you have not splurged on a pair of its shoes, I promise you won’t regret it). Brother Vellies was founded by James in 2013 with the goal of preserving the shoemaking craft in Africa and creating new jobs for artisans. Most recently, the designer introduced the 15 Percent Pledge, a nonprofit asking brands to pledge 15% of their shelf spaces to black-owned businesses. Sephora—just a little company—was the first to take the pledge. It’s worth following the organization’s Instagram to keep up on its progress too.

Aja Barber

Aja Barber Instagram
(Image via @ajabarber)

Aja Barber is a fashion consultant and expert on sustainability, two very relevant avenues to the industry. Her bodies of work focus on race, intersectional feminism, and fashion, and demonstrate well how the topics, as they are all connected, affect all of us.

Grasie Mercedes

Grasie Mercedes Instagram
(Image via @grasiemercedes)

Actor, writer, filmmaker, and all-around gorgeous human, Mercedes, who is Afro-Latinx, shares with her more than 70,000 followers personal stories (such as infertility, a recent thyroid surgery, and plenty of new-puppy pictures), as well as fashion, beauty, and travel content that’s instantly uplifting. Mercedes just debuted a podcast, titled Not (Blank) Enough, focusing on everyday insecurities and triumphs of a diverse group of interviewees.

Leah Thomas

Leah Thomas Instagram
(Image via @greengirlleah)

Thomas is a California-based writer and eco-activist. You can easily get lost in her dreamy Instagram feed, much of which spotlights sustainable fashion brands, but don’t forgo a visit to Thomas’ blog. In addition to a wealth of information on sustainable health, fashion, and beauty, it helps to educate on intersectional environmentalism, which explores the simultaneous protection and nourishment of the natural environment and vulnerable communities, highlighting the importance of (and lack of) clean, green environments for all. This article Thomas wrote for The Good Trade is incredibly eye-opening, and it will lead you to discover a world of environmental justice groups that are also very worthy of your time and interest.

Taye Hansberry

Taye Hansberry Instagram
(Image via @tayehansberry)

There’s no question that Hansberry’s sensational beauty and obvious eye for epic style make her an instant favorite to follow on Instagram. But her voice and presence go miles beyond what you see with your eyes. Be sure to read her most recent entry on her experience as one of few black women in the influential blogging space—though Hansberry herself says she’d prefer to focus on positivity, there’s much to learn from it. Oh, and by the way, her cousin just happens to be the one and only Issa Rae, and her aunt is Lorraine Hansberry, author of A Raisin in the Sun. Both very cool facts, though this blogger stands apart on her own merits.

Lilian Raji

Lilian Raji Instagram
(Image via @lilianraji)

My feed—and yours—would not feel complete without a post from public relations adviser, jewelry columnist, and avid traveler Lilian Raji. Though her epic travels may be on hold in the age of COVID-19, the sparkle never ceases, nor does her backlog of travel photos. Raji is inspirational in her adventures, most often traveling alone and finding ways to connect with the people of the world I could only dream of. And for jewelry lovers, there is much to take in: Daily posts—sometimes more—of remarkable, high-end jewels are abundant.

Courtney Quinn

Courtney Quinn Instagram
(Image via @colormecourtney)

I’ll be real with you—and you won’t be surprised—I was introduced to Courtney Quinn through her Instagram account Color Me Magic, a Disney-rific ode to Disney Bounding (what we theme-park nerds refer to as dressing like characters from the movies, but make it fashion). As her handle implies, she’s colorful, bright, and incredibly joyful. There’s value in this work for non-Disney fans to understand: Quinn started this page to promote diversity in the Disney community, which, you may not be surprised to learn, is typically dominated by young, white women. But for those who just can’t get into the Disney spirit, her personal account, Color Me Courtney, is just as buoyantly beautiful and fun. There’s more beyond the rainbow of colors you’ll encounter here, as Quinn opens up about grief (she lost her brother last year), issues dominating the black community, and self-love. Plus, she’s getting married next year, so for all you wedding watchers, this is certainly going to be an unforgettable space.

This barely scratches the surface, but these are some of my most favorites. Please leave your favorite accounts to follow in the comments so that we can all meet them too!

(Top image via Kristen Turner)

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JCK Contributing Editor

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