In January, the Natural Diamond Council (NDC) and fine jewelry designer Lorraine Schwartz announced the formation of the Emerging Designers Diamond Initiative, a program created to remove barriers to entry to diamond suppliers, industry education, and resources, while providing ongoing mentorship to BIPOC jewelry designers.
The initiative will give a total of $1 million to BIPOC designers in the form of $20,000 diamond credits.
Today the council released the names of the first six designers chosen for the program. They are:
Constance Polamalu, founder and CEO of Birthright Foundry
Polamalu is a Samoan American woman and first-generation jewelry designer based in Annapolis, Md. “The Samoan oratory culture running through her veins makes her a natural storyteller,” reads her bio. “Constance considers her first language to be English, her second to be jewelry—and all her designs to be stories written in metal.” The designer is also the chief operating officer of Zachary’s Jewelers said her brand is “dedicated to preserving and resurrecting culturally significant stories.”
Dorian Webb, founder of Dorian Webb
Webb founded her eponymous company while studying architecture at Yale University, having been inspired by the artistry of Venetian glassblowing. The success of her first designs, which used Murano glass, led her to expand the collection to include gemstones. She caught the attention of Neiman Marcus and other retailers, and wholesaled for a time (she’s since taken her business direct to consumers). The designer’s won several awards, including the Artisan’s Award at the NY International Gift Fair and the Madam CJ Walker Entrepreneur Award. She was also a finalist in the 2021 The Next Now international competition for emerging jewelry designers.
Webb works with low-income women of color to help them gain access to the resources necessary to start a business, and donates a portion of her jewelry sales to nonprofit organizations. She also launched Uplift, a project that created pop-up stores in empty spaces in downtown Oakland, Calif., for African American businesses, artisans, and artists, and is currently working on a coffee-table book that “demonstrates the existence and importance of an influential, polyrhythmic African American design aesthetic, and showcases often-overlooked Black artists and designers.”
Lisette Scott, Jam + Rico
With immigrant grandparents from both Jamaica and Puerto Rico, Scott found cultural inspiration in her home through food and music: “A little salsa and reggae with a mix of arroz con pollo, pastelles, jerk, and curry were favorites,” according to her bio. The connection to her heritage grew stronger as the years passed, and Scott “carried the colors, carnivals, art, beaches, and language” of her dual cultures into her designs. The collections she creates for Jam + Rico (a mash-up of Jamaica and Puerto Rico) reflects her multifaceted heritage. See a JCK article with more on Jam + Rico here.
Malyia McNaughton, founder of Made by Malyia
McNaughton, a self-taught designer based in Brooklyn, N.Y., grew up the youngest of five kids, and was obsessed with fashion from an early age. After graduating from Florida State University, she worked with major fashion brands in New York City, during which time she found herself searching for the “perfect body chain for an upcoming music festival,” according to her bio. She never found it, so she decided to make her own. The design was so popular, she started selling it on Etsy, and eventually quit her day job as a fashion buyer for a career in jewelry.
In her collections, she draws inspiration from “the architecture and pulse of her hometown, New York City,” as well as “African culture, indigenous tribal adornment, and nature.” McNaughton serves on the Black in Jewelry Coalition board of directors, the first international nonprofit membership association dedicated to the inclusion and advancement of Black professionals within the gem, jewelry, and watch industries.
Marvin Linares, Marvin Douglas Jewelry
Linares was introduced to jewelry by his grandmother, who, he said in his bio, “stumbled into the industry in the ’80s, and through the business was able to bring her family to the United States from El Salvador.” He added, “Jewelry is the reason I was born in this country; I always wanted to be a part of the world, but lacked the resources.” The designer worked as a jewelry specialist for Tiffany & Co. and Dover Street Market Los Angeles, but, according to his bio, most of his experience has been gained through “persistence to learn, backed by curiosity and a creative nature.” He calls Marvin Douglas “an extension of himself,” and “the physical embodiment of culture and creativity, in an industry previously reserved for the inherently privileged,” and said his intentions are to “explore Latin heritage and experience through fine jewelry, with designs intended to combine a youthful spirit with traditional craftsmanship.”
Jameel Mohammed, founder of Khiry
Mohammed began a career in design at age 16, interning for Nicole Miller and Narciso Rodriguez while still in high school at Phillips Exeter Academy, in New Hampshire. In 2013, he enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania to begin a bachelor’s degree in political science, but a necklace he designed caught the eye of the chief operating officer and fashion director of Barneys New York in 2014, so he pivoted back to fashion, accepting an internship “where he learned the ins and outs of merchandising and retail buying,” according to his bio. In 2016, the designer founded Khiry, which he calls an “Afrofuturist luxury brand” that uses “the conventions of luxury fashion to make pointed statements about the value of Black life and culture.”
“It is past time for our industry to be more supportive and share the magic of diamonds with a larger, more diverse group of jewelers,” said Schwartz in a prepared statement earlier this year. “Helping BIPOC designers, and more specifically the underrepresented Black designer community, gain entry to diamond vendors and credit financing, as well as expand their businesses, is a necessary step in the process towards a more equitable industry.”
The selection committee for the initiative was composed of Schwartz; NDC CEO David Kellie; Nicole Chapoteau, fashion director of Vanity Fair; and celebrity stylist and designer Jason Rembert.
Top: A diamond belonging to Lorraine Schwartz (photo courtesy of the Natural Diamond Council)
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