Transparency and philanthropy both resonate deeply with millennial consumers—and they’re at the heart of AUrate, a 2-year-old fine jewelry retailer based in New York City. The startup retailer, which sells online and through pop-up shops, was founded by friends Bouchra Ezzahraoui (pictured left) and Sophie Kahn, who met while studying finance at Princeton University. The pair—both millennials themselves—quickly bonded over a shared love of fashion. While out to brunch one day, they lamented the lack of retailers who sell truly affordable fine jewelry—specifically the kind of quietly luxurious, minimalist gold pieces many urban women are inclined to wear every day. “We basically wanted to revolutionize the industry in our way…and create that contemporary category in the jewelry industry that doesn’t exist,” says Kahn, who did a stint in the strategy department at Marc Jacobs before starting AUrate with Ezzahraoui. And through the company’s charitable program, A Book for Your Look, created in partnership with nonprofit Mastery Charter Schools, the brand donates one book to a disadvantaged child with every item sold. “Our thinking,” Kahn says, “was, Why can’t we do something we love that can help, too?”
What made you want to start AUrate?
On the one hand, you have cool jewelry that’s very fashion-forward, but it’s more costume and it won’t last [forever]. On the other hand, you have fine jewelry that you often have to pay a lot for because you’re paying for huge markups and huge marketing campaigns. We realized that selling affordably priced fine jewelry was really about not wholesaling. The direct-to-consumer model is such a big trend now anyway, with Warby Parker and other companies. We thought, We should do this with jewelry. And that’s how it all came about. Jewelry lends itself well to online—there aren’t a lot of sizes.… But I do think it’s good for people to be able to see the jewelry. That’s why we’re doing pop-ups—we’ve done one in SoHo and one in Williamsburg [Brooklyn]. I think our final solution will be that we’re mostly online, but have a store here and there. When people see the jewelry live, it does sell better.
Talk to me about your manufacturing chain.
We manufacture in New York City so we can keep a close eye on things and do good quality control. There’s no shortage of great manufacturers in the city—we have so many options that we’re able to pick the ones that have the best, most ethical production chains.
How did AUrate’s book-giving program come to be?
I personally always felt a little guilty about liking fashion—it’s not exactly helping anyone. We found out that so many kids don’t have books in their homes—books that they read for fun, not school books. Mastery Charter is a great organization, and was endorsed by President Obama. We believe education is the cornerstone of self-development and self-empowerment. If we could have an impact there, we wanted to do it.
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Photograph by Peter Chin