Policies & Issues

BIPOC Designers Have Something to Say to the Industry

Policies & IssuesJul 15, 2020

BIPOC Designers Have Something to Say to the Industry

An open letter from a group of black, indigenous, and people of color jewelry designers calls for more support, education and equity.

BIPOC designers who signed on to the open letter to the industry include, starting from top left, Andrea Rosales-Balcarcel, Jal Dhanani-Wade, letter author Angely Martinez, CastroNYC, Funlola Coker, Kassandra Lauren Gordon, Latoya Boyd and Lina Krakue (Images courtesy of Angely Martinez/Collage by Shantell Batista)
New York—A group of BIPOC—Black, indigenous, and people of color—jewelry designers have penned an open letter calling for more support and education, and demanding racial equity in the industry.

Authored by New York-based jewelry designer Angely Martinez, the idea for the letter took seed in the weeks following George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police, when protests spread worldwide and forced both businesses and individuals to have conversations about racial inequities. 

In the jewelry industry, tensions flared and boiled over during this period, with companies and individuals being boycotted and “canceled”—internet parlance for a collective withdrawal of support, usually of large companies or celebrities—on social media.

Jewelry designer Angely Martinez
Jewelry designer Angely Martinez

Martinez and designer Jules Kim, founder of Bijules and the Bijules Incubator, decided together the social media battles weren’t going to result in any formative change.

“What happens there [on social media], as we’ve seen, regardless of what the call-out might be, there’s constant back and forth, there’s unregulated conversations, and no call to action can be organized,” Kim observed. 

So Martinez reached out to her fellow BIPOC designers and started writing. 

She pulled their requests, desires and values into a single document, ultimately giving BIPOC designers a unified, collective voice about the change they want to see and how it can happen. 

“We’re not asking for handouts,” Martinez emphasized. “This a very talented group of individuals. Nothing has been given to us. Everything we have, we have worked for and will continue to work for.”

Signed by a total of 29 BIPOC designers based in the U.S. and U.K., the letter lays out the commitments that members of the jewelry industry, from the largest corporations to the smallest companies, can and need to make to ensure long-term equity.

They include: 
— Investing in education for BIPOC designers at all levels;
— Increasing the representation of BIPOC-owned businesses in retail shelf space;
— Employing people of color in classrooms, retail sales floors, trade show booths, marketing and merchandising positions, etc.; 
— Increasing the presence of BIPOC on committees and boards;
— Continuing to find and support BIPOC designers through media interviews, articles, studio visits, social media, etc.; 
— Acknowledging the origins of inspiration from BIPOC cultures, traditions, and historical objects; and
— Supporting the creation of a BIPOC Jewelers Association to protect the designers’ work and future.

Planned as a 501(c)6, Martinez said the association primarily will be led by BIPOC designers, with support from some non-BIPOC members of the industry, and will be for all genders.
 Its primary focus will be education, as well as creating grants for both emerging and established BIPOC designers.

“What we’ve been talking a lot about is outreach to high school students,” Martinez said.

She expects the association will take about six to nine months to get off the ground.

In the meantime, Kim said, there’s no need to wait for the nonprofit’s launch in order to act, as there is “a really beautiful roster” of BIPOC designers “itching to create and have their voices heard.”

Specific calls to action outlined in the letter include the following:
— Acting with grace, resolve and leadership, not defensiveness:
— Hosting of ongoing conversations pertaining to equality, equity and opportunity for BIPOC designers;
— Increasing access to raw materials and bench time, pricing strategies, merchandising tools, business marketing and strategy, responsible sourcing and sustainability;
— Including BIPOC into leadership and curatorial positions and establishing funds to create new institutions and opportunities for BIPOC;
— Recognizing racism within, acknowledging systemic racism and working to eliminate it;
— Increasing representation in editorial in industry-specific media outlets; and
— Recognition from major organizations in the industry, and a commitment to these actions.

To read the letter in its entirety or sign it to become more involved, click here.

For more information on the designers and their letter, or to get involved with or stay informed about these efforts, email jewelryindustrytaskforce@gmail.com.

Michelle Graffis the editor-in-chief at National Jeweler, directing the publication’s coverage both online and in print.

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