Policies & Issues

How One Jewelry Designer Is Helping NICU Infants and Their Families

Policies & IssuesJun 30, 2021

How One Jewelry Designer Is Helping NICU Infants and Their Families

EF Collection’s Emily Strauss is navigating her grief over the loss of her infant son through philanthropy.

EF Collection designer Emily Strauss recently launched an initiative called “Angels 4 Austin x Angel Dear,” which donates “Lovie” blankets to families with sick or premature infants in neonatal intensive care units. Here, Strauss is pictured holding the Lovies alongside her dog, Levi.
Los Angeles—Through Instagram, EF Collection followers have gotten to know the face behind the brand’s sparkling diamond huggies and dainty, stackable pendants: designer Emily Faith Strauss.
 
Strauss shares the “lifestyle behind the jewelry,” as she puts it. 
 
“You can buy a little diamond necklace [many places] but what keeps people coming back to EF is they’ve connected with me in some way.”
 
That means sharing her style, vacations, food, and her dog Levi, donning her EF Collection jewels as her uniform throughout, better helping clients imagine integrating pieces into their own lives. 
 
Strauss also shares an occasional life milestone that many of her customers are likely experiencing with her, such as her elegant Beverly Hills wedding or becoming pregnant with her first child. 
 
This spring, that left Strauss in the position of having to share some devastating news. 
 
Entering her third trimester, she began experiencing complications in her pregnancy. Doctors diagnosed Strauss’ unborn son with polycystic kidney disease, which “compromised his entire body,” Strauss explained.
After seven weeks of bedrest, at 35 weeks, she delivered Austin Davis Strauss. 
 
Austin died on April 18. He lived for 39 days.
 
“By the end, he was breathing pretty much on his own and was taking a bottle. The [neonatal intensive care unit nurses] called him ‘Piglet’ because he loved my milk,” Strauss recalled. 
 
“It would have been an extraordinarily difficult life for him so there is some comfort in knowing he isn’t suffering.”
 
Strauss was left with the unenviable task of explaining to her over 150,000 followers why they wouldn’t be seeing Austin on her feed.
 
“There was pressure to share because of the overwhelming emails asking when I was due and about the baby,” she said.
 
“My personality isn’t one that’s very open about things like this and in a strange way, it’s forced me to share but it’s [also] opened up this dialogue with followers and people I don’t even know, which has brought me so much comfort.”
Strauss received an outpouring of support, including from other women who had experienced similar losses. 
 
“What I’ve learned is that a lot of women silently suffer from situations like this. The number of messages I’ve received just thanking me profusely for sharing and making women not feel alone is powerful.”

“People deal with grief differently. Whenever I go through something I dive into work. There was no better work than to help others in this horrible situation.”— Emily Strauss, EF Collection
 
While Austin was still in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), with Strauss and her husband at times unable to hold him, an EF Collection follower and fellow mom in Tennessee who had also experienced having an infant in the NICU, Laura Grimes, sent Emily a “Lovie,” a hybrid baby blanket/stuffed animal for the parents to cuddle and give to their child so he could be surrounded by their scent.
 
“What this little Lovie, this little stuffed animal, did for me was so profound. It really touched me. I knew I had to pay this forward,” Strauss said.
 
The Tennessee mom had started an organization called “Lovies for Bravehearts,” donating the Lovies to NICUs as a comfort to infants and their parents. 
 
Strauss immediately got to work. She and her husband purchased 500 Lovies on behalf of EF Collection to donate to NICUs in the Los Angeles area. Lovie manufacturer Angel Dear matched the contribution. 

Then, Strauss opened up the call to help to the online community that had rallied around her.
 
Her followers could purchase Lovies to be donated directly from the EF Collection website, with Angel Dear again matching the amount, as well as make donations to UCLA for pediatric polycystic kidney research, with one Lovie marking each donation. 
 
Through the month of May, a portion of EFCollection.com sales also benefitted UCLA. 
 
To focus these efforts, Strauss created a foundation called Angels 4 Austin. 
 
“From the moment he was born I always called him ‘Angel.’ Now we’re the angels doing this work on behalf of Austin,” she said.
 
So far, Angels 4 Austin has raised thousands of dollars for research and donated about 4,000 Lovies to NICUs for sick and premature infants. 
 
The organization will grow and evolve as Strauss and her husband continue to craft a legacy for their son that extends far beyond his brief life. 
 
Ultimately, Strauss wants her story to be one of resilience and creating positive change out of tragedy. 
 
“People deal with grief differently,” she said. “Whenever I go through something I dive into work. There was no better work than to help others in this horrible situation or anything close to it.
 
“When you’re in the NICU it’s a very vulnerable place to be. Any kind of comfort or love you can give is huge. The reason we started this foundation was to honor our son and do some good and help others.”
 
To make a donation to UCLA Children’s Discovery and Innovation Institute for pediatric polycystic kidney disease research, or to purchase a Lovie for a NICU infant and family, visit the Angels 4 Austin website.


Ashley Davisis the senior editor, fashion at National Jeweler, covering all things related to design, style and trends.

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