Bold Insight 1: Trusting your gut is the first step to taming your environment.

“Do not kill the instinct for the glory of the pose.”

– Vanda Scaravelli

I don’t know how old I was when I first watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I do know that I fell in love instantly with three things: parties with champagne, couches made out of old bathtubs, and Tiffany’s. All of these things represented something to me. I now frequently have parties full of champagne and it continues to be a symbol of my desire to enjoy my life and celebrate everything. Although I’ve never actually owned a bathtub-couch, I have used that same level of artistic style and ingenuity in many things from decorating to fashion to launching a brand.

And Tiffany’s remains the mother of all symbols: being able to shop at Tiffany’s means you have arrived. I’ve been married twice and both times involved a silver band from Tiffany’s – the only two things I’ve ever purchased from there. 

In the summer of 2014, I was in Chicago with a friend and we ended up at Tiffany’s, window shopping.

As we walked around, I commented that one of the only things that made me sad about becoming a more conscious person and consumer was that I would not be able to wear diamonds. My friend commented that I should use that money to buy ethical/ non-conflict diamonds. When I responded that I wasn’t sure that would do it because no one would know they were unethical, she said, quite simply, “No one who knows you would think that you would have a diamond that wasn’t ethically mined. Who you are is what tells the world what your values are; the assumption will be that any diamond you have is ethically mined.”

Since that day, I have found over and over that the more I lean into who I am and the more I trust my instincts, the more clear my values become – to me and to other people. It also attracts me to the people I am looking for and who are looking for me. Now, five years later, I’ve connected to hundreds of ethical brands, and I have jewelry from some of the most amazing artisans in the world! It’s a thousand times better than anything that ever came in one of those robin-egg-blue boxes. My idea of what signals having arrived has also shifted. Yes, there is still some element of being able to afford things that I once couldn’t, and there is an added layer of luxury that promotes sustainability and consciousness over excess. 

We will know our culture has arrived when it becomes the norm to spend our money with companies that are supporting the world we want to live in.

One such company is the small, womxn run New York City-based accessories company, AMANDA PEARL. Known for sustainability and ethically made jewelry and clutches, this direct-to-consumer brand is a true symbol of mastery and luxury, created by the uber-talented Amanda Brotman.

An entrepreneur for as long as she can remember – starting by selling decorated rocks at a very young age – Amanda earned her stripes working at Marc Jacobs and then Erin Fetherston, both global brands with small teams. She launched Amanda PEARL in 2008, poised to take all she had learned and create her own successful global brand. She set her business up the way she had learned business should be run: wholesaling to stores, partnering with stylists, being featured in magazines, and having celebrities wear her designs on the red carpet. 

Except it was 2008 and there was a recession. Retail changed drastically. On one side, retailers were wary of being stuck with inventory and looking for consignment or selling at a massive markup to accommodate for the massive sale they knew would have to come. Shoppers were looking for deals, having been trained to wait for the sale that was always coming.

The entire value system had very little meaning: the price of something didn’t represent the actual cost or value in any understandable way. Amanda says

Like some sort of sorcery, we were churning out gobs of collections throughout the year, just for the sake of keeping up and having something new new new. To turn that over, the previous collections were marked down down down. From a creative and company resources perspective, from an environmental perspective, and from an industry perspective, I knew that I/we couldn’t keep doing this. It was unsustainable from every angle.

Although she knew this early on, it would be almost ten years before she stopped participating. In her gut, she knew things needed to be different, but in her head, she believed she was too small to be able to do things differently and be successful. She was convinced she had to fit into someone else’s vision in order to make it.

And then, as she says, it really all went to hell. It was 2018. The economy wasn’t great, retail was a mess, and, in general, she knew the entire retail system was broken. Personally, she lost her father, sending a jolt through her and putting everything into perspective. She decided to confidently and wholly become the brand she wanted to exist in the world.

There would be no more playing by their rules: she was going all in and doing it the way she knew it should be done. She relaunched as a sustainable, ethical, womxn owned, artisan crafted, direct-to-consumer accessories brand.

Everything she ever thought her business should be.

She also created her own set of rules.

  • No need to launch 8 seasons of accessories! We’ll launch a few pieces every couple of months
  • No need to manipulate or confuse people with pricing and sales. We will offer real, true prices on our products every day of the year – there will never be another Black Friday in our studio!
  • Recycled gold isn’t enough. Let’s switch 100% to ethical, un-mined diamonds, which are optically and chemically exactly the same as rare, mined diamonds, but are traceable so we can guarantee they aren’t funding terrorism or being made by child labor.
  • To top it off, we’ll donate 10% of our sales to a charity partner – not the same one all the time; a new one each quarter!

She didn’t mention this, but she also has only one person who works for her, her Operations Director Kelly, and she partners with small family businesses and artisans (both in Italy where the clutches are made and the garment district where the jewelry is made). This is another symbol of a brand that has arrived: they value the mastery of specialists by outsourcing what they are not a specialist at and want to see economic success for everyone, so they are happy to pay for quality work that supports their values.

The result is truly stunning one-of-a-kind pieces that will wow anyone who sees them or wears them. 

They are all at once understated and statement-making. I’ve decided I’ll truly know I’ve made it when I can carry the classy Ginny: Black Duchess Roll Clutch (also carried by Queen Latifah!) or the show-stopping Curved Quill Climber earrings. In the meantime, I’m stoked to know that I can already afford a number of her pieces and am looking forward to getting my daughter her first piece of fine jewelry as a high-school graduation gift.

I asked Amanda how she is stepping up during COVID-19 to mitigate its effects on her community. Naturally, she closed her studio quickly, and she and Kelly started working from home. She also asked her childcare person to stay home and stay safe. This was all to take care of her immediate circles. She brought inventory and packing materials to her apartment so she could fulfill orders out of her bedroom and ordered extra supplies of some of her Studio Favorites products – small batch and special products she sells from other brands that she knew were perfect for this time – so she could have them on hand to ship out.

She communicated all of this: in a public statement and on Instagram, in an intimate declaration to her circle of people, and privately to herself and her family. At the same time, she just shifted how she shows up for her work and her life, keeping on the path of taming the environment as well as her environment. 

 

AMANDA PEARL is a brand that shows us that even tiny, independent operations can make the shift to working sustainably with less environmental impact. Amanda Brotman went all-in on creating a business that operated exactly the way she knew it should: ethically, sustainably, and with great style. She is a leader who is creating a legacy of inspiring people to do things better and creating a culture where, in order to make it, you will be following her rules.

 

Visit AMANDA PEARL today to get your next piece of perfect jewelry or a beautiful, original clutch.

 

LaKay Cornell

LaKay Cornell is a culture critic, writer, speaker, and feather-ruffler. She is on a mission to change the way we create change. Using her unique combination of exciting anecdotes and enticing data, she positions her clients’ work in the context of the social problem they are solving. LaKay also writes, speaks and moderates discussions on Intersectional Feminism, the Language of Empowerment, and Womxn’s Entrepreneurship. To learn more, visit lakaycornell.com.
SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER