The Designer Who Showed Cory Booker How to Turn Bullets Into Bling

LunchAtMichaelsIts Thanksgiving bounty décor having disappeared like last week’s leftovers, Michael’s was festooned with lush garland and poinsettias today, helping to kick the air-kissing up a notch as the regular round up of mavens, moguls and strivers embarked on the ‘We have to get together for the holidays’ lunch season.

In yet another installment of ‘All Roads Lead to Michael’s,’ I was joined today by designer and activist Jessica Mindich who I was introduced to by fashion maven Mickey Ateyeh. “She’s a terrific designer doing something wonderful and you have to meet her,” Mickey told me a while back. Who am I to argue?

Funnily enough, I knew of Jessica’s company, Jewelry for a Cause, which creates jewelry as a fundraising tool for a variety of worthy causes, because I’m pals with her mother-in-law, my former Scarsdale neighbor Karen Mindich. Even though Jessica and I were “friends” on Facebook (thanks to Karen) we’d not met until very recently. Last month, we were seated together at a luncheon for designer Angela Cummings, which was held at Richard’s, a swanky luxury emporium on Greenwich Avenue in Greenwich, where we both live. Cozy, no?

At that lunch, I briefly learned about Jessica’s company whose tagline is: “Jewelry that Sparkles with Good Intentions.” Sounds smart. I was incredibly impressed by the work Jessica had done in a relatively short period of time, putting her considerable talents into creating distinctive and memorable jewelry to make a difference for important causes — most notably in stopping illegal gun violence. Intrigued? Read on.

It all started in 2008. At the time Jessica, a former lawyer, was living in Greenwich with her husband and two young sons, having moved to the tony town a few years earlier. The usual opportunities that present themselves to women living a certain kind of lifestyle did not satisfy Jessica’s desire to give back. “I wanted to do something that combined my interests and priorties,” she explained, noting that once her youngest son began attending school she had more time to devote to her efforts. Jessica decided to design bracelets using the crests of some of the private schools in the area, to be sold as a fundraising tool for scholarships. “I asked a friend if she thought they’d sell,” she recalls. Within two weeks, she began receiving orders from a number of local and East Coast schools, including Harvard and Yale. Since then, the program has been utilized at many other institutions, including the Hackley School.

But it’s the creation of The Caliber Collection that has perhaps had the most dramatic impact on so many different levels. While at a business conference in January 2012, Jessica began talking with then-Mayor of Newark, Cory Booker (who went to law school with her husband, Mark Mindich). He told her he was interested in resurrescting the city’s gun buyback and amnesty program, which had not been active since 1999 due to lack of funding. Their brainstorming session led to the creation of The Caliber Collection, whose moniker explains the double meaning of the effort. (All of this is explained on the incredibly clever packaging of each piece, which comes in an authentic-looking evidence envelope sealed with a stamp that reads: “Jewelry that used to be evidence.”) For the very first collection, Jessica, working with local authorities in Newark, used 250 evidentiary guns and brass shell casing from crime scenes that were sorted, cataloged and melted down to become jewelry. The jewelry line began with bracelets and offered pieces from $150-$1,395 each bearing the original gun’s serial number and its origin: Newark. 20 percent of every dollar went back and continues to go back to fund the buybacks for the Gun Amnesty program in Newark. Jessica has privately funded the only two privately financed gun buyback programs in Newark’s history. The program has expanded into Detroit, Hartford and San Francisco and is sold online and at select area retailers including Urban Zen in New York City. To date, Jewelry for a Cause has donated over $100,000 to various municipalities.

The success of The Caliber Collection allowed Jessica to create The Caliber Foundation and the Raise The Caliber Initiative, a national advocacy campaign to end illegal gun violence. “I believe that everyone has a duty to do whatever they can, within their abilities, to help raise the caliber of their communities. But in order to be so motivated, you have to believe that you have a future. That your children have a future. And that future needs to be protected. Where are the students? The teachers? The dads? The moms? Why is there so little trust left among anyone? We have to care enough to roll up our sleeves and treat our elected officials like partners rather than sit back and vilify them. We have to bring respect back into everything we do to ourselves and others, and most importantly, we have to have hope.” To date the initiative has raised nearly half a million dollars to fund a variety of charitable causes.

Jessica’s company has evolved to encompass a variety of different collections that all help raise funds and awareness to various causes. The In Gratitude Collection features one of a kind necklaces made from crushed paper and bark cloth. Each are hand wrapped and strung and the colors come from natural plant dye. Jessica told me that every purchase helps the women of Uganda create a sustainable and dignified source of income for their families and communities. The street chic nameplate necklaces of The Fearless Collection proclaiming the wearer ‘Fearless’ are raising funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.

Jessica’s work has been chronicled by scores of outlets, including Yahoo News, The New York Times, O, The Oprah Magazine and NBC News. “I’ve never had a publicist!” she declared. Apparently, she doesn’t need one. The media and entertainment communities have embraced her efforts. She received a grant from MTV and partnered with them to create the MTV X Caliber bracelet, which was recently given out to every performer at the MTV Awards. Consumers that purchase the bracelet receive a card from Snoop Lion that reads, in part, “We’ve seen a lot of senseless acts of violence involving guns recently … I want to be part of the change that will help bring peace.”

So what’s next for my Greenwich neighbor? Just this morning she received word that The Serena Williams Foundation announced they would be making a donation to The Caliber Foundation later this month at a fundraising event in Miami. Clearly moved by the news, Jessica explained: “Serena knows first-hand about gun violence having lost her sister (in 2003) in a shooting. She is such a role model for at-risk youths. This is such a powerful endorsement.”

Sitting across the table, looking at the stunning pieces of jewelry from her own collection that adorned Jessica’s wrists and listening to her talk about her quest to end gun violence, her words had real impact: “There is a lot of jewelry out there and a lot of incredible jewelry. The power of this jewelry is that it’s been transformed.” And has been truly transformative. Well done.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Mickey Ateyeh, Jessica Mindich and yours truly

2. Bloomberg’s Paul Caine and Cathie Black (Loved that gorgeous Celine bag!)

3. A rotating cast of regulars: First up, ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong, who while waiting for Dave Zinczenko, caught up with uber-agent Ed Victor, in town with long time client Nigella Lawson, who was doing press for the new season of The Taste. These two dapper gents passed the time toasting the holiday season, when Joe got word that the perennially in-demand Dave was waylaid at ABC, shooting an appearance on The View. When Joe headed out, Ed was joining by newbie HarperCollins editor Jonathan Jao. Got it?

4. Jack Kliger, who recently told me that he purchased British Heritage Magazine, with Carlos Lamadrid. Hmmmm.

5. Allen & Co.’s Stan Shuman

6. Andrew Stein and pals

7. Bookseller Glenn Horowitz

8. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia with, so we’re told, Michael Thomas (Brooke Hayward’s first husband)

9. Joan Juliet Buck

10. Children’s author Paige Peterson

11. Joan Jakobson and Barbara Liverman

12. 48 Hours Mystery’s executive producer Susan Zirinsky

14. Simon & Schuster’s Alice Mayhew

15. Hollywood hotshot producer Denise Di Novi

16. Star Jones

17. PR stars Lisa Linden and her colleague Hannah Arnold of LAK PR. Before lunch, the three of us debated an important issue: which haute handbag can get a busy power gal through the holiday season? Lisa, a true lover of luxury accessories, revealed she was storing a stunning red alligator vintage Judith Leiber clutch embellished with stones (I’m guessing it cost more than my first car) in her tote, while Hannah was sporting the Vuitton Epi leather tote in black patent. The firm reps Hostess Brands and the ladies will be handling the PR for the release of the second edition of The Twinkies Cookbook next year. Really. Act Two; Jay McInerney and George Farias

18. Cosmo editrix Joanna Coles

20. Producer Joan Gelman

21. Quest‘s Chris Meigher

22. Fran Katz

23. TheStreet.com’s Sandy Brown

24. Alexander Glantz

25. PR maestro Tom Goodman

26. Jolie Hunt

27. Entertainment Tonight’s Brad Bessey

29 Courtney Tuttle

Diane Clehane is a contributor to FishbowlNY. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Please send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.

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@DianeClehane lunch@adweek.com Diane Clehane is Adweek's weekly 'Lunch' columnist.
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