What Does Your Jewelry Say About You?

How do you wear your heart?

I came across PURPOSE Jewelry a couple of months ago when I went to NY NOW, a trade show for all things handmade. The company caught my eye when I learned that their mission—from conception, actualization, to actual proceeds—benefitted the International Sanctuary, a nonprofit that provides holistic care for young women rescued from sex trafficking.

Each piece of PURPOSE jewelry is intricately crafted by a survivor of human trafficking. 100% of the proceeds go immediately goes towards medical and educational programs for those survivors.

If this isn’t an awesome mission, I don’t know what is. Best of all, each piece of jewelry is personally signed by the maker.

Here’s my conversation with Michelle Johnson, the Head of Distribution for PURPOSE.

What was the inspiration behind the company’s conception?

PURPOSE Jewelry is the social enterprise and brand under our nonprofit organization, International Sanctuary. The decision to create the PURPOSE brand started over two years ago, and was made to establish a fashion brand that is purposeful and a reflection of inner beauty. We believe you shouldn’t have to sacrifice style to make a difference. We also believe that fashion should empower both you and the person who made it.

How does the jewelry come to life?

We have a full time jewelry designer who started with PURPOSE about 6 months ago. She designs here, in the United States, and then our Production Coordinator works with our artisans in India to produce the designs. Some of our artisans assist in the process of designing as well. We have a few young women who are very talented in this area!

What doesn’t the average individual know about human trafficking?

There are over 20 million people enslaved around the world today.

Types of trafficking include sex trafficking, forced labor, and debt bondage. The average age of entry into trafficking in the US is 12 years old. Even once rescued, girls end up trafficked again an average of 11 times before they are finally free.

How does a purchase help the survivors?

PURPOSE Jewelry provides freedom for young women rescued from slavery. Your purchase directly changes a life! It’s simple: The more jewelry we sell, the more women we are able to employ.  Your purchases matter and most definitely have the potential to make a difference in this world.  When you purchase with PURPOSE®, you are helping give hope, empowerment, and dignity to the brave young women we serve.

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Meet Jewelry Designer, Charlotte Chen!

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A little while back, I caught up with one of my favorite jewelry designers, Charlotte Chen. A dear friend’s older sister, Char stumbled into her business while taking a jewelry making class in Taiwan.

What started as a hobby, however, soon became a budding business. She’d tell you it’s all thanks to how she only wears rings. Ears unpierced, Char’s accessories of choice have always been the bands that adorn her fingers. What happened when she couldn’t find a specific ring she was looking for? Well, go figure, she made it, and the people around her loved it.

Simple and elegant in design, all charXchen rings are handmade. Still, they’re study enough to brave everyday activities like washing the dishes and typing away on keyboards.

Besides the versatility of her first collection, what impressed me most about Char was her passion. There’s something to be said for doing what we love. I would know because we share the same sentiment here at TheLoDown.

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Of all the rings you’ve made so far, which one is your favorite?

Ooo, that’s tough!

Okay, okay, we’ll start off easy. What was the first ring you made?

The big silver Champ ring. The very chunky one. That was the first ring I made. I wear it very often. I wear it almost everyday! It’s getting hard [to wear] though, [especially] with gloves because that one is really big. Because of how much surface space is the Champ, mine actually has a lot of scratches. But, I like it because it really shows that it’s been worn.

I like the Cross as well. It’s funny, I think there are a lot of cross rings now, but when I made it, it was a thing that I wanted [that] I couldn’t find.

My other favorite would probably be the pointed Cusp. I usually layer mine so I’ll wear three of them together or two of them together. My friends all laugh at me because it’s a very self-protection-type of gear.


The names of your rings all start with a “C”!

They’re the classics! The names of everyone in my family also start with a “C”. It’s not a coincidence!

Your rings are all handmade in Taiwan. How long does it take to make a ring?

Depending on the wax mold I’m making, it’ll take me around a week. It probably doesn’t take up to a week for the wax but it definitely takes another week for it to be casted and a week after that to be polished and plated. It takes roughly two and a half weeks for one piece to get made but I only make the wax mold. Artisans and craftsmen do the casting, plating, and polishing for me.


Tell me a little bit more about you!

I was born in Seattle. My family moved back to Taipei, [Taiwan] when I was five. We moved back to Seattle, again, when I was sixteen. I did the last two years of high school in Seattle and I started at the University of Washington in Seattle in 2008. The winter of 2009, I did a winter study abroad in Paris which I think if you ask anyone who has studied abroad in Paris, [they’d say] it changed them. It was a very formative period of my life. After that, I finished my college degree—I majored in art history—and graduated from U-Dub in 2012 and moved back to Taipei to work a little bit. I started the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London last fall, which was 2014, for a year.

What inspired you to pursue art?

So, Sotheby’s offered this very special course in art business [that] I don’t think any other institutions really does. They’re such a multinational brandname [with] a lot to offer so I wanted to see where that could lead me. I think [the classes] were very helpful because they taught the business side of things that when just [studying] art history, you don’t get to explore. In art history, you’re doing a lot of narrow object-based study whereas talking about business made art more realistic and applicable to the real world. After working two years in Taipei in a lot of creative industry positions that were interdisciplinary, I thought it to get another business perspective in there. When you’re in school, you get exposed to a lot of things in a more compact period of time. I thought a 12-moth program would be a very good investment.


Cusp (Photo: cXc)

Where does the jewelry making fit into the timeline?

I started writing my application while taking a jewelry making class and it worked out. I wasn’t really ready to start my brand then. So, yea, it happened almost at the same time, really. [Going back to school] gave me a little more time to prepare for my business.

So, could you say everything kind of happened organically?

I started doing the course for fun and everything sort of took its own. I’m just sort of playing catch up!


I hear that you’re a big foodie.

Oh my gosh, I love to eat! Growing up in Seattle made me a big coffee addict. People in Seattle start drinking coffee at a relatively young age. I love going to different cafés and trying different places. I like to café hop a lot when I’m working on my own.

I really like fries, if that means anything. I’ll order fries anywhere! I also love everything apple-related. Apple pies and apple crumbles. I’ll order anything apple if I see it on the menu, like, “Okay, I’ll take that!”

What do you do in your free time? You know, when you’re not eating or working?

I do cookbook translations on the side. Most of it is from English to Mandarin but I’ve done a dessert book from French to Mandarin. I spend a lot of time with food, basically. I love to cook on my own so it’s a great chance for me to get recipes.


I know you also happen to travel a lot. Does that serve as your inspiration?

Most definitely, we’re trying to do it so our Instagram feed [shows] general inspiration about our collection. I do tend to take a lot of photos when I see things that might be good for inspiration boards and for the future.

I like experiencing cultures. I go to museums everywhere. It’s a good opportunity to get something more local—something that’s more different from I usually spend my time. Because of how geometric my jewelry is shaped, I think a lot of the things I look at in life are the composition of things in general: lines and negative spaces. I like to people watch and watch whatever is happening around me. But yea, everything serves as inspiration for sure!


Moving forward, what can we expect from your second collection?

I think we’re going to try to do something different. I think a lot of it will still be shapes and forms. I might work with a friend of mine who’s a florist to do something a little more delicate—a strong contrast to our classics, you know? I think we’ll see a lot more limited edition pieces.

I really want to do bangles and bracelets. We’ll definitely try that. Ear cuffs? It’s a thing a lot of people have been requesting. I might try to work that in there too. There’s going to be a lot of prototypes happening!

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