We all have seen and met Kara at Trade shows, some of you have bought her beautiful Collections to sell in your stores. Lately I notice her absence from the Couture Show, never thinking that Kara has closed her wholesale business to devote herself entirely to her charity, Diamonds Unleashed.
Josette: What is Diamonds Unleashed and how does it empower women?
Kara Ross: DIAMONDS UNLEASHED is a “profits with a purpose” brand founded to support women’s empowerment. I believe that women are like diamonds; beautiful, strong, multifaceted and brilliant. Through DIAMONDS UNLEASHED, I hope to provoke meaningful action for the causes of women, disrupt the status quo and explore ways to design the future of women’s rights. I have focused our efforts on the arc from education through employment – I chose education as our main focus because it was very natural to me — it traces back to how I grew up and it is so incredibly powerful. A girl can grow up impoverished, but if she gets an education she can change not only her life, but the lives of her family and even community. 100% of the net profits are donated to organizations that provide educational opportunities for girls or support employment opportunities for impoverished women around the world.
We started DIAMONDS UNLEASHED with jewelry collections that incorporated ethically mined, sourced and produced diamonds and have expanded beyond to include apparel and other product collections. We recently completed a collection of children’s clothing with two companies based in South Africa that employ women in the Townships of Bonteheuwel and Hout Bay. Coming in 2017 is a micro-finance initiative for women in India and more collaborations with other designers.
Josette: How did you get started in the jewelry industry and what was the trigger behind Diamonds Unleashed?
Kara Ross: My mother had always designed her own jewelry, so the concept of designing jewelry was always there. When I was around 14, we went on Safari and brought back two green tourmaline stones. Upon returning to Philadelphia, my mother took me to Jeweler’s Row where I worked with a bench jeweler to design a square cut ring on an 18 karat gold band with diamonds. Creating something wholly original at a young age really affected me and has guided my vision as a designer. I always loved fashion and loved fashion magazines. Growing up I always thought I wanted to get into magazine publishing. After college, I worked at Harpers Bazaar. I did that for a year then left to work at Ms. Magazine. I went to Model magazine after that. I spent some time thinking about what was I going to do; I contemplated getting another job at a magazine. It would’ve been easy, but I decided to go for my dreams because if not now, when? So I left and I went to GIA, the most renowned gem laboratory in the world. Frankly, I thought it was going to be easy but it was very challenging. However, I soaked it in and I really loved it. After graduating, I went to work at one of the largest pearl companies. We sold to Tiffany, Harry Winston–I got the best education on pearls and began to really love them, especially the Tahitian pearl and the South Sea pearl. I did that for a year and then I began meeting and forming relationships with diamond cutters and dealers. After that I began designing engagement rings, I did so many I can’t even count.
Redefining the business model was a very organic process. I decided to reset my own engagement ring and I wanted to do something very cool. Diamonds and engagement rings are locked into this formulaic aesthetic. When I was working with the model maker he made something small and pretty. I made him re-do it two times; I wanted it to be in your face and aggressive. I purposefully wore it on my right hand, because it just looked better, and I started getting all these compliments. People thought it was so cool, and wanted to know why there aren’t more unusual diamond rings on the market. I also got a lot of questions about why I was wearing it on my right hand.
This feedback got me thinking and I began doing research on diamonds and how people perceive them. I found that the diamond business has really pigeon-holed itself. For the most part diamonds are currently bought by men for women in the association of love, marriage, and engagement… and there is nothing wrong with that, but we are saying it symbolizes strength. It kept coming back to this old, antiquated notion. I knew this was something that could be turned on its head.
I began thinking about the words that describe a diamond: unbreakable, multifaceted, beautiful — that’s a woman. I wanted to come up with something that shed light on that. Our goal was to transform the diamond from a passive gift one receives to this authoritative possession. For example, Serena Williams’ example of “my diamond is a trophy I gave to myself.” I wanted to create a symbol for this authority and possession and that is where this came from. This idea could be seen, pulled, and stretched in so many directions. There is nothing wrong with a diamond symbolizing love and marriage, but we’re saying, lets extend that so diamonds can symbolize women’s strength. It was just this very organic paradigm shift that resulted from questioning the status quo. Why can’t we think about something like diamonds in a much bigger way?
Josette: Starting a movement of that scale is huge and I admire your vision. Was it difficult to formulate your ideas and make it happen?
Kara Ross: I decided to create a business where all NET profits go back to non-profit partners & micro-finance opportunities focusing on women’s education and employment. This is where I found my passion. I wanted to focus my energy solely on Diamonds Unleashed, and had such a wonderful ground swell of support from high profile women (ambassadors), various well known retail partners, and more. The opportunity seemed HUGE and warranted 100% of my attention. I had to restructure my business and start fresh. In doing this, I created this very clear vision and am able to focus completely on this business. I have a great team that is dedicated to this vision and we all work together to make it happen.
Josette: What aspect of the art world have you involved in your quest to empower women?
Kara Ross: In a huge way! I believe that art comes in many forms. I am a collector of contemporary art and view jewelry as wearable art. I also am a collector of vintage clothing which I also see as wearable art.
For the second year, we’re the only non-gallery exhibitor at the Art Miami Fair. From November 29 – December 4, 2016, DIAMONDS UNLEASHED launched multiple activations including partnerships with CFDA members, emerging artists, Norma Kamali and Mandarin Oriental, Miami to create unique art pieces.
Joining forces with CFDA jewelry designers, DIAMONDS UNLEASHED created Jewelers Unite, bringing together top jewelry designers to create exclusive fine jewelry. The Jewelers Unite Collection was displayed at the center of the DIAMONDS UNLEASHED Art Miami booth, featuring one of a kind pieces from CFDA jewelers Lorraine Schwartz, Stephen Dweck, Paige Novick, Angela Cummings, Stephen Webster, Ben Amun, Simon Alcantara, Melissa Joy Manning, Katrin Zimmermann and Rachel Dooley GEMMA REDUX. These world-renowned designers will create one of a kind jewelry that embody their interpretation of a diamond.
In addition to Jewelers Unite, DIAMONDS UNLEASHED also collaborated with top artists, gallery owners and collectors who nominated emerging artists to create pieces that embody their interpretation of a diamond. Nominators include Ellen Salpeter, Agnes Gund, Marianne Boesky, Michele Oka Doner, Zoe Beckman, Bridgette Mayer, Jessica Goldman Srebnick, Lisa Dennison, Darlene Perez, Beth Rudin DeWoody, Norma Kamali, Lionel Smit, Bernice Steinbaum, The HAAS Brothers and Roselee Goldberg. These top industry influencers have selected a group of emerging artists who range in trade from photographer, illustrator, sculptor and painter to create works that were displayed at the DIAMONDS UNLEASHED booth at Art Miami. Each piece paid homage to women’s empowerment by interpreting a diamond. The nominated emerging artists include Lyndi Sales, Yayoi Asoma, Katherine Kousi, Melissa Gamwell, Antonia Wright, Ekaterina Popova, Aurora Molina, Mara Sprafkin, Susan Lee Chun, Marija Markovic, Tamar Ettun, Daniella Kallmeyer, Allison Torneros-HUEMAN, Sadie Barnette and Paige Silverman.
Over the course of Art Basel, DIAMONDS UNLEASHED also partnered with Mandarin Oriental, Miami to bring fashion to the forefront. By teaming up with CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Norma Kamali, DIAMONDS UNLEASHED created a one-of-a-kind wearable art exhibit in the hotel’s lobby from November 27 to December 4, 2016. The exhibit highlighted the classic Norma Kamali “All in One” dress which was the canvas for artists whose talents range from nail art, tattooing, illustrating and painting. Each artist customized the dresses by creating pieces with their unique interpretation of a diamond. Participating artists include Mei Kawajiri, Stuart Semple, Julia Heffernan, PJ Linden, Claire Luxton, Georgia Grey, Carly Jean Andrews, Ivan Alifan, Dave Pollot, Kendra Dandy, Damon Lucas, Bradley Theodore, Alonso Guevara, Julia Rich, Ashley Longshore, Alex Garant, Francine Dressler, AM DeBrincat, Serkan Akyol, Mengyao GUO and Amit Greenberg.
Through a partnership with Charitybuzz, each piece was auctioned off and all profits will support DIAMONDS UNLEASHED’s nonprofit partners, which currently include She’s the First, Girls Who Code and GirlUp, as well as micro-finance initiatives in South Africa and India.
Thank you Kara, you are my role model. I admire your thirst for giving women worldwide, the opportunities to empower themselves and become entrepreneurs. As jewelers and artists who have accumulated knowledge over a lifetime it feels so good to give back to our industries and communities, only you have crafted an incredible worldwide legacy.