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

Lunch At Michaels

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?

Diane Clehane, Mickey Ateyeh and Jessica Mindich
Diane Clehane, Mickey Ateyeh and Jessica Mindich

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.