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A Call for Much-Needed Change

With US protests raising awareness of systemic racism, the jewelry industry must examine its own failures in this regard and take action to promote and support Black jewelers.

Jun 18, 2020 7:14 AM   By Kassandra Lauren Gordon
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RAPAPORT... Dear fellow human beings,

A lot of you feel strongly about the recent events in the US, as the protests following George Floyd’s death have raised much deeper issues of inherent racism, and people of all races have started to speak out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. As a Black woman, it was a particularly tough week for me.

I am an ethical fine jeweler, using Fairtrade gold, and have my own brand, Kassandra Lauren Gordon, through which I offer collections and bespoke commissions. My work is sold at stores across Europe. I’ve participated in many events, including International Jewellery London (IJL) and the Islington Wedding Fair, and have had four solo gallery shows at Craft Central.

After studying in Hatton Garden and having spent the past nine years in the jewelry industry, I have to admit that — if I’m honest — I am not shocked by the lack of response to the recent events that have affected me so deeply, which I would call a humanitarian crisis. It smarts all the more after watching the industry mobilize so quickly and effectively in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In my opinion, the jewelry industry is not as diverse as it could be, and it is not inclusive for Black people. I will go even further and say that the industry is not welcoming to Black people.

I could give you a long list of examples from my own personal experience of how people have treated me negatively in Hatton Garden and elsewhere in the jewelry industry because of the color of my skin. Some of these slights are blatant: unsavory words said directly to me; people ignoring me (some have literally looked me in the face and walked away when I’ve spoken to them). Others are more insidious in their racist motivations, but equally upsetting: falsely accusing me of stealing supplies (obviously, it didn’t happen); staff following me around stores while I buy my jewelry supplies, yet leaving white counterparts to search for their own supplies unbothered and unsupervised. I could go on and on.

These are emotive pictures, I know, but I don’t want you just to feel. Feelings won’t help Black people and Black jewelers. Neither will a few social media posts of guilt and sudden solidarity. What I am interested in is what the jewelry industry is going to do in the long term.

Feeling anti-racist is not the same as being proactively anti-racist in your day-to-day life. I cannot prescribe how you should be proactively anti-racist in the jewelry industry, but I urge everyone to act in some way. What is going on now is not a black/white issue, it’s a humanitarian issue. We are all human beings and need to be given equal opportunities.

Not all jewelers who enter the industry start out from the same place. Due to a legacy of systemic racism, many Black jewelers are hindered by socioeconomic disadvantages. We also don’t have the established networks and professional communities that jewelers from other minority backgrounds do, such as Jewish or Asian jewelers. I am not asking for handouts for Black jewelers, but we need support in order to level the playing field of this monolithic industry. What I am asking for is that the jewelry industry be more inclusive and create more opportunities for Black jewelers.

Change will not be achieved overnight, and there is no easy, one-size-fits-all solution, but we need to act now. Therefore, I have compiled a list of some practical suggestions for the jewelry industry. Each one would help increase the visibility of Black jewelers and amplify our voices:

Create a pledge. What are you going to do to support Black jewelers? What resources can you offer? Create a task force/quality assurance group to hold the pledge accountable.

More financial aid. We need a hardship fund for Black jewelers, as well as dedicated bursaries and grants for things like materials, education, studio space, PR and participation in exhibitions.

Increase visibility. The jewelry industry bodies, associations and trade publications should proactively highlight Black jewelers in communications, social media and publications. Trade shows should celebrate Black talent through dedicated installations or catwalk shows. Let’s create a directory for Black UK-based jewelers.

Amplify Black voices. Send out a survey to Black jewelers asking them about their experiences of the jewelry trade. Invite Black jewelers to speak at industry events. Hire Black jewelers to be a sounding board and sense-check issues in the jewelry industry.

Open doors. Develop structured mentoring schemes for Black people. Create space for Black jewelers in jewelry and department stores that don’t rely on the type of sale-or-return agreements that can financially cripple designers.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this letter, feeling anti-racist is not enough. Black people are not visible in the jewelry industry, and staying silent on this issue is not an option anymore. Your silence and lack of action say a lot about the problems prevalent in our industry.

In hope,
Kassandra Lauren Gordon

(A human being, who happens to be a Black woman and a jeweler)

Image: Kassandra Lauren Gordon. (Robert Taylor)
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Tags: Black Lives Matter, George Floyd, Kassandra Lauren Gordon, racism
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