American financier turned philanthropist Joan Hornig creates jewellery that is designed to change the world. She talks about priorities, respect and how having first ladies on side is no bad thing.
What spurred your move from finance to design and philanthropy? "[The September 11 attacks were] a big turning point for me in moving more aggressively into a lifestyle of philanthropy. I recognised that I had achieved my financial goals, but I didn't [want to spend] the rest of my career making money instead of leveraging what my money could do for others. I wanted to target the attention of women and help unleash the power of their passion for helping others. Women always notice jewellery and almost always comment on it. Why not use that as a pivot point in a conversation to talk about something that jewellery could stand for? I had spent almost 20 years in a male-dominated industry and I wanted to do more with women in the next phase of my life."
How does the fashion industry help your cause? "The fashion industry cuts across ages, gender and income levels, meaning it is perfectly poised to address the message of giving back. Millennials have shown us that we like to see ourselves as 'brands' and we don't get tired of endless postings of our lifestyle. This means free advertising through social media for fashion businesses. Designers and industry professionals are so creative. [Fashion is] a great canvas for them to explore ways to give back."
How would you describe your creative process and production method? "I always intend to do everything with respect for the planet and the people working and living on it. I am very careful about the vendors and artisans I work with. The working conditions must be safe and they must be paid a fair wage. This is always taken into account, even before I begin putting any design into production. It is non-negotiable for me. And because all my production is in New York City, I visit the workshops myself to be assured of safe environments."
You give all the profits from your jewellery sales to the charity of the purchaser's choice. How do you get the money into the right hands? "To be candid, this is the greatest administrative challenge of my business model. Purchasers do not walk around with the contact information of their charity of choice. This means we have to do the legwork to get the donations to the correct place."
Not many designers can call Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama fans. What effect does the support of high-profile women have on your brand? "Some of the most powerful women in the world wear my jewellery and of course that adds an element of prestige to the line. The endorsement of these women is significant because they are committed to making a difference in the world."