Jessica Mindich is a force of nature. As a former lawyer and now full-time jewelry designer, she is determined to bring awareness to social justice issues. During our interview, Mindich talked openly about her decision to leave her work as an attorney behind and tackle the issue of gun violence. Yet as tough as this topic and Mindich may appear, she is also deeply sensitive and personal. Before I can ask one question, Mindich starts in with this remark, "I read about you being a young widow. I'm so sorry. What happened?" Truthfully, I am caught off guard. She proceeds with thoughtful questions, wanting to learn more about my story. She's generous with her time, and doesn't try to rush the conversation. She's the real deal: authentic and smart.
Mindich wasn't always a jewelry designer. In 1997, Mindich graduated from law school, and practiced law for several years before becoming a mother. She decided to stay at home with her two sons for some time before reentering the legal profession. In an attempt to find a better balance with her roles as wife, mother and lawyer, she reevaluated her priorities. Ultimately, she chose her passion: designing jewelry. In 2008, she founded Jewelry For A Cause as an innovative fundraising effort for schools. She recalls, "It was an extension of bake sales. ... A way to get moms and other leaders involved with their schools."
Concerned with the growing problem of gun violence in Newark, Mindich decided to think of a creative way to repurpose guns into jewelry. "There's an issue of illegal gun violence in Newark, and I saw an opportunity to help a city." Since she wasn't familiar with the gun buyback program, she educated herself. She also reached out to Senator Cory Booker, who at the time was mayor, to better understand how she could partner with the local police department. She learned about the length of time guns are held in forensic evidence, how many pieces each gun has to be broken apart into before it can be released, and how to repurpose the metal. Mindich was also challenged with finding a metal recycling plant to help with the process.
In November 2012, after several long months of working on this project, Mindich launched her Caliber collection. She purposely uses an actual gun serial number on each bracelet or cufflink to reinforce the message of the foundation. The name of this jewelry collection, Caliber, is a double entendre. She says, "Getting illegal guns off the streets also raises the caliber of a city... I'm transforming the tools [that were used] for destruction."
Just a few weeks after the Caliber launch party, the tragedy at Sandy Hook occurred. Record number of orders started pouring in for her trademarked Caliber pieces. Four months of inventory was instantly sold.
Newark Police Director Samuel A. DeMaio explains the importance of Mindich's work. "Jewelry for a Cause, through proceeds from the sale of The Caliber Collection jewelry, has provided the police department with funding needed to conduct citywide anonymous gun buyback programs. The opportunity to turn in unwanted guns forestalls an act of violence to transpire in our city's streets." In April of 2013, Mindich's foundation funded the two-day buyback program. She is also helping to fund Newark's next gun buyback program, which is set to occur February 22 and 23, 2014.
In a separate interview with The Star-Ledger earlier this month, DeMaio expressed frustration with the easy access to illegal weapons, often purchased in a different state, and then brought back to New Jersey. In the article, he is quoted as saying, "We recovered 786 guns in Newark last year. ... Do you know how many were purchased in Newark? Zero! People rant and rave about the killings, but do nothing to get the guns off the street."
Getting guns off the streets in San Francisco is also near to Mindich's heart. She reached out to the San Francisco Bay area police chief. She is doing similar work, as in Newark, in supporting a San Francisco gun buyback and amnesty program. In March of 2013, she created Caliber San Francisco.
Mindich has attracted the attention of some prominent leaders and celebrities. Caroline Kennedy, Elvis Andrus, Donna Karan, James Blunt, and Chris Gorham are just a handful of the well-known individuals who wear her jewelry knowing that it supports either her Caliber foundation or another worthy cause. While most customers may not personally know Mindich, they feel a connection to her and the cause.
"Almost daily, via some form of social media, someone, from somewhere in the world, sends me a picture of how they wear their Caliber. The thing that always gets me is that they each wear it so differently...some with peace, some with pride, some with exuberance and some with a breathlessness that appears to send chills up their spine. It renders me speechless every time, no matter which version of the picture I receive," Mindich says.
Despite the famous connections Mindich has developed she remains grounded in her family and role as mother. "My children care more about me being home and mentally present than they do about any celebrity photo, incredible new client or television interview."
During this interview, Mindich talks about the challenges of running a business. In order to maximize the amount that Mindich gives to the gun buyback program, she keeps her business expenses to a minimum. This means that she does all the outreach herself. She can be found tracking down police chiefs in various communities, making cold calls, writing her own follow up emails, and even doing her own PR work. She's continuously reaching out to other cities whose gun violence rates have reached epidemic levels.
Beyond her Caliber collection, Mindich also designs other pieces of jewelry and frequently donates a portion of the sales back to a nonprofit charity. She explains, "My jewelry is inspired by the people who have created incredible not for profits for the cause in which they believe deeply. They come to me with pure hearts exploding with passion and the desire to help others. I offer them an innovative way for fund raising and marketing in the form of jewelry."
Mindich whose website is called Jewelry for a Cause also has a line called In Gratitude. Presently, she is featuring a beautifully beaded necklace made from barkcloth and crushed paper. Each necklace is unique and a portion of the sales go back to the women of Uganda. The In Gratitude collection helps artisans around the world develop and support their craft. She reflects, "Jewelry for a Cause enriches my life in so many ways. The Jewelry is a conduit to meeting amazing forces of good, connecting with the brave victims of illness and violence and to gaining a deeper understanding of just how complicated it is to change some of the biggest problems in society today."
To learn more about The Caliber Foundation go here http://www.jewelryforacause.net/caliber-foundation
To view the entire Caliber Collection go here http://www.jewelryforacause.net/our-collections/caliber-collection
Visit Jessica Mindich here http://www.jewelryforacause.net/
Follow Jessica Mindich for Twitter updates here @Jforacause
Read DeMaio's entire interview here http://blog.nj.com/njv_tom_moran/2014/01/searching_for_answers_after_ki.htm
Follow Kristin Meekhof on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Kristinmeekhof