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Detroit graffiti becomes beautiful jewelry and helps the homeless

Rebel Nell 2

Metro Detroit-based Rebel Nell makes stunning jewelry, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. For that, you have to follow founders Amy Peterson and Diana Russell into some areas you might not expect two ladies to venture into. What the one-of-a-kind pieces are made of and who their bigger plan is designed to help is what are really of interest.

IndieGogoSlideUsing rescued pieces of graffiti or “tags” from across the city, they turn the castoff fragments into wearable art, while empowering homeless women in the process.

First the name. Rebel Nell is the founder’s homage to Eleanor Roosevelt, who was nicknamed “Little Nell” by her father Elliot after the character in Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop. Diana says this powerful woman inspired her and Amy to help others become, powerful as well.

From the Dequindre Cut collection

From the Dequindre Cut Collection

According to the description on their Facebook page, the mission of the L3C (Low-Profit Limited Liability Company) group is to “make jewelry using unique local resources like graffiti.” The description goes on to say, “Our focus is to employ, educate and empower disadvantaged women in Detroit.”

That’s quite a goal for earrings, cufflinks, rings, pendants and bracelets. However, once you see the pieces and talk to these passionate social activists, it quickly becomes apparent they will not be stopped in reaching their goal of impacting our city.

Amy, an attorney by day who first imagined the project, puts it this way. “We want to provide transitional opportunities for homeless women in the city. Through what we do, hopefully they will leave dependency behind and move forward as strong, independent women.”

Right now, Amy and Diana are making the jewelry themselves, but plan to begin hiring homeless women to help design and produce the pieces in the coming months. They already have an agreement with the Coalition on Temporary Shelters (COTS) and are developing relationships with other organizations like Alternatives for Girls to provide women for the program and provide the much-needed additional support for mental health, shelter, clothing, etc.

Resume-writing, interviewing and getting back on track with education will also be integrated into the whole-life program for participants.

Rebel Nell founders Diana Russell and Amy Peterson.

Rebel Nell founders Diana Russell and Amy Peterson.

The pair finds small and larger graffiti pieces (up to several feet wide) that have fallen off of walls due to age or with a little help from Mother Nature. Once collected, the process of “uncovering the beauty,” as Amy puts it, begins. Some sections are 12-16 layers thick with paint. “Sometimes we start working with a fragment we find and it’s amazing what can be created,” she added.

Each design and each piece will have a story behind it. Where it came from in the city? Who made it? What are the maker’s hopes and dreams? “It is important to not focus on where these women came from or how they ended up out on the streets,” Diana says. “It’s more important that we help them imagine a future and help them get a second chance at life.”

Along with each created piece will come a card telling that piece’s “story.”

Rebel Nell already has a spot reserved at the entrepreneurial hub Ponyride near downtown Detroit. They plan to move their operations there in the fall.

Support has been coming in, but there is a need for more. They did get a boost recently when they took the top prize at the Detroit Soup micro-grant funding dinner in July. Their vision is big, so they’ll need big support make the difference the want to make.

Dequindre Cut Collection2 compressed

From the Dequindre Cut Collection

The finished items range in price from about $65 to $105 for a unique piece of Detroit, depending on what someone wants to get. Amy, who is the designer and creative force of the two, will take special orders for a particular color scheme or shape. Of course, it all depends on what they are able to recover on their treks across the city.

Detroiters have been very supportive so far, “Without the love and compassion of the people of Detroit, we wouldn’t be able to get up and running. We wouldn’t want to do this in any other city,” Diana says.

A beautiful ring, also from the  Rebel Nell Dequindre Cut Collection

A beautiful ring, also from the Rebel Nell Dequindre Cut Collection

Ways to help? Like Rebel Nell on Facebook, check out some of the latest pieces and be on the lookout for an Indiegogo fundraising campaign coming soon.

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4 comments on “Detroit graffiti becomes beautiful jewelry and helps the homeless

  1. We’re a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community. Your site offered us with valuable information to work on. You have done an impressive job and our entire community will be thankful to you.

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  3. (Lots of couples choose a "custom" engagement ring for example). There also is a trend towards less expensive jewelry too. A friend of mine works at an upscale jewelry store and she says:"Only fools buy diamonds any more".

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