Being a billionaire real estate baron Stephen R. Ross’s wife, life could have been all about diamonds and its trappings, but New York-based Kara, also a jewellery designer is working with the marginalised, especially artisans, in Faridpur, (Bareilly), offering micro-finance, hoping to empower and integrate women into the mainstream
By Asmita Aggarwal
Can you tell us about your involvement in Unleashed and how did it begin?
I have been in the fine jewellery and accessories world for 25+ years and graduated from GIA as a certified gemmologist (expert in diamonds and coloured stones). I have been lucky enough to retail my collections within the top department stores globally, have pieces in various museums, and have been commissioned by the United States White House. About two years ago, I closed my namesake brand and stopped all retail, wholesale and production. I turned my business into a vehicle for philanthropy to focus specifically on job creation platforms for women and to break the poverty cycle. It is my personal mission to Unleash women’s potential and shine a spotlight on craftwork by female artisans that have talent but lack opportunity.
The concept of Unleashed started when I was visiting my youngest daughter in Cape Town South Africa, she was studying abroad. We went shopping one day and came across a beautiful artisan market called the “Water Shed”. I found the most beautiful children’s wear clothing I have ever seen, so well made and beautiful. I decided to hire the women and designed a collection of little girls clothing. We commissioned 42 women within the winter months and brought it back to the USA. The impact we got to make within two impoverished townships was so wonderful. I loved being in touch with the women and seeing the impact this opportunity had on their lives.
Our next big job creation program, known as Unleashing India, has been such a wonderful experience. We are thrilled to showcase this collection at the Amazon India Fashion Week because of the true potential and self-reliance, we are creating for these talented artisan women. The collections will be available at Bloomingdales and Lord & Taylor Fall 2017, alongside Amazonindia.com.
What has been the most enriching experience of working with this NGO?
Unleashed is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organisation created to highlight talented female craft artisans in marginalised areas around the world. They bring awareness to the artisans’ skills and create jobs, in turn breaking the poverty cycle. Unleashed has also partnered with KIVA, providing microfinance loans to help capital-intensive initiatives. Unleashed is creating a full content series called ‘Connecting Threads’, the first episode is being filmed in India with top award-winning Director, Amy Berg.
How do you think microfinance will help women in villages become self-reliant?
KIVA is an international non-profit, founded in 2005 and based in San Francisco, with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. We celebrate and support people looking to create a better future for themselves, their families and their communities. By lending as little as $25 on KIVA, anyone can help a borrower start or grow a business, go to school, access clean energy or realise their potential. For some, it’s a matter of survival, for others it’s the fuel for a life-long ambition. I truly believe micro-finance is a wonderful way to help fund entrepreneurs and get them on their feet.
How has Unleashed helped these women and have you visited them?
The past few days we have had an amazing opportunity to spend time with our women artisans in the village of Faridpur, on the outskirts of Bareilly. They are extremely talented and produce wonderful work. The best part of this entire experience has been visiting India and getting to meet them in person, and see the impact this opportunity has had in their lives. Our women are able to send their children to private school and get an education, to better their lives.
You have designed jewellery for Kate Hudson to Demi Moore, who in India would you like to dress and also who has inspired you the most in your life?
I have dressed many amazing celebrities, diplomats, influencers and royalty throughout my career. In terms of a celebrity from India, I would love to dress Aishwarya Rai, as she is the true example of female empowerment and self-reliance, she is a beautiful strong woman. I am inspired most by my mother and two sisters, they are my “sheHEROS”. I grew up in a household with very strong female role models.
You also launched ‘Diamonds Unleashed’, a company that celebrates women’s strength and empowers them, where you give money to charities. Which all charities have you helped?
The business was originally launched as Diamonds Unleashed, a profits-for-purpose company that has given back to non-profit partners supporting girls education and job creation programs. So far, we have supported: Girls Who Code, She’s The First, Girl Up and Dress for Success. The past few months we have ourselves transitioned into a 501c3, non-profit organisation media company focusing on an original content series called Connecting Thread. Unleashing India is episode one, and we will have five others around the world. This series will consist of intimate profiles with an investigative approach to exploring the positive impact Unleashed has had on shaping the future of these women. The first of many, this documentary series will create a platform for the voiceless and shed light on the powerful changes that occur when women support women. Through this documentary, we aim to educate viewers about the current state of women in India and the positive impact programs like Unleashed have on rural communities that historically have oppressed women. We aim to show, not tell the stories of these women to keep their voice authentic and stories poignant. Through a mixture of talking head, interviews, voiceover and b-roll, we will paint the picture of the women of Bareilly, providing a window for the viewer into their everyday lives. Our host, Nargis Fakhri, will provide relevance to the documentary, introducing the history of the women’s rights movement and contextualising the significance of the Unleashed program on the lives of these women.
You also have a limited edition of handbags can you tell us what has been more challenging for you as a designer? What more would you like to do in terms of designing?
I have designed beautiful exotic skin handbags for over 25 years. I love pieces that are different, and essentially one-of-a-kind. Moving forward I will no longer be designing any of my own pieces, I will be highlighting and helping shine a spotlight on women artisans globally who are already designing beautiful work. I will help them with their designs to cater to the Western market, and help open access to capital and new markets to make them successful.
You have said to NYT in an interview that you want to give back to society. What more you like to do?
Unleashed is partnering with Artemis Rising; renowned documentary filmmaker Regina K Scully and award-winning director Amy Berg to film a documentary series about global female craft artisans, focusing on their work, talents and contributions to their communities.
The series will highlight select narrative threads that are universal, particularly to women everywhere. Our focus is on artisan women globally that are too often overlooked, in areas where talent exists, but opportunity does not. Inspired by Anthony Bourdain “Parts Unknown”, we will also be capturing the geopolitical situation in the region and how it affects women within the current landscape. Our2017 episode focuses on India through the lens of an artisan collective in Bareilly (5 Hours East of Delhi). We will create dramatic programming by juxtaposing these two completely different worlds. By welcoming viewers into the world of women in both communities, we will bring to life universal truths and pathways to independence, including the importance of education and decent work + fare wages.
How can social media be used to spread the message through the medium of fashion?
I believe that social media is one of the single most important tools we can use in society today to connect with people globally, be authentic, have your own personal self-expression, tell stories and showcase your talents. I am a huge fan of Instagram because I am a very visual person. I love connecting with new people around the world.