I’ve always been a fan of eco-conscious fashion (see: Eco-Conscious Fashion SIte Zady Launches Private Label). But it wasn’t until Anne Lenhardt Koebele debuted her new company, Hardt Jewelry, that I’d considered the idea that jewelry could also be socially conscious.
Nearly ten years after working in the corporate jewelry industry, Koebele decided it was time for a change. Not only was she ready to have the creative freedom to design her own products, she also was hungry to merge her love of jewelry design with a desire to create something with a sense of purpose.
The brand’s first collection, Equal Hardt, launched late last month, and is dedicated to raising awareness and promoting acceptance of equal rights, with a portion of proceeds benefiting a local LGBTQ youth organization. Even its designs are laced in meaning, such as the Diverse Equal Ring and Unified Strength Cuff, which incorporate equal signs and criss-crossed bars.
And it’s more than a gimmick: The hand-cast line is the height of minimalist chic, with just enough unexpected accents (such as stud-like pyramids) to keep things interesting.
I chatted with the designer about the origins of her company, her design inspiration, and what it takes to start a new business.
Hardt Jewelry’s Unified Strength Cuff in oxidized, $130 @ hardt-jewelry.com
Q: You made the decision to leave your career in corporate jewelry design last year to found your own jewelry line. What inspired you to make such a big career change?
A: I spent about ten years working in the corporate jewelry environment, most recently as Design & Product Development Manager for Chamilia-Swarovski (a Minneapolis-based global jewelry company). I loved working with larger design teams and traveling to different parts of the world, but craved the freedom to explore my own concepts that I was truly passionate about. In 2013, I decided to take the leap into entrepreneurship, in which Hardt Jewelry was born.
Q: How did you decide to bring together the ideas of fine jewelry design with social consciousness into your business?
A: The concept behind Hardt Jewelry has been with me for years. I was always seeking jewelry that I could connect with—something that was stylish, yet purposeful. I couldn’t find any jewelry line that truly blended those two concepts together in a thoughtful, sophisticated manner. I originally created the first piece, the Equal Hardt Necklace, for myself because I couldn’t find anything on the market. I then had friends, family, and even strangers asking me to create a piece for them. And then came the entire first collection. I envision each collection as a fashion-meets-philanthropy line, with the goal of bringing attention and creating dialogue to various social causes.
Q: For your first collection, you decided to partner with local LGBTQ youth organization Reclaim and raise awareness for equal rights. Why did you decide to put your energy and voice behind this cause?
A: The introductory line, the Equal Hardt Collection, is a new approach that brings awareness and promotes acceptance for all forms of equality. While this includes gender, racial, and many other forms of equal rights, I chose to highlight the on-going struggle with equality for the LGBTQ community. This has personal significance, but I also think there is still so much that needs to be done-it’s the civil rights movement of our generation. I’m hoping this collection starts to create the dialogue and visibility needed for change. Labels and categories need to disappear and we need to see each other as human beings. Because we all have one thing in common—a heart.
Q: What other causes do you plan to support through Hardt Jewelry in the future?
A: The next collection, which will be released this spring, is the Empowerment Collection. The designs will be slightly bolder and made to make a statement. Stay tuned!
Q: Can you tell me a little about what inspires your designs themselves?
A: While Hardt Jewelry is a for-cause company, we want our pieces to be both meaningful, yet fashion-forward, something that’s not always gone hand-in-hand. I often describe the aesthetic of the collection as “sophisticated with an edge.” The designs combine a minimalist approach with clean, architectural lines, and an unexpected element. For instance, our iconic angular “Hardt” is a classic symbol with a twist of individuality and strength. Because I live in the city, I get most of my inspiration from buildings, textures, and unique lines and shapes. I was on a walk this summer and came across this one wall that had these really interested pyramid shapes. I came back to my studio and created the entire pyramid line based on that one wall. I want pieces to be significant enough to be worn alone, but delicate enough to layer and stack.
Q: What materials do you use? Do you design, mold, and manufacture the pieces yourself?
A: I design everything here in my home studio and develop a lot of the prototypes by hand using a method to form and torch fire the metal. I then work with a casting house to develop and perfect molds to create multiple pieces. The metals we currently use are brass, bronze, and steel plated in sterling silver, 14-karat gold, and black rhodium or gunmetal (for the black metal effect). This allows me to design big, bold pieces of any weight and size without compromising the quality of the piece, and without paying the high prices of 100% silver and gold. It basically takes away the restrictions of designing “for a price point.”
Q: What would you suggest to someone who is looking to start their own business or make a big career change?
A: It takes guts and courage to start a business or make a huge career change. You must have passion, drive, and a clear vision, because sometimes that is the only thing that will carry you through all the not-so-fun moments that come along with owning a company (or making a change). What I wish someone told me about starting and owning a company were the things many don’t often admit:
- Expect the unexpected (things will always turn out differently than planned).
- You don’t need a 40-page business plan, but you need a plan.
- You will work harder and smarter than you ever have in your life.
- Friends and family may think you’re crazy, but turn that into fuel to prove them wrong instead of getting discouraged.
- Getting discouraged—that will happen daily. You will run into endless amount of roadblocks and “nos”, but there is always a way around things.
- Coffee and fast food (a.k.a., the college diet) will be your new best friend.
- Be prepared to put it all on the line: friends, family, free time, money, shopping, sanity.
- It sounds scary, but if you believe in your mission, it will all be worth it. You will get one email, one customer compliment, one order, and it will be the sweetest moment because you did it.
Hardt Jewelry is now available exclusively at hardt-jewelry.com.
More pieces from the Equal Hardt Collection:
ï»¿Hardt Jewelry Delicate Parallel Bar Bangle in gold, $90 @ hardt-jewelry.com
Hardt Jewelry Pyramid Double Ring Finger in oxidized, $100 @ hardt-jewelry.com
Hardt Jewelry Diverse Equal Ring in gold, $85 @ hardt-jewelry.com
Hardt Jewelry Equal Hardt Necklace in gold, $70 @ hardt-jewelry.com
Hardt Jewelry Between Lines Statement Cuff in silver, $155 @ hardt-jewelry.com
Hardt Jewelry Elongated Pyramid Earrings in gold, $70 @ hardt-jewelry.com
Hardt Jewelry Parallel Bar Double Finger Ring in silver, $100 @ hardt-jewelry.com
Hardt Jewelry Pyramid Choker Necklace in gold, $130 @ hardt-jewelry.com
[All images courtesy Hardt Jewelry unless otherwise noted]