Relevée is a high impact fine jewelry label dedicated to women’s empowerment. Designed by an international team and female jewelers in India, it offers handcrafted modern classics for your jewelry collection.
In French, “Relevée” means to “rise”. That is what Meredith Lockwood, badass co-founder of the female-owned company, is truly representing. In our interview, shares with us her journey of rising above her past fashion career to start a sustainable fashion business and the stories of the independent women who are at the heart of her trendsetting line.
Tell me more about RelevEe. What inspired you to co-found this brand?
I had been working in the fashion industry for nearly a decade. One thing that became apparent to me early on was the unethical practices that were pervasive throughout the industry: hidden labor practices, corrupt supply chain, and modern-day slavery due to the rise of fast fashion.
It occurred to me to use my fashion industry expertise in conjunction with my passion to help others for my next step.
So, I joined forces with Her Future Coalition, an international nonprofit, where we focus on empowering marginalized women in developing countries to start Relevée. “Relevée” means to “rise” and that is exactly what we are doing. I am rising above my past career to focus on improving the industry and dedicating it to women’s rights. While the Relevée jewelers are rising above their pasts to break the cycle of poverty and gender abuse.
What would you describe the brand’s aesthetic and design style as?
Through purposeful design, Relevée’s debut collection is modern meets classic. Minimal and versatile styling that includes stand-out yet highly wearable pieces. We focus on key day-to-evening jewelry that are foundational pieces in one’s personal collection.
What were you doing right before you co-founded RelevEe?
Right before I started Relevée, I was a Sales & Marketing Director for a private label jewelry company. I worked with every major retailer from large national department stores to mass retail brands. It was a fast-paced, numbers driven environment. A highlight to my career in fashion was actually when I was an intern for Condé Nast at WWD over 10 years ago. It was a great experience to be part of the height of magazines with some of the best editors I have had the pleasure of working with.
When did you first become interested in sustainability?
I remember when I was flipping through Marie Claire, I stumbled upon an article showcasing MADE UK, a British ethical accessories company. And I realized that you could work in fashion and love design but still combine a humanitarian initiative. One of my best friends is a jewelry designer in the UK and Spain, and I recall emailing her the article saying we should start an ethical line. That is when the seed was planted.
I still have that email saved to this day.
What has your journey been like as a designer – from both an aesthetic and social responsibility standpoint?
The most important journey has been those of the passionate women who make up our design team in India. When I left my former career, I moved to Kolkata to work hand-in-hand with the Relevée designers to enhance their skill sets to become fine jewelers. I created numerous trend reports because it was important to introduce the women to what was popular and marketable to the Western market. I must have printed off hundreds of pages (don’t worry we recycled!) to bring with me on that first visit to the Kolkata jewelry studio. From there, alongside our talented, passionate jewelers our journey to create the first Relevée collection took off.
Tell us about the RelevEe female jewelry team.
Our all female jewelry team is the heart of Relevée. Each and every one of them has an unwavering resilience: they have risen above their past abuses such as trafficking, child marriage, gender discrimination and extreme poverty.
They design each piece to elevate not only the wearer and beholders, but themselves as well.
I am so grateful that I get to work alongside these talented women and they have truly changed my life. We are a family. And through our partnered jewelry training academies, where we teach recent graduates how to make jewelry who will upon graduation join the Relevée team, our family will continue to grow.
What is the best piece of business advice you’ve followed?
When I made the big leap of faith to quit my full-time, stable job, sublet my New York apartment, and move to India, to start a socially conscious business, I had to focus on my vision, and not get distracted by others’ opinions.
Through that experience, it became apparent that I had to be selfish to be selfless.
My long-term goal is to empower thousands of women who have overcome unthinkable hardships to become leading goldsmiths in their societies. In order to bring this dream to life, I have to not only be confident in my approach but trust my instinct while not allowing others to detract from what we are pursuing and accomplishing.
Do you feel like marketing RelevEe as sustainable has helped or hindered the brand?
On one hand, it has helped Relevée to market as a socially conscious brand. Many consumers nowadays place higher importance on consuming consciously. We are a high-end brand with high quality and high social impact. We take great pride in our jewelry and our honest sourcing.
However, on the other hand, we have witnessed a branding challenge here in the States. I met with one high-end department store who made it very clear they were not interested in our social mission, only our jewelry and would not promote our cause. In this situation, we are focused on selling product first, and our story second. At the end of the day, the more jewelry we sell, the more lives we support.
What are your thoughts on today’s fashion cycle?
Let’s hit the pause button and realign ourselves. There is no need for the constant push of new products every few weeks. Fashion is an art. Many companies, particularly in the fast fashion space, have lost or are losing the art of design.
We need to put value back into the handcrafted skill sets it takes to make these consumer products.
This is one reason why Relevée is a fine jewelry brand in the luxury space. It allows us to hone in on our craft and celebrate the art of goldsmithing. Customers tend to forget that the earrings they wear or the dress they try on is made by hand. It takes time, talent, and an attention to detail that is too often overlooked.
How do you believe the fast fashion industry can begin to fix itself?
It can begin by educating and engaging consumers who are not in the know of just how unethical fast fashion is and how damaging it is to today’s culture.
You cannot produce a $5.00 t-shirt by any stretch of the imagination in an ethical manner. The big fast fashion companies are only going to feel the dire need to change their business model when the consumers demand the change. That means the customer has to stop spending their money on cheap, inexpensive products across the board. When there is a higher retail price placed upon a product, there is more room for higher quality sourcing and ethical labor ensuring better wages and working conditions.
How can brands manage their waste?
Recycle, recycle, recycle! At Relevée, we only create jewelry for a specific order. Countless large companies produce thousands of units per style which eventually some will end up either in the landfill or the incinerator. In my former career, we use to get “RTVs”, return to vendor, of damaged and broken costume jewelry. It would cost more to fix and resell then to dispose of. So, they would just throw it away.
What brands do you look up to?
What advice do you have for other designers interested in sustainability?
Do your research. Do not try to solve all the world’s problem in one go. Start slow and build up to it.
And now for some fun stuff. If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?
Either Christiane Amanpour’s protegé or working at a wildlife animal rescue sanctuary in Sahara Africa while living amongst elephants to zebra to giraffes and more. I hope the latter one can still be part of my story one day.
What are some of your hobbies/things you do for fun?
I really enjoy being outdoors and going hiking. Unfortunately, living in New York City, I do not go hiking nearly enough. I love cycling. When I lived in Amsterdam, I was an avid cyclist. Hip-hop dance classes, a big fan of indie films, and I am also an avid reader. I am a passionate social justice warrior and human rights advocate that I inherited from my human rights lawyer and professor father which I spend a lot of my time researching & advocating for causes that I feel passionate about.
What is something nobody knows about you?
I can be quite competitive and a real perfectionist. I always try to do the absolute best that I possibly can as well as come out victorious. Both of those traits that have really aided me in my Relevée journey, not to mention given me bragging rights more than once.
Who would you love to see in RelevEe?
Michelle Obama, RBG, All the amazing women voted into office in the midterms, Malala Yousafzai, Gloria Steinem, Amal Clooney, Lupita Nyong’o, Janelle Monae, Samantha McMillen, Karla Welsh, Meredith Koop and anyone else who uses their platform to support and promote social issues and women’s right.
Where do you like to shop?
As a socially conscious entrepreneur, I love to support my fellow friends in this space and shop their brands!
What is your most favorite thing to wear?
A Relevée ring that one of our designers, Sonali, made for me after our first collection when she was trying out new techniques. It is such a cool ring with an asymmetrical style.
I wear it every day to remind myself of what we are working so hard to achieve.
It’s also what our second collection will look like. It will be our first piece when we are ready for our next collection.
How do you wear your values?
Well, I actually sport my “Wear Your Values” t-shirt often so I guess I wear it literally and figuratively. It is so refreshing that this is a space full of supportive comrades and not competitors. I feel an essential way to “wear my values” is by my attitude and actions, which reminds me of one of my favorite Maya Angelou quotes that I think of often. “Your crown has been bought and paid for. Put it on your head and wear it.”
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