When Co-Founder, Alexis, was diagnosed with Lyme Disease and had to take a medical leave from Vanderbilt, she used her newfound free-time to wander the streets of Nashville and befriend people experiencing homelessness. Through those conversations, Alexis became convinced that there was an opportunity to leverage the power of business to alleviate poverty in the area. One evening, while visiting her friends at Vanderbilt, Alexis was locked out of her car and had to wait for a spare key to arrive. At just that moment, Corbin, a fellow student, walked by and struck up a conversation. Sitting on the curb waiting for a spare key, Alexis and Corbin began dreaming up a business that would employ vulnerable people in the city, building on the work of others and partnering with local organizations to work as effectively as possible.
Upon Alexis’ return to Vanderbilt, she and Corbin began thinking more critically about their potential business, deciding on jewelry as a way to create and share beauty. Near the end of their junior year, Alexis began fasting and praying about the potential to pursue the still-unnamed company after graduation. Around that time, one of her best friends, Ray, called. A Cuban immigrant then in his sixties, Ray was living at a local transitional home, where Alexis had met him when she was volunteering there. Alexis and Ray formed a quasi grandfather-granddaughter bond, meeting regularly to speak Spanish and eat Chick-Fil-A. Ray was diagnosed with cancer just days after Alexis had been diagnosed with Lyme, and she had become his Power of Attorney and regularly took him to appointments.
When Ray called that evening, he said, quite bluntly, “Alexis, I’m dying.” By his bedside a few hours later, Ray and Alexis spent hours discussing Ray’s greatest successes and failures. As Alexis was preparing to leave the hospital, Ray pulled her in closer and began, “Alexis, I haven’t told you this before, but I actually have a storage unit. And in this storage unit, I have a duffel bag of money. I want you to have it when I pass.” And just like that, a man who didn’t even own a mattress became the primary “investor” in a company meant to employ other people experiencing homelessness.
A Business is Born
Although the classic start-up story begins in a garage, we didn’t even have that luxury; we started in dorm rooms and on park benches. During weekly meetings, we built our business plan and began testing out jewelry ideas on our dorm’s kitchen table. Once we felt comfortable with some of our earliest designs, we hired our first Maker, who lived in the same transitional home that Ray had. The three of us began working wherever we could, beginning on a nearby park picnic table.
Just a few months after Alexis and Corbin graduated from Vanderbilt and went full-time with Resera (named "Unlocked" at the time), we met with a local nonprofit, Community Care Fellowship (CCF), to discuss a potential partnership. CCF is a local nonprofit that has served the homeless population of Nashville for over 35 years. Realizing how a partnership could amplify the impact of both of our organizations, we moved our production and office to a storage room in the back of their building. During that time, we launch the Pathways Program with CCF. Pathways is a transitional program that offers housing, career counseling, employment at Resera, financial training, and connections to new career paths.
“Casting” a Vision
As we grew our social programming, we recognized that we would need to take our jewelry brand to the next level in order to employ even more women transitioning out of homelessness. Taking a leap of faith, we moved into our own office and workshop in the summer of 2019, and we began utilizing an advanced jewelry production process called "casting" that allows us to melt down recycled metals to craft original designs. This was not an easy transition, but it was certainly worth it. The first time we tried out the process, Alexis was tightly gripping a fire extinguisher while Corbin tentatively poured out the metal. A few months later, we were able to begin manufacturing jewelry for other brands, and a few months after that we began creating our own products in earnest.
Jewelry that Means More
Throughout every phase of our story, our goal has always been to employ and empower women overcoming extraordinary circumstances, creating a place of healing and a pathway out. What we didn't realize is that we, too, would be empowered by our team, our organizational partners, and our customers. We see jewelry as an avenue for something much bigger: connection, hope, and the daily reminder that small decisions can have a big impact.