Jameel Mohammed isn’t your average ivy league undergrad. The junior, who is enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, is pursuing a degree in political science, but he also moonlights as a jewelry desginer. And not just any old baubles — the Chicago-native’s collection, KHIRY, is inspired by the African diaspora and crafted from 18k gold, silver, rose quartz and leather.
But writing term papers and producing luxury accessories ins’t easy or cheap. So, in order to make his dream a reality, Mohammed launched a Kickstarter page in hopes of raising $20,000. And with less than 48 hours left for the campagin, the 21-year-old has already surpassed his goal.
“I’m incredibly excited that we’ve made it this far! This is the first moment where it’s really clear to me that I’m not just shouting into the void — KHIRY actually resonates with people,” Mohammed told ESSENCE. “As an artist, that’s your whole goal — just to connect with people, and to bring to life this vision that only exists in your own head. So to see that KHIRY has become bigger than just me, and grown into something significant to other people has been truly humbling.”
We wanted to learn more about Mohammed and KHIRY — check out the Q&A and photos of the jewelry and let us know what you think of the collecction in the comments section below.
Who is the woman you envision wearing your designs?
KHIRY is a collection of sleek, bold and romantic pieces, ultimately designed for strong women who are unafraid to make a statement and stand apart. She is a woman who embraces fashion as a means of self-expression, and who is unafraid — excited even — to take risks and try new things.
You mentioned in your Kickstarter campaign that you’d like to change the ideals that people associate with the word “luxury.” Why do you feel that way? And how does Khiry fit into that new definition?
First, luxury has long been synonymous with old European traditions, built on the legacies of historic labels and ateliers in Paris and Milan. And those houses have articulated a very specific vision of what it is to be beautiful, and an incredibly limited perspective on what luxury can look like. Our Eurocentric idea of luxury ignores a completely different history, no less beautiful, culturally rich or historically significant. I wanted to be the one to celebrate that history, and to say “This is glamour! This is culture! This is significant!”
Are you a professonially trained jewelry designer? How did you get into crafting your collection?
I actually got my start in womenswear. In high school I worked as a design intern for Nicole Miller and Narciso Rodriguez. I designed and made a few necklaces, but it wasn’t until the end of my freshman year of college — after I’d accepted an internship at Barneys New York — that I began focusing more seriously on jewelry.
As for making the pieces, I started by embellishing simple brass bracelets with leather cord, using a macramé technique, but soon I realized that to stand out I’d need to do something even more distinctive. So last summer I taught myself 3-D Computer Aided Design so I could start making pieces with a more unique silhouette, and somehow managed to talk a few factories in New York into producing the first run of samples.
What is your connection with Africa? How has the continent inspired you?
KHIRY actually takes inspiration from the broader African diaspora. The line is a combination of references that span the globe. For our first collection our inspiration was Senegalese film and Nigerian Afrobeat music. But next season it could be Afro-Cuban rumba and Moroccan architecture. As a designer, I seek to find the links between the distinctive cultural traditions that form the complete diaspora, and create high quality pieces that reflect their varied origins in a contemporary way. And with each new season, I do intensive research into the cultural traditions of a place, so that I can have a broader sense of the context of a pattern or shape, and depict it in a respectful way.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.