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Rebel Nell

1401 Vermont St
Detroit, Michigan 48216

Amy Peterson

By MJ Galbraith
October 25, 2013

Rebel Nell
co-founder Amy Peterson has lived in a lot of places. The Jamestown, New York native has lived in Boston, Baltimore, Washington DC, and Columbus, Ohio but it wasn't until she moved to Detroit in 2007 that she fell in love with where she was living. Sure, landing a dream job as an attorney for one of the city's major sports teams helped, but Amy cites the community and its generous support as reasons for calling Detroit her favorite.
It's why she started Rebel Nell with fellow Detroiter Diana Russell in March of 2013. Rebel Nell is a jewelry company with a purpose: one that will hire disadvantaged women in the city, train them how to make the already-popular jewelry line, and help them transition from a life of dependence into one of self-reliance and self-empowerment.
"Detroit was so good to me at giving a shot at my dream that I finally realized that it was my turn to return the favor," says Amy. "I believe really strongly in empowering women—both my business partner and I do—and so we love the city and feel very passionately about empowering women so we wanted to combine the two."
The idea for empowering women came before the jewelry, but with each business partner already having experience in the jewelry business, the direction for Rebel Nell seemed an obvious one. All that was left was figuring out just what exactly these pieces were going to be.
After searching for Rebel Nell's path, it was during a jog along the Dequindre Cut when inspiration hit. Admiring the graffiti along the cut, Amy stopped and noticed chips of paint at the base of a wall where years-old graffiti had flaked off and fallen to the ground. Taking a piece home with her, Amy was able to expose layers of paint, creating the artful base from which the Rebel Nell line would be made. The colorful chips have been fashioned into pendants, rings, earrings, and cuff links. Consumer demand is already calling for bracelets and tie clips, which should come soon. Because of their unique paint-revealing process, no two pieces are alike.
"Each shape is really organic and unique and we let the graffiti speak to us," says Amy. "We also think that's going to be advantageous for the women when we hire them because they're going to have creative control. It's all beautiful and what the women pick out is going to be different from what I pick out or what you pick out. I like the idea that there's going to be control of a creative environment. So then from there, once we identify the graffiti, we put it on a silver-filled backing with our logo, and then we put a resin on top of it to protect the paint."
Amy has already had significant success with combining jewelry and social causes. She started making and selling her own jewelry in college and after seeing the 2004 movie Hotel Rwanda about the Rwandan Genocide, Amy reached out to a friend working at the International Fund for Rwanda. She didn't have any money to help, but Amy offered any service she could. In an improbable and amazing sequence of events, she soon found herself making 100 Rwandan Genocide awareness pins to be worn at the 2005 Academy Awards. Amy sat at home and watched Joan Rivers' red carpet interviews with Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Cher, and Santana as they all wore her pin. Amy began selling the pins on her website and donated all labor, costs, and proceeds to the International Fund for Rwanda, raising $5000 for the cause.
Amy and her business partner are looking to make a similar impact on the lives of local women in transition. After months of working out of her apartment, they will be moving operations into the Ponyride building, where the metalworking Smith Shop has volunteered to share facilities. Rebel Nell will soon begin interviewing women at the COTS Detroit homeless shelter. Jewelry will be sold and lives will change. Amy's already has.

All photos by Doug Coombe. 

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