It's not every day you meet an inspiring person who is doing what they love with a purpose. One of those special people is a New York jewelry designer based in beautiful Battery Park City.
On a December evening back in 2013 I received a tweet from a NYC denim designer named Rik. He had followed my fashion blog at the time and paid me a very kind compliment. I was instantly touched, so when I moved to New York in the summer of 2014, I knew we had to meet. We met for dinner one July night and have stayed friends ever since.
Fast forward to Winter 2016. I noticed on Facebook and Instagram that Rik had been busy with a new venture; on top of a full-time career, a love for the water (he's a swimmer!) and affinity for helping others, he picked up a "hobby" of designing his own jewelry line. Beyond the beautiful beaded pieces that I've set my sights on over the past few months, Rik has a wonderful story behind his new brand. I got the opportunity to sit down with him, feel the jewelry and learn about his passion.
I know you love the water. Tell me about that. How does water inspire you?
Water is one of the most important things to me. Living near it, being around it; there is something about water that connects with me deeply. The way it moves and can’t be stopped. Whatever gets in its way, water finds a way around. It's a great metaphor for the challenges of life.
I have also been a competitive swimmer for most of my life. It's something that can be very humbling in that you can only rely on yourself and your physical and mental strength as you plod back and forth in the pool. You're alone with your thoughts.
Swimming, like long distance running I suppose, is one of those times where you are truly just with you and your own ish. With running you can talk to a running partner, but with swimming it's you and the pace of your stroke. I’ve certainly made a lot of peace with my life while staring at the black line at the bottom of a pool.
The inspiration comes from the time I have spent alone with my thoughts, and it's the same place I try to find in myself when I am designing and selecting stones for my pieces.
You have a background in creative direction and design. Why did you start creating again now?
I’ve been managing a number of chronic and recurring illnesses over the past couple of years and I was really looking for something healing and therapeutic to help deal with the stress. My career is wonderful, but it doesn’t provide the creative outlet I have been craving. Sometime around the holidays I began thinking about jewelry design, as it was something I loved many years ago. I have always been into natural stones, so this just made sense. After my first couple of pieces, I was getting great reactions which validated me in a way I guess.
What made you stop designing years ago?
Life happens. Real jobs, real responsibilities, bills and rent in NYC. I really didn’t have the guts to do this full time like some of my friends who were following their dreams. When we would be on auditions or working in entertainment and nightlife, I felt like I needed the safety of a regular paycheck. I came back to creative direction after 9/11, and actually was writing professionally for a while, but that need for a paycheck always scared me off.
That brings me to my next question- 9/11. One of my favorite things about you is your passion for helping others. You were a 9/11 First Responder. I’d love to know more about how this happened.
Gosh, what a long story. Thank you.
In my teens, my friend Chris Mazzotta wanted to join the local fire department and I was dying to do it as well. We joined and became EMT’s, but I was a little too immature to really make it stick. I think I may have been gone from that department after only a couple of years. The training stuck however, and while I was living in Florida, Hurricane Andrew hit and I volunteered in Miami. This was a big deal for me and really showed me that I wanted to help in these large disaster situations. Again, I was young and it didn’t last long but the training definitely stuck.
After I moved to NYC, I was (and still am) living downtown- WAY downtown. When the first plane hit, I was at home on Fulton Street, waiting to vote in the Primary. By the time I was outside, the second plane streaked above me into the tower. I started helping at Beekman Hospital shortly after, and by 11am I was working in a trauma center that we pulled together at a blown out Brooks Brothers in One Liberty Plaza.
I stayed there doing rescue and recovery work for a week. Changed my life, but I met two of the best friends I will ever have.
I think my desire to help came from my family. My grandmother was a nurse and started a hospice for AIDS patients in her house in the early 80’s. My grandfathers were all war vets. That generation were all heroes. Who wouldn’t want to be like them... and what an example they set for me.
How do you manage a full-time career AND continue to relentlessly pump out new designs?
This one has become interesting because I had to figure out how I was going to do this while living on the road. In fact, last week in the Atlanta airport, my bag was flagged in pre-check because of all my jewelry making gear. To my surprise, the agents have a lot of experience with this sort of thing and offered me a “private” screening area. I didn’t think rocks really needed their privacy, so I just let them check out my stuff in the open.
Here's how I really do it now. Each week when packing for travel, I select a group of stones to be my theme for the week. Then I gather up some chain, pins, floss, and tools (wire cutters, needle nose pliers, and a few other things) and make room for the pile among my suits, dress shirts, and underroos.
Each night when I get back to the hotel, I put together a piece and post it to Instagram as part of an ongoing “Hotel Collection." The mother of one of my colleagues is a jewelry designer as well, so she serves as a guinea pig sometimes, too.
There is just something I love about the colors and patterns in natural stone. Each is unique and has its own personality. I love selecting stones and making order out of the chaos. It's like making little Jackson Pollock's for people's bodies.
I think another reason I like natural stone is the diversity of the medium. There seems to be an unlimited number of varieties of stone, so I’m always learning of new types and they become new inspiration.
Whoever thought of a guy having a rock as a muse? Well, they probably never spent a lot of time looking at Lapis Lazuli, Hemimorphite, or Azurite.
Tell me a little about your charity experience and your inspiration for the nature of the charities you decide to donate to/support.
This is something that is very personal to me. As I hope my line becomes a little successful, it's partly because of the fulfillment I feel from people and their reactions to my pieces, but it's mostly because it will afford me the opportunity to donate more to these charities. I am donating a minimum of 10% net profits (only material costs and taxes are deducted) to charity each year that my brand is in operations.
The charities I have chosen are have personal connections to me and things I’m passionate in supporting:
This is the most personal for a number of reasons, but once you see and experience this program for yourself, you will never be the same. Will and Vanessa Halby have built an amazing program for differently abled kids and adults to experience sleep away camps and the arts. They have a farm in Vermont and another location out west. Each year the group puts together a film that stars the campers, and then it's released publicly. They have a film up for an Oscar this year (it's called Becoming Bulletproof and it’s playing on Showtime now), so needless to say, Zeno has become very successful with their model and I’m proud to support in whatever small way I can.
I have experienced what some call body dysmorphic disorder since my early teens, and I felt like no matter what I ever looked like, I couldn’t see what other did. In fact, even when I was a full time athlete, I thought I looked fat and ugly. It wasn’t until very close friends of mine became very anorexic that I understood what this could really look like and what (mostly) young women go through in this world. I think we need programs that help these people, rather than make them feel even more isolated than so many often do.
Organizations supporting our Troops-
There are many great organizations and I’ll be seeking out a couple of smaller, regional organizations to support. The key is supporting our troops, their families, and the transition back to civilian life. Its most important for our combat veterans and those that have been wounded (physically and mentally).
Rescue organizations for domestic and non-domestic animals-
This is such a huge issue in our country and finding no-kill shelters for animals where they are treated humanely- or allowed to find forever homes- is imperative. I loves all the animals!
Are you swimming in a race this year?
Unfortunately, I have been too sick to swim this year but I’m looking forward to getting back in the water soon. USA is going to kill it in Rio this summer and I can’t wait to watch!
How did you feel after your last big swim (in the Tuxedo Speedo, nevertheless!)
I can’t even explain the feeling. It was liberating and fulfilling at the same time. It was my first event in open water in 20 years... swimming from Manhattan to Brooklyn was an amazing experience. The Tuxspeedo was a BIG hit and I can’t wait to bring out something even more exciting at the next event!
Who is your target market/who do you ideally want to reach?
Broadly, I want to make a connection with my designs and I want the people wearing them to feel beautiful, unique, and confident. If that is a college woman studying in the dorms, a young professional brunching in the city, or an established woman on her way about town, I’d be beyond excited to know that they were wearing my designs.
At the heart of the brand, I think the natural stones and the energies they bring translate to women into fitness; both of the mind and body. I am also looking to connect with the fashionable and confident. People looking to make a statement with one of my pieces in their look.
I guess I’m really looking to connect with the modern woman who can’t be defined by me or my designs. She defines herself and my pieces are complementary to the path she cuts.
What are your short and long term goals for 2016?
From a brand perspective, I would like to sell over 250 statement pieces across all of the 50 states. These pieces are typically the necklaces and bracelets that are more than just strung beads. That would allow me to make some small donations to all of my charities. In 2017, I would like to see five times that so my impact can grow. At that point I would also look for programs that deal with sustainability and bringing clean water and power to areas of the world where it is not easily accessible. I believe these are keys to bringing education to those regions, and education will make a better world (in my opinion).
This is a hobby brand for me, and I don’t want to lose sight of its beginnings. If I see some measure of success with it, I want to be able to see more success in the impact of what I can give back.
I adore your perspective and drive, Rik. Thank you for your insight!
On another note, will you make me a red bracelet? :)