We love looking at - and wearing - beautiful gemstones. But we rarely know the story behind the gemstones themselves. Where they come from, who mined, cut, and designed the pieces, and more. But that's changing...enterpreneur and blogger Monica Stephenson has made jewelry her career and passion her whole life, and her most recent project, the creation of her company Anza Gems, might be the most inspiring of all.
She's spent twenty-plus years working in the jewelry industry, and before that she was a fine arts and art history major, and of course, "jewelry is just small scale art!". She later helped Amazon launch their jewelry business in 2004 and then started iDazzle.com to showcase amazing pieces and incredible designers.
More recently, she was inspired to travel to East Africa and create Anza Gems by a somewhat random tweet about a documentary that was being filmed called Sharing The Rough (premiering now - click the link to buy it or find a screening). At the time she was questioning responsible sourcing and industry ethics, and going to East Africa for the shoot felt like something she had to do.
The Accidental Gem Dealer
Monica was struck by seeing how hard the miners work and how little they were getting out of it…started buying the rough and having it cut and designed by US designers. I want to build “recognition for the beauty that comes out of the ground”, she says. "I often tell people I am an accidental gem dealer! I never planned on doing this but I am certain it's what I was meant to do."
Her dream became Anza Gems, a jewelry company that gives back to the creators (literally, each purchase funds schools in the communities where the gems are produced in Kenya and Tanzania). Anza Gems jewelry features gems sourced directly from East Africa, set into fine jewelry designed by some of the most innovative jewelry designers working today.
Empowering The Creators
At Womensforum, one of our goals is to empower other women. And Monica/Anza definitely do that! "Working with all these amazing women in the jewelry industry, I've been inspired to incorporate more women in my own projects." For instance, Anza has a female gem cutter, a rarity in a male-dominated industry, "and it's so inspiring to work with her."
But her ambition is much more global. "I want to empower women in East Africa - the gem industry could be a really viable career option for women there, since it’s unusual to find women in the working world there to begin with, let alone in the mining industry". Accordingly, she's working with women in Kenya and Tanzania to help educate them - and women often complete the gem-cutting programs more quickly than the women (we're not surprised).
She also gave us some hints about a really wonderful project focused on providing a market for the product of women miners in Tanzania. “The reason that I feel so strongly about empowering women in East Africa - and everywhere - that they are the nucleus of their communities, and when you empower them and give them a way to support their families and their communities, you make the whole world a better place."
What's more, Monica/Anza also works with leading female fine jewelry designers who take these beautiful stones to the next level with their knowledge and expertise. "I've learned so much from these incredibly talented and creative women designers." And from checking out the amazing pieces at Anza Gems - we agree that these ladies take things to the next level.
And She's Working Mom #Goals
Monica might be the ultimate working mom. "As a working mom, you still have to be a mom first" she says, and she tries to say no to things that might conflict with things that are important to the kids. Even though she travels often, she is still there for things that are emotionally important to her kids, "but I still suffer from that mom guilt! I try to have compassion for myself - all moms are doing the best they can do."
Her advice to other moms? "I think it's incredibly important for my daughters to see their mom doing something that she loves to do. Moms - take your daughters to work!" Of course, she took it to the next level by taking her kids to East Africa. She was thrilled to have them see the impact she makes in a given day. “My 13 year old looked at me and said 'okay mom I get it'. Kids are extremely sensitive to social justice and I loved getting to show them how my job helps to reinvest in the world. If I could say one thing to other moms, it's that remember that your path can take you in places you’ve never thought possible - and share your journey with your kids."
We totally agree! Thank you Monica for sharing with us - and for being an inspiring woman in general! Learn more about her and her business at AnzaGems.com.