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Kendra Phillip Reinterprets Rhode Island's Jewelry History

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In Behind the Brand we uncover the stories behind New England's brightest emerging brands and look ahead to what their future holds.

The story behind Rhode Island-based jewelry brand Kendra Phillip is as charming as its charms, rooted in a reversible silver and gold signature monogram pendant. Since the line launched three years ago, its success has spanned from the smallest state to boutiques across the nation, including Ku De Ta, Mint Julep, and Twilight here in Boston.

Childhood neighbors and founders Kendra Pariseault and Phillip Sowa had an a-ha moment when Kendra served as maid of honor for her best friend, Phillip's sister Caitie. Personalized jewelry crossed Caitie's mind as a great gift for her bridal party, and subsequently Kendra and Phillip designed what is now a top selling piece. Tapping Phillip's family history in Rhode Island's infamous jewelry business, the pair launched their namesake brand, which has expanded into collections featuring vintage textures, lucky charms, and nautical motifs.

Chatting with Kendra Pariseault, we learned how her company is an essentially Rhode Island brand:

Tell us a bit about the direction you're headed with vintage-inspired jewelry.
We have access to millions of vintage machinery and tools that made jewelry when it was predominantly made in Rhode Island. With all this history behind us we're repurposing these materials and tools to create jewelry that is more modern but has a classic feel to it. Unique but wearable. We put a lot of care into the quality of our jewelry; it's all made and manufactured in Rhode Island. It has that old school feel of when you didn't just buy things to throw them away; you bought things that last.

Domestic manufacturing can be quite an endeavor for small companies. Have you faced any challenges in that regard?
It's always been something important to us because of the history that Phil's family has and myself being a Rhode Islander. I did go to RISD, so there's another element there. We were born, bred, and educated here. I know people feel there can be a cost challenge associated, but the reason something might be a little more expensive in the US is really indicative of the quality. I don't think you can find the same quality for much less expensive even if you did go overseas. It creates a huge level of convenience, especially for a small brand. It's easier to get things done; everything is happening a 15 minute drive away.

Are you finding inspiration in any particular era or design genre?
We're looking specifically to The Great Gatsby Art Deco era right now. And there's a little bit of vintage in all of our pieces just due to the fact that we're using vintage tooling.

Do you find that bridal parties often buy the signature pendants as they were originally intended?
Definitely. We'd love to have that business grow even more. It's a great bridesmaid gift and we have multiple options, fonts, and sizes now. It fits a lot of different people's styles.

To what degree are you able to customize beyond initials?
That's something we're going to start doing more on our website going forward. More personalized engraving. We have all of the capabilities to do that.

What was your background coming into this?
I worked in the textile department at Calvin Klein and randomly found a job in product development with David Yurman. Then I decided to go to grad school for jewelry and metalsmithing and just finished my MFA at RISD last June. Phil and I started before I started school so I was doing both simultaneously. I learned how to be more self-critical, which is a big part of being a designer, being able to edit yourself and take criticism well.

What has been the biggest lesson you've learned as you've grown beyond Rhode Island?
I think one of the biggest things we learned this year is to follow our own vision and stick to what we believe the brand is, create that message, and stay focused.

With Valentine's Day around the corner, Kendra Phillip is offering 25% off to Racked readers through Friday, February 14, with the promo code RACKED.
· Kendra Phillip [Official Site]
· All Behind the Brand posts [Racked Boston]