Two sisters who grew up in Glenwood Springs and are launching a jewelry design business in California have come up with a way to honor fallen soldiers and military veterans with a unique line of necklace pendants using empty bullet casings.
“We never knew that the end of a life could be the beginning of a new one,” Samantha Kennedy said of the death four years ago of her veteran grandfather, Harold Gelman. Friday was the anniversary of his passing.
But when she and her younger sister, Tess, heard the 21-gun salute at Gelman’s funeral honoring his military service as an Army Air Corps pilot in World War II, it sparked an idea and prompted a move to Southern California where they had spent much of their childhood visiting their grandparents.
“It was the catalyst and inspiration for preserving his legacy, and that an empty bullet casing could actually become so full of life,” Samantha Kennedy said.
With that, the Glenwood Springs High School and University of Colorado-Boulder graduate moved to California where her grandmother, Claire Gelman, still lives and started making intricate, hand-carved pendants using real bullet casings.
“It was totally by accident,” she said of her discovery that she could wrap wire around a bullet casing and add some gems to make a pendant. “People started noticing the one I made for myself and were asking about it, so I kept working on it and making it better.”
That was the beginning of “Shield & Honor,” the line of jewelry the Kennedy sisters are working to market on a broader scale.
Each piece is now designed and manufactured at a full production facility in California using 18-karat gold and sterling silver; symbols meant “to inspire and honor those that touch all of our lives,” Samantha said.
“On a deeper level, the line represents a physical manifestation of all of the triumphs, difficulties, inspirations and ambitions that have accompanied us on this journey so far,” she commented in a trade publication article written by publicist Megan Page.
A portion of the proceeds from each piece is also donated to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund to help support veterans, war heroes and their families.
“Since Memorial Day is a day on which those who died in active military service are remembered, we thought it fitting to tell people back home what we’re doing,” she said.
Sister Tess, who is also a GSHS grad and recently graduated from Colorado State University, joined Samantha in California to help with marketing.
The Kennedys have now launched a “crowdfunding” campaign on the Seedkicks website to support their jewelry line, and to raise money to be part of an elite fashion trade show that will showcase their work in front of major retail buyers.
Their goal is to raise $6,000 by June 7 in order to be able to enter the exhibit. As of last week, they were about halfway to their goal.
In the past year, Shield & Honor has exhibited at two trade shows for emerging designers, and has earned mentions on various fashion websites as well as InStyle Magazine, the online fashion community SocialBliss and online retailer RedEnvelope.
Locally, the Kennedy’s jewelry pieces can also be found at Posh and Elizabeth Dean boutiques in Glenwood Springs.
“We do want to reach the next level, which is why this trade show is so important,” Samantha said. “Unless we have the right eyes on it, it doesn’t matter. You can have the most beautiful project in world, but it won’t go very far if no one sees it.
“Ultimately, our goal is to get into the big major department stores,” she said.
She added that the crowdfunding approach, using online resources to raise awareness and money for a marketing project, has proven successful.
“People like our story and like sharing it, which is how it works,” she said. “It’s one of the best ways to fund a startup business. One person has an incentive to help in a small way, and that just grows exponentially.”
Their fundraising goal of $6,000 will get them into their first major fashion trade show, while $10,000 would fund the first full round of production, and $20,000 would allow them to design and create the next line of jewelry.
To learn more about the Shield & Honor project and to help the Kennedys reach their fundraising goals, visit Shield & Honor’s Seedkicks page at www.seedkicks.com/P5538/support-shield-honor.
“People started noticing the one I made for myself and were asking about it, so I kept working on it and making it better.”