Welcome to our latest conversation with yet another accomplished Georgetown alumni entrepreneur. In a school known for politics and government, we are excited to highlight the incredible achievements and work of so many Hoyas around the world in so many different fields. Whether they have created successful household name businesses or are using entrepreneurship to tackle pressing social issues, Georgetown entrepreneurs are expanding on what it means to be a Hoya. For our latest piece we are honored to speak with Kara Ross, the founder and designer of her fine jewelry line, Kara Ross. Having had an incredible career as a designer Kara has recently started her latest venture Diamonds Unleashed, a non-profit dedicated to "inspiring women’s self-worth and create educational opportunities for girls." It goes without saying that Kara is the embodiment of the Jesuit ideals of Georgetown and someone we can all look to for inspiration.
1. You have had an amazing career as a jewelry designer. You've been named as Fashion Group International's Rising Star for accessories, were pronounced the Design Award Winner by the Women’s Jewelry Association in 2012, were asked to create a collection for the White House and have been worn by numerous celebrities including Anne Hathaway, Kate Hudson, Alicia Keys, Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama. What's been your proudest moment and/or biggest accomplishment?
The launch of Diamonds Unleashed is my proudest moment. Having the opportunity to create an organization that can make a difference in the life of girls and women around the world is amazing. The Diamonds Unleashed movement includes a collection of products including fine jewelry, engagement rings, apparel and accessories; charitable partners that focus on educating girls; an event/salon series in major cities around the world and a powerful network of influential ambassadors who are in solidarity with our project’s mission.
The Diamonds Unleashed logo is a symbol of women’s empowerment. The logo expresses the shared qualities of the diamond and women - strong, multi-faceted and brilliant. We believe this symbol will become as well known as the peace sign or cancer awareness ribbons.
2. You made your first piece of jewelry from a stone you found while on Safari with your family. What drew you to jewelry and how did you get your start in the jewelry world?
My mother had always designed her own jewelry, so the concept of designing jewelry was always there. When I was around 14, we went on Safari and brought back two green tourmaline stones. Upon returning to Philadelphia, my mother took me to Jeweler’s Row where I worked with a bench jeweler to design a square cut ring on an 18 karat gold band with diamonds. Creating something wholly original at a young age really affected me and has guided my vision as a designer. Growing up I always thought I wanted to get into magazine publishing. After college, I worked at Harpers Bazaar. I spent some time thinking about what was I going to do; I contemplated getting another job at a magazine. It would’ve been easy, but I decided to go for my dreams because if not now, when? So I left and I went to GIA, the most renowned gem laboratory in the world. Frankly, I thought it was going to be easy but it was very challenging. However, I soaked it in and I really loved it. After graduating, I went to work at one of the largest pearl companies. I did that for a year and then I began meeting and forming relationships with diamond cutters and dealers. After that I began designing engagement rings, I did so many I can’t even count. You just have to be open to every experience.
3. You currently run a non-profit called Diamond's Unleashed which is to promote women's empowerment. What kind of work does your organization do?
Diamonds Unleashed is a for-profit company with a social mission. The mission of Diamonds Unleashed is to inspire women’s self-worth and create educational opportunities for girls. We do those things through a Salon Series, Product Collections and Ambassador Network. Diamonds Unleashed donates 100% of the net profits to organizations that provide educational scholarships for girls in low-income areas.
We are also now launching a micro-finance program in South Africa and will expand to India in 2017. Our first project is a capsule collection with women from two townships based in Capetown, South Africa. We custom printed the Diamonds Unleashed symbol on traditional South African fabric called Shwe Shwe, which was then made into beautiful baby and children’s clothing. We are bringing a beautiful, desirable product to market, and at the same time we are keeping women in South Africa employed and spreading the symbol for women's empowerment.
4. What was it like to be asked to create pieces for the Michele Obama and the White House?
As an independent jewelry designer, my proudest moment was designing pieces for Michelle Obama and the White House. I designed gifts for visiting heads of state from the wood of a magnolia tree from the White House lawn that was originally planted by Andrew Jackson. It has been truly rewarding and awe-inspiring to work from something with that history.
5. You were classmates with Tory Burch in high school. Did you ever imagine you would both be successful designers in the fashion world? Do you two share inspirations and advice?
I don’t think either of us had the forethought of where we would be now, but I can say that we were both confident, ambitious and not afraid to take chances. We are also the product of an all-female secondary education, which I think gave us opportunities to be leaders at a time when young women did not have the same opportunities for leadership that they do now which gave us both a really strong foundation to build upon.
6. You recently served on the Georgetown University board of directors. What were some of the initiatives you were working on and what excites you about the future of the university?
There is so much to be excited for with the future of the University, it is so hard to pick one. I feel like my biggest role is to be a good Georgetown ambassador and help spread the word about what an amazing place it is. And also be an example of a successful graduate who wants to give back and take the lessons I learned from school with me and share them with others.
7. Speaking of Georgetown, what are some of your fondest memories on the Hilltop and what was your favorite class?
My favorite class was at the National Gallery of Art and was taught by a curator. I minored in art history and have a passion for art and collecting it. This foundation has also served me well in my career as a jewelry designer.
My fondest memories of my time at Georgetown were not only the great education I received, but the lifelong friendships I built there. I have an incredible group of female friends from Georgetown who all possess the qualities I see in the diamond - they are strong, multi-faceted and brilliant.
8. What do the next several years hold for your brand?
Growth, expansion and collaboration. We are expanding our salon series to more cities and heading to London in 2017. Our network of ambassadors continues to grow - we have about 400 rock star women (and a few men) who believe in our mission and support us by spreading the word about Diamonds Unleashed, some of the women on board are Sallie Krawcheck, Melanne Verveer, Melissa Etheridge, Skylar Diggins and Serena Williams. We are collaborating with different brands, in fact, we are designing a jewelry collection with Serena Williams that will debut during New York Fashion Week in September.
9. Lastly, how do you feel about Georgetown's upcoming basketball season? Final Four or national champions?
I had the privilege of being at Georgetown during the glory days of the 80s - so my vote is definitely National Champions!