By Hannah Lachow
The Forbes 2016 “30 Under 30” series recognized the talent of many impressive individuals. Among the numerous categories, commendation was awarded to those including the co-creators of Snapchat, Selena Gomez, Lena Dunham and one impressive Mamaroneck High School graduate.
Jessica Hendricks ’06 made the list this year for her achieve- ments in retail and commerce. After moving from Paris to Larchmont, Hendricks’s mother opened up Peridot, a jewelry store in the heart of Larchmont. Hendricks, like many Mamaroneck High School students, took Advanced Placement American History with Mr. Goldberg, questioned the importance of SATs and college applications and found solace in PACE. She then attended the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University to explore her interest in theatre. While attending Tisch, Hendricks traveled to Cambodia to teach English. This stay inspired her to combine her love- for artistic design, storytelling, and philanthropy to create The Brave Collection, a company for which talented Cambodian mothers from underprivileged backgrounds create handmade jewelry. The signature bracelet spells “Brave” in Khmer, the official language of Cambodia. In addition to the recognition by Forbes, The Brave Collection has also been supported by Olivia Wilde, Tory Burch, Donna Karan, Sara Bareilles and MSNBC.
The Globe interviewed Hendricks about her achievements and her Mamaroneck roots.
How does it feel to be selectedfor Forbes “30 Under 30” List?
It’s a total honor, and one that I am very excited about! On a personal level, for me it really proves that being outside the box and pioneering your own path can lead to wonderful things, and it reminds me to not be afraid to continue to take risks.
How do you think Mamaroneck High School helped you get to where you are?
I feel very blessed to have gone to MHS, because it’s a school where you are surrounded by incredibly bright, talented students with big dreams and career goals, and so many teachers and mentors who want to see you succeed. I remember sometimes feeling like our community put too much pressure on us around SATs and college applications in particular, and that may be true, but today I feel so grateful that I was taught to believe I could achieve anything I set my mind to, and given the encouragement and positive peer pressure to work hard and kick down the roadblocks to build a career for myself.
What classes at Mamaroneck High School did you take that influenced The Brave Collection?
I remember Mr. Queen’s class being an incredible space to explore and find our creative voices. I remember Mr. Goldberg’s AP American being so fascinating and incredibly challenging, which really prepared me for my collegiate course load at NYU, and the work I do today managing clients and overseas production. The incredible PACE program helped me hone my skills in public speaking which I use constantly. God bless my math teachers and their saint- like patience with my creative brain – for those of you who are as terrible at math as I was, there is hope for you yet, hang in there!
What advice do you have for students who, like you, have multiple interests they want to pursue?
Explore as much as you can while you are still a student! There are so many incredible opportunities you have when you are young to travel, and to learn from masters – soak it up. In this day and age your interests are not mutually exclusive – you can find a way to utilize several passions and skill sets into the modern workplace. At the same time, I think it can be really wonderful to not just dabble, but ultimately find something you can really commit to. I was in love with theater growing up and took classes starting at age 8 with the Play Group Theater in White Plains – this consistent commitment through my teenage years afforded me the opportunity to go to Tisch and work with incredible actors and directors at the height of their careers. If you can remain committed to what you love and open to new things you might hate, you’re golden.
Did you always know you wanted to go into design and philanthropy?
No, I wanted to be an actress from a young age. I majored in drama at Tisch. I have always loved storytelling, and pushing people just a little bit outside of their comfort zones in order to make them think and feel moments and ideas that might otherwise pass them by. When I traveled to Cambodia and learned about both the beautiful strength and horrific hardships of its people, I knew that this was the story I wanted to tell, and fashion ended up being a better medium than film.
How did you come up with the idea for The Brave Collection?
I taught English in Thailand during my time at NYU, and decided to extend my trip to visit Cambodia. I fell in love with the warmth and spirituality of the Buddhist people, and was shocked to the core to learn that in the 1970s genocide, 1/3 of the population was killed, along with 90% of the artisan community. While in Cambodia I also saw an unfamiliar sight: girls my age and younger, lined up in front of bars and restaurants as items for sale. I learned that human trafficking was a billion dollar global business, affecting millions around the world. I launched Brave to create an approachable way to discuss this difficult subject, and spread awareness that could ignite change, as well as an affordable way for people to connect and give back.
Once you did come up with the idea, how did you go about executing it?
The incredible thing about being a young entrepreneur today, is that with the world at our fingertips through the internet and social media, you’re able to execute and grow a venture with very little initial capital if you’re telling a story that people are interested in hearing. I launched our simple website with 6 different styles in 2012, and today we have over 53 SKUs, sell to over 100 retailers, and have been supported by Glamour, Vogue, Olivia Wilde and Tory Burch. We’ve never had a professional PR team or full time Salesperson – the success we have is the result of hours and hours of uncompromising hard work!
Who are the artisans and how did you meet them?
The Brave Collection is a line of jewelry handmade in Cambodia to support local artisans and fight human trafficking. Our signature bracelet spells “Brave” in the Cambodian alphabet. All of our artisans receive above average wages, and work in a free and fair work environment with benefits like health insurance and stipends for their children’s education – a far cry from the hundreds of sweatshops in Southeast Asia. 10% of our profits are donated to empower girls against human trafficking.
What do you think it is about The Brave Collection that has struck a chord with so many women?
I think there is something very powerful about gifting a piece of “Bravery” to someone to wear on her wrist and look to for strength. My mother owns Peridot Fine Jewelry in Larchmont and is constantly telling me such beautiful personal stories that her clients share with her about who they are buying a Brave Bracelet for and why. The bracelets make for a great gift to celebrate a courageous moment, or offer support when courage is needed. The Collection also resonates with people who want to give back and want to feel connected to our global community but aren’t sure how.
What is a typical day of yours at work like?
There are really is no typical day, one day I’ll be at the White House listening to a speech from Obama encouraging the nation to support emerging global entrepreneurs, and the next I’ll be working from home for the day in my yoga pants to crank out eight hours of emails without any interruption! I really have to keep the momentum strong and even because the challenges and opportunities are constantly changing.
Photo courtesy of thebravecollection.com