Monique Péan: Redefining What’s Most Valuable

Life can change in an instant. For Monique Péan, it was the death of her sister Vanessa in a tragic car accident. “She was 16 and amazing and full of life, so intelligent,”Péan said. “I had to really take a moment to think about what had happened and how I wanted to lead the rest of my life. I asked, ‘What does it means to lead a successful life?’” At the time, Péan was working as an analyst at Goldman Sachs. “For me, I realized it’s not just about the money,” explained Péan, “It’s about how you lead your life every day, and when you go, were you able to make this world a better place?”

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Monique Péan Courtesy of Amber De Vos

Péan left her job at Goldman Sachs to pursue her own jewelry line. She combined her passion for design, travel and philanthropy to establish Monique Péan, her eponymous fine jewelry line, in 2006 with a brand promise “to promote sustainability and social responsibility through wearable art.” Her sculptural, one-of-a-kind pieces made with unique materials such as fossilized dinosaur bone quickly took off, and in 2009 Péan was one of the recipients of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award and received Tiffany & Co.’s former CEO Michael Kowalski as her mentor.

Her first challenge was overcoming a profound grief. “It was actually very therapeutic to work with my hands,” said Péan. When she started designing in 2006 she reports that sustainability was not associated with luxury or the fine jewelry industry and she had to work to change the perception.

She also uses her company to help support causes she cares about. With her Drop of Water necklace collection she contributes 50% of proceeds to Charity: Water. For her Bering collection, inspired by native Alaskan artisans, she contributes 10% of proceeds to the Alaskan Native Arts Foundation. In addition, 100% of the proceeds of the MONIQUE PÉAN/Liya Kebede capsule collection benefit the Liya Kebede Foundation as well as 100% of proceeds of the capsule collection inspired by Walter De Maria’s Broken Kilometer benefit the Dia Art Foundation.

Her brand of socially conscious capitalism hits a responsive chord with her buyers. She commented, “Doing what’s right for the world actually comes back to benefit you as a business owner and as a business.”

Mona Lipson, 34, Director of Strategic Advancement and Corporate Citizenship for the Voss Foundation, which helps provide access to clean water in Africa and recently honored Péan, finds her contemporaries are looking to see exactly where their dollars are going both in their purchases and charitable giving. In an age of greenwashing, where corporations and organizations spend more time and money on marketing their claims to be environmentally conscious than actually doing the work, authenticity and accountability matter. ”This generation is looking for that genuine connection,” says Lipson. “It has to be true to what you believe in both from the corporate standpoint and the personal standpoint.”

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Thomsonite, brown fossilized dinosaur bone and tremolite arch bracelet

Many women are socially conscious fashion icons, and Péan’s fine jewelry has adorned such luminaries as Michelle Obama, Emma Watson, Natalie Portman and Lupita Nyong’o. If these are statement pieces, they convey the message we care about the journey of beautiful things, not just the destination. Péan commented, “Knowing that I’m using responsible materials and that they’re environmentally sound and supporting indigenous craft and design is important.” Péan pointed out that mining enough gold for a single wedding band produces 20 tons of waste. She melts down existing gold for her creations. You will find in her collections 18 carat recycled gold, fair-trade precious stones, and repurposed and conflict and devastation free diamonds.

Péan’s fine jewelry pieces range from $650 to $500,000, and each one is hand-made in New York. “Anything worthwhile in life is not easy,” commented Péan. “I work harder now than I ever did on Wall Street but I love it — to be able to do something that fulfills me every day and makes a difference. In the entrepreneurial spirit, when there’s a will there’s a way.”

And in a world of impermanence, Péan is looking for things that last. “I like making fine jewelry because I know it will never end up in a landfill,” said Péan, “These pieces will be cherished and passed down.” She also continues her philanthropic work as a founding board member of Beespace, a nonprofit incubator that helps to identify and launch the next generation of innovative non-profits and by founding the Vanessa Péan Foundation which raises funds to provide scholarships to underprivileged students in Haiti.

Her advice to others who want to create their own path to success: “Think through your goals before you embark upon a project. As an entrepreneur so many opportunities are presented and you can get lost. Keep site of what it is you want to achieve.”

Written by: Heather Buchanan

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