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Posted under: Business Editorial Desk

How A Detroit Jewelry Business Gives Disadvantaged Women A Second Chance

Rebel Nell's mission is about more than selling unique accessories.

When Azzie Caldwell was released from prison, she had never really worked a regular 9-to-5 before, but was eager to use her resources to make better choices and a better life for herself. While searching for something better, she worked a job that she said overworked her.

"I was in search of resources and never really had a regular job. Before, I was working the streets hustling," she says.

Azzie's sister was working with the company Rebel Nell, and asked several times if there were any openings. Rebel Nell is a jewelry business that goes beyond designing and selling accessories. The company employs disadvantaged women in Detroit while also educating them on financial management, life wellness and business and empowering them to successfully transition to an independent life.

Rebel Nell designers make jewelry using unique local materials. The company collects graffiti paint peeling away from the walls and buildings of Detroit to use in their designs, so no two pieces are the same.

Eventually, a position to be a jewelry designer for the company opened and Azzie decided to try something new in an effort to move forward in her life. Since starting with Rebel Nell, Azzie has been promoted to production manager.

"I had never designed jewelry but I wanted to try it," Azzie said. "Every day is different with Rebel Nell. We go through our materials and get orders prepared for the next weeks. What I really like is that we cut our own silver, and cut whatever shape or size and go with whatever creative feeling we have that day."

Photo: Rebel Nell
Photo: Rebel Nell

Co-founder Amy Peterson said she and her partner wanted to start a business that provided a sustainable product and made an effort to connect with the community. When she moved to Detroit pursuing a job opportunity 11 years ago, she lived next to a women's shelter and passed by it often while walking her dog. The name, she said is a tribute to trailblazer First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, whose nickname was "Little Nell."

"We currently work with seven women and partner with the COTS, the Coalition on Temporary Shelter, to help these women get back on their feet," says Amy.

In addition to providing stable employment, Rebel Nell provides a strong support system for the women—organizing financial literacy and management classes, empowerment classes and mentoring sessions. The company also launched the non-profit T.E.A. (Teaching. Empowering. Achieving), which is dedicated to upholding Rebel Nell's beliefs and working closely with their employees to further the objective of enhancing their lives.

Photo: Rebel Nell
Photo: Rebel Nell

"I love working at Rebel Nell because I can just be me and we're a family and we help each other," Azzie said. In the future, Azzie wants to own a food truck business and says she has a story to tell that will hopefully be published one day. Even with those big dreams, she will always be available to Rebel Nell when they need her because it's the best job she's ever had.

That family atmosphere and feeling of camaraderie is why Amy says they started Rebel Nell.

"We are working with these wonderful women who are a part of this community. We wanted to be a company that got to know our neighbors," Amy stated. "We take who we hire very seriously. Once you're in, you're deeply loved and that love continues after you leave Rebel Nell."


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Ray Evans is the Blavity weekend editor. She's a South Carolina native by way of Miami, FL, and a TV and social media junkie. You can often find her asleep in front of the TV or with her nose in a book.