Buying a beautiful piece of jewelry can make you feel good, but buying one that helps to give back can make you feel even better. That is the idea behind NYC-based jewelry company AUrate.
Founded in 2014 by former graduate school classmates Sophie Kahn, who works with Marc Jacobs, and Bouchra Ezzahraoui, AUrate wanted to apply a direct-to-consumer (think Warby Parker meets Everlane) model to the high-end jewelry industry. And for every item sold, they donate a book to an NYC child in need. We talked with the duo about how they work, play and make a difference.
How does this jewelry line differ from others?
Sophie Kahn: No one else can match our mix of price and quality. Because of our direct-to-consumer, online-only model, we can offer the same to better quality as other brands for less than half the price. For instance, we sell an 18K white gold ring with more than 0.5 carats of white diamonds (clarity SI) for under $1,000. You cannot find that anywhere else. And remember, this low price is by skimping on manufacturing practices. Everything is produced in NYC, and we did our due diligence to ensure a sustainable and ethical product chain. Our diamonds are only sourced from non-conflict regions and our metals are sourced in accordance with the highest standard of social, environmental and human rights practices. We get this price difference purely because we sell online.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
BE: My workday usually starts at 7 a.m. and I am done around 12, 13 hours later. I live by the rule: “I like what I do, and I try to only do what I like.” You become better at your job and the hours go by so quickly when this is the case. Exercise has become a bit more systematic lately and I also do some meditation, which I think is the perfect exercise for your brain. My life is pretty much focused on work, family and close friends. It is always fun to do more of what makes you happy; I just wish days were longer!
What do you eat on a typical workday?
SK: I try to eat relatively healthy, since it makes me feel so much better. Granola and fruit for breakfast, a salad for lunch, and sushi or some other type of fish for dinner, then maybe a juice and chocolate in between (and a lot of decaf coffee).
BE: Growing up between Morocco and France, I was very spoiled with what I like to call a Mediterranean diet. I will have a chocolate croissant for breakfast; fruit and some nuts between meals. My lunch is usually a tasty chicken or fish plate, and I will have something lighter for dinner unless I go to one of my favorite restaurants.
Where do you like to dine out?
SK: So many options here in New York, but we mostly love the options near where I live in Noho: Il Buco (amazing Italian), Cafe Gitane (classic for breakfast), Standard East (nice for drinks and love their garden).
BE: I would add Café Cluny and Buvette if you’re looking for a French touch, and L’Artusi serves delicious Italian small dishes. Also, Laughing Man in Tribeca makes my favorite flat white coffee, and Acme is usually a good spot for after-work drinks.
What's usually in your fridge?
SK: I always have a lot of fruit, since it’s so easy to snack on and doesn’t spoil too quickly. For the rest, it really depends on how busy I am. There are sadly some times when my fridge is empty for a long time.
BE: My survival kit includes yogurt, fruit, hummus and some sorbet. My mom usually sends me Moroccan sweets that are mainly almond- and nut-based, and they make my fridge and friends very happy for a few days.
What is your typical style for a day on the job?
SK: It really depends on my mood. The nice thing about working in fashion is that you can dress how you feel; you’re not confined to certain suits and codes like in other industries. Sometimes ripped jeans, sometimes a flower dress and sometimes a more business-style polish with a blazer.
BE: I go for minimalist looks that match perfectly with AUrate’s jewelry, like clean cuts and silk textures for my tops. I can match an oversize shirt with a skirt and high-wasted pants can be fun with a white top and a blazer. I stay loyal to my favorite black and white pieces.
What is your advice for any young women looking to start their own companies, especially if they have a full-time job already?
SK: First of all, I think it requires a lot of discipline. You need to mentally split the two. When you’re at your day job, focus and be efficient. Then in the mornings, at night and on the weekends, dedicate your full attention to your other company. Secondly, I would recommend getting help. Interns or even hiring somebody can go a long way. You will need to manage and delegate, understanding your own strengths and where you can outsource. Finally, having the support network of a [business] partner, close friends or family helps. I am a very social person and could not have done what I did without the backing of Bouchra and my closest friends and family. They help you go through the tough times. We’ve laughed and cried together—sharing something makes it so much more sustainable and enjoyable.
BE: Also, just go for it! Sophie and I used a few combinations of “Just do it” in most of our passwords our first year. You will end up realizing that “doing” will help you more than the endless brainstorming sessions. Do not be afraid of making mistakes: We were raised to aim for the perfect A+, but you only learn from your mistakes.
Then, for Sophie, what are some of the most helpful things you have learned while working at Marc Jacobs or from Marc himself?
SK: Two things. First, how to mix creativity with business. In fashion houses, you will have creative geniuses and financial intellects, and everything in between that spectrum. They all need to work together to create something that is successful from all angles. That interaction is fascinating and the key to accomplishment. Second, how important it is to build the entire spectrum of a brand. Everything impacts a brand image, from the product (most obvious), to the social media, to the music in the retail stores, to the drink you may get served at an event, down to the hashtag. The best brands make all these touchpoints speak the same language and send one consistent message.
Where would you like to see this company in a few years?
SK: It's my dream that someone who is looking to buy a nice piece of jewelry for themselves would think of us in the same way they now might think about Cartier or Tiffany’s, because they know that AUrate is smarter gold (in the sense that they pay less and help give back).
BE: I envision AUrate setting the trend for the contemporary jewelry market. But the other side of the equation is talent. I would like the business to attract great employees who will enjoy the combination of the strategy and creative we have at AUrate.