When Torey Lehman moved to New York seven years ago, she was on the kitchen floor patterning and cutting garments trying to make a fashion house out of a studio apartment.
“I wanted to create something that wasn’t size exclusive. I wanted to make a highly inclusive product. I just wanted to do more so I branched off into accessories,” says the South Jersey native.
After graduating from the Art Institute of Philadelphia with her Bachelors in Fashion Design, Lehman secured a retail management role at 7 For All Mankind (7FAM), a denim luxury brand. She would work on her jewelry on the side and even receive support from the company up until 7FAM got purchased. Under new management, Lehman decided it was no longer the right fit for her.
Without any sponsors, the aspiring designer left to pursue Reigning Grey, a handcrafted modern jewelry line. With production in Williamsburg and Flatbush and photoshoots in Bushwick, Lehman keeps everything locally made and developed.
“I was able to get a lot done within a year. We launched five collections. We had pop-up events and worked in a showroom,” says Lehman.
One day, as Lehman walked by a bunch of her old jewelry, she thought about how she could rework donated, old or broken pieces and give it new life. Instead of outsourcing materials, she designed a concept where customers can send her jewelry they have laying around as well.
Although fashion is a major polluting industry, many companies are gradually becoming socially conscious. Reigning Grey Rework program gives donors a pre-paid shipping label, 20 percent off of their next purchase, and when reworked, a piece named after them. The concept allows people to proudly wear Reigning Grey, beautiful jewelry knowing their transformation stories from concept to celebrity photoshoot.
“We want it to be inclusive where you feel connected to it because it’s so special. The product is so small. It’s a small team. We’re in Brooklyn and we’re like trying to change the world so it’s like ‘why not do it all together?’,” says Lehman.
The inclusive and eco-friendly program constantly tests Lehman’s creativity with customers sending in glass, metal, and even rubber material. Rather than concepts, colors and materials are the key ingredients to what inspires the young jewelry designer.
“I haven’t seen products like ours. We’re creating unique and limited products. I try to collaborate as much as possible to make my business stand for more. It’s not just jewelry. I want Reigning Grey to be impactful,” says Lehman.
For Reigning Grey owner, Torey Lehman, the ups and downs of entrepreneurship are relentless, especially as a small business owner. There are times where financial issues occur and business opportunities fall through.
“If you want to do this, you’re going to piss off people and start sacrificing things. You have to be ready to work around everything because it comes at you pretty quick,” says Lehman.
Reigning Grey is currently expanding its business to Austin, TX and Philadelphia, PA with hopes to expand into Miami, Los Angeles, and Seattle. Lehman hopes her business is the vehicle to empower women and help communities all over the world one piece at a time. As a female entrepreneur, Lehman has made it her business to keep a tribe of women around her for support who own small businesses as well. Reigning Grey is apart of Female Founder Collective, a network of businesses led by women, supporting women.
In a time where entrepreneurship is romanticized, the Brooklyn-made jewelry designer advises aspiring entrepreneurs to keep their day job in the early stages of starting a business.
“In general if you want to start a business, work for other people for as long as you can because it’s cheaper and less heartbreaking. You’ll learn so much more on their dime,” says Lehman. As for aspiring jewelry designers, Lehman says getting a mentor is important. Terri Lindahl Castro of TLC Interiors has mentored Lehman since she was a mere nine-year-old.
Although fancy mood boards of her favorite designers are not what inspires her pieces, the Brooklyn-based jewelry designer still holds them in high regard. Lehman admires the tailoring and handwork of the late British fashion designer, Alexander McQueen, and jewelry designer, Pamela Love’s “bad-ass” production. When creating her own jewelry line, she envisioned women all over the world adding a pep in their step and keeping their head held high when wearing her line.
Reigning Grey’s jewelry has gracefully invaded the pages of Glamour and Afropolitain Magazine. Celebrities like “Soul Food” actor, Boris Kodjoe and “Pose” star Billy Porter have worn Reigning Grey’s “Bolo” necklace. Even Sarah Jessica Parker admits Lehman’s work is beautiful. However, the ultimate success for Reigning Grey doesn’t end with magazine placements or celebrity praise.
“I think I will always want to do more. But success to me would mean I have a fully functioning team who has healthcare, a work-life balance and passionate about the product. Success to me is running a profitable, very motivated team and having Reigning Grey be more than just a jewelry company, having it be impactful to communities,” says Lehman.
You can catch the latest pieces from Reigning Grey’s collection at Brooklyn Denim Co. (338 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11249).
If you want to join the Reigning Grey Rework program, New York residents can donate in person at the same location. Shop Brooklyn!
All images courtesy of Reigning Grey.
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