A Charleston couple have issued a public apology for a jewelry line that many have criticized as both tone deaf and exploitative.
According to Post and courier, Paul Chelmis and Jing Wen recently launched a jewelry collection called “Wear Their Names,” a version of the phrase “Say Their Names” that aims to bring more attention to victims of police brutality. Chelmis and Wen reportedly came up with the idea after watching the George Floyd protests on Facebook Live.
“I sort of saw it as a natural reaction,” Chelmis said of the riots that took place. “Like yeah, of course it’s the result of our inattention. Instead of focusing on how serious these people are ‘rioting’, we should be focusing on what we should be doing to prevent this from happening again at the future.”
After some discussion, Wen came up with the idea of “doing something beautiful with the rubble”; thus, the pair drove to downtown Charleston the next day and began picking up shards of glass from the riot sites. These pieces were then used to create earrings, bracelets and necklaces bearing the names of black people killed by the police: models included the Tamir (Rice), the Trayvon (Martin), the Eric (Garner ), the Elijah (McClain), and the Breonna (Taylor).
Launched as part of the couple’s Shan Shui nonprofit, the collection ranged from $45 to nearly $500, with all proceeds believed to be donated to Black Lives Matter. Despite insisting their intentions were pure, Chelmis and Wen were immediately slammed by social media users who accused them of trying to use the black death for commercial gain.
Following the criticism, Chelmis and Wen shut down Shan Shui’s website, deleted content from the nonprofit’s Instagram account, and issued an apology.
“Just want to say we’ve heard the community feedback loud and clear and we take it seriously. Sorry to anyone we’ve offended or hurt,” one read. online declaration. “While our intentions are pure and we consulted with a wide variety of people prior to launch, it is clear that there are issues with the approach we have taken. Although we only want to honor the names of the victims and tell their story, we now see that using those names was inappropriate and in poor taste. We both started this project from a place of creativity and good faith, with a sense of duty to do our share and to help the movement by providing funds and awareness – and through all the backlash we want to keep this duty in mind and move forward on the best path.”
The couple said they have closed the website and the project permanently, but will fulfill all orders placed before the move. They also told customers they would honor returns and refunds as they reevaluated what to do with profits.
“There seems to have been a lot of confusion around profits – some didn’t like the organization we had chosen, while others didn’t see that we were giving away 100% of our profits, and others thought even then that we were only doing it for credit,” the statement continued. “…We want to make things right. Thank you for holding us accountable. Nothing but respect for our community of activists. We’ve also been shouting in the streets. We’ll keep listening if anyone has any other ideas. . “