While studying political science at the University of Pennsylvania, jewelry designer Jameel Mohammed was sending emails to Vogue from his friend's college futon. "You don't really expect they are going to email you back, and when they do it’s kind of disorienting," he says. The founder of luxury jewelry brand KHIRY confesses over the phone that he never anticipated his brand to go as far as it did. Though, by the looks of it, KHIRY is about to get even bigger. The New York-based Afro-futurism jewelry line, known for its sleek, minimalist pieces made of semi-precious and precious stones, was recently pictured on Kylie Jenner via Instagram (and has already garnered a cool almost-nine-million likes).
Fashion has always been an interest for Mohammed; in high school he interned for designers including Nicole Miller and Narciso Rodriguez, and for a senior project he crafted a collection of garments and necklaces made from rope. "Even before going to Penn, I had a clear determination to work in fashion," he says.
Mohammed built KHIRY with a sense of purpose, "I used to say it's a luxury jewelry line inspired by African diaspora," Mohammed notes, adding that he now conveys it as an Afro-futurist luxury brand. "What Afro-futurism means to me and how it informs my brand is taking, looking at, and examining cultural references from throughout the diaspora through a lens of what the future will look like for Black people and for the world."
Before entering his second year at Penn, Mohammed reflected heavily on the tragic deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in August, 2014, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York in July, 2014. When Mohammed went back to campus that fall, he felt a sense of urgency to communicate a new possibility to the world through KHIRY, a similar feeling he found among other young Black artists at the time.
"I watched the protests and the resulting media coverage, and noted the focus on looting and the reductive framing of legitimate political actions and intentions," the designer says. "I realized that, as a Black artist and designer working in the fashion industry, I would be contributing to the creation of images that would inevitably reflect and reinforce values that would resonate with larger political issues and struggles." Mohammed says he felt responsible to use this position to create a different vision than the perspective that was being centered in most mainstream outlets. It was at the moment that he decided that he wanted KHIRY to contribute new images and ideas about the diaspora through fashion.
During a school trip to Japan, he had a conversation with the leader of a "large French-owned luxury conglomerate" who told Mohammed that luxury brands are only born in Milan and Paris. "I realized that the dismissal of the cultural practices of the entire non-Parisian and Milanese world as being insufficiently advanced as to generate 'authentic' luxury products, cohered so well with the general belief in European cultural superiority," Mohammed explains. The jewelry designer says the attitude behind the comment (which happened as they were seated in the middle of Tokyo, a culturally wealthy global capital) reminded him of the ideologies of colonial governments Mohammed studied while at Penn.
"But moreover, it showed me that there must be an audience of people who would feel similarly alienated, and that those at the very top ... had no insight into [the estranged individuals'] world view, but that I did, and that I could offer something just as culturally grounded that would resonate with them as an alternative," Mohammed says. The designer returned home opportunity to launch KHIRY.
Mohammed began to sketch, and from his work he started to "assort a collection based on a theme I feel is pressing and relevant, and has a lot of different ways it can be interpreted," he explains. The sketches then became 3D samples which he had produced in the Jewelry District in Manhattan. "I started posting them on my personal Instagram and tagging stylists," he says. "It became clear, based on the response, that people were into it, and I needed to find a way to make it more formal." In spring 2016, he launched a Kickstarter campaign in which he raised $25,000 in less than a month and was finally able to get his business up and running.
Egyptian wall paintings, Arabic calligraphy and sculpture, and architecture from Nigeria and throughout the African continent all serve as references for the designer's work, which he says "works toward a theory of a Black or African diasporic aesthetic, first thinking about elements of visual culture that are in the diaspora environments throughout the world; architecture, functional and decorative objects."
For instance, the brand's Mask Pendant is inspired by features that were historically important in masks throughout West Africa. And the Khartoum Ring, the brand's best-seller, is influenced by the curve of big horned cattle, "a store of value among the nomadic Dinka people of Sudan." These material designs allude to the rich historical and cultural values and their interpretation is both a means of confirming shared origins and creating a vision of a common future.
Since KHIRY's inception, Mohammed has taken a slower approach to the fashion cycle, having released just two collections over four years. But the luxury jewelry line has still garnered significant attention from prominent celebrities. For instance, Serena Williams wore the Adisa Drop earrings for her cover on Teen Vogue in 2018, Alicia Keys sported some of the designer's jewels at the Gordon Parks Foundation Gala in 2019, and Yara Shahidi wore the Adisa Drops at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards in 2019. Oh, and Solange Knowles is also known to be a fan of the brand as she's frequently spotted in it.
KHIRY's jewelry is made with materials including 18-karat gold vermeil and sterling silver, utilizing stones including rose quartz and tiger eye. Using both precious and semi-precious stones, ranging from $295 to $1250, Mohammed says its Khartoum Ring Nude, $295, is KHIRY's signature piece. "It's been the go-to entry point for a lot of folks in terms of purchasing." In its lineup of 15 pieces currently available online, other offerings include the sleek Khartoum Hoops Nude, Isha Hoops with Rose Quartz, and the aforementioned Mask Pendant.
Looking to the future, Mohammed aspires to extend KHIRY's product assortment to feature additional accessory categories, fine jewelry, and apparel. As he works on the next line he explains, "as an entrepreneur with a small company, I spend my time running every aspect of the business from sales to logistics, production and press." Successfully running a small business is no small feat, but Mohammed's determination to work in a slower, more thoughtful way has allowed his pieces time to stay in the spotlight.
While you're waiting for the next collection to drop, below shop some of the gorgeous pieces the brand has to offer.
We only include products that have been independently selected by The Zoe Report's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.