Issue 31 / Globally Chic Jewelry Designer Rosena Sammi's Red Light Mission

Globally Chic Jewelry Designer Rosena Sammi’s Red Light Mission

Jan 06, 2016

Jewelry designer Rosena Sammi's latest collection holds plenty of heart with the focus of helping children from India's red light district. 

Since launching in 2006, this New York-based lawyer-turned-designer of Sri Lankan heritage has made quite the mark. Rosena Sammi was named a "designer to know" by Harper's Bazaar, has appeared on CNN, and Vogue, Marie Claire, and InStyle have featured her glamorous pieces. She also has a large celeberity fanbase and Rihanna, Jessica Simpson, Blake Lively, Miley Cyrus, Jessica Alba, Naomi Watts and Hilary Duff have worn the designer’s jewelry.

From celebrities to leading department stores such as Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, you’d think the stylista would be sitting content, but the desire to do something with a bigger purpose, “to affect change for women," has prompted the founder to create her newest collection of fashion accessories called Who’s Sari Now. The collection is a collaboration with Apne Aap, the women’s registered charitable trust in India that works tirelessly to end sex trafficking while educating women on empowerment.

Children from Aapna Aap.
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We chatted with the designer to ask her about her passion project and her journey from luxe designs to this latest eco-friendly collection, made from upcycled Indian saris.
What was the turning point that made you switch careers paths, going from corporate to becoming an entrepreneur?

I didn’t have an “a-ha moment." I enjoyed practicing corporate law, but ultimately I wanted to find a career where I could indulge my creativity, be challenged and navigate the work/life juggle a little easier.
What were the biggest challenges you faced?

There were many. I was entering a field where I knew no one and had zero experience. If I wanted a challenge, I had found it! It was a difficult and often lonely road with a steep learning curve, but working in the corporate world for almost a decade had provided me with the tools and skill set to figure it out (albeit with a number of missteps along the way).
How important is it to you to showcase Indian artisanship in your collections?

It’s critical. Translating traditional Indian artisanship into something modern and wearable defines the design ethos of Rosena Sammi Jewelry.  You will find Indian traditions in the spirit of all I design.
In your own words how would you describe your sense of style?

My goal is always "effortless chic," but that’s a lot harder than it sounds! I would say my look is very simple and classic, but with embellishments of sparkle and shine (often care of some bold jewelry).
Do you find being a designer more rewarding than being a lawyer?

Both are rewarding careers. The difference is perhaps that I feel the rewards more personally as a designer. There’s nothing better than seeing someone wearing my designs; it’s such a thrill and compliment.
You’ve been branded "the designer to know" by Harper’s Bazaar, do you find yourself concerned about keeping up appearances, or does it not phase your creative process?

I don’t think about that at all. If you lived to “keep up appearances” you’d be pretty unhappy.
You’ve had quite the celeb fan base over the years from Rihanna to Naomi Watts, who out of the list do you feel would be the best person to rep your brand as brand ambassador?

Rihanna has a magnificent sense of style and an ability to continue to surprise us. I admire that and would love to see her in more of my jewelry.
How did the idea of Who’s Sari Now come about?

I was working on a new collection exploring different materials and textures. That led me to the idea of fabrics and saris. I was also eager to do something with a purpose. Who’s Sari Now? enabled me to do something eco-friendly and beautiful, that also changed lives. I met Ruchira Gupta of Apne Aap and it was a perfect match. Apne Aap rescues women and children from the red light districts of India. My collection gave work to these women, who assist me in making many of the pieces, and 20 to 25 per cent of the sales go towards educating children rescued from these brothels.

Sari Bracelets starting from $45 US.
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Creating jewelry and décor pieces from saris isn’t a unique concept, how does your collection stand out from others? 

My designs are more fresh and on point trend wise. They use traditional saris but the look is very current.
You must need a hefty amount of upcycled sari’s to work with, where do you source them from?

It’s not easy! The saris are seconds from factories and workshops where they have been rejected as flawed.
How has the creative process been?

It’s wonderful. The saris inspire me. The motifs and textures are wonderful to play with. It’s a nice change from stones and metals.

This Nivi Necklace at $79 US pays for one week of school.
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What are your personal faves from the collection?

The Kumari Bangles were one of the original designs and I love the way the gold thread accents the colours of the saris. They are very chic. Of the newer additions, the Nivi Necklace is a favourite. I love to layer them; I never wear just one.

These Kumari Bangles at $55 US pay for for one week of school.
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You’ve been quoted as saying, “I have a deep desire to affect change for women.” Do you feel your new collection has accomplished this?

It’s a lofty goal and it will take time, but I’m thrilled with the results to date of Who’s Sari Now? Or, to put it another way, when Gloria Steinem put the bangles on and did a promo for the collection, I knew I was doing something right. 
And have you seen any results as of yet?

Absolutely, just hearing the feedback from the women of Apne Aap assisting me in making the jewelry has been so rewarding. The collection has given them a job, but more importantly a sense of purpose and self worth.
How has the experience of partnering up with the Apne Aap been?

The whole experience has been incredibly gratifying. I love learning the stories of the survivors and I look forward to visiting them soon.
Knowing the ideology and thought process behind the line, what’s the most important thing you’d like readers to take away from the Who’s Sari Now collection?

How easy it is to affect change and do good. In this instance you can do all of the above and look beautiful at the same time.
And lastly, what advice would you give any budding jewelry designers out there?

Be prepared to work very hard!

Main Image Photo Credit:

Monika Bhondy


Monika Bhondy (@monikabhondy) is one of the original editors at ANOKHI. She wore many hats through the developmental years including creating the first Holiday Gift Guide as The Style Editor, putting down the first building blocks of ANOKHI's global blog community, handling the video department and ...


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