Martine Ali Jewelry, LLC - Brooklyn, NY
From a childhood hobby to a full-time career, Chicago-born jewelry designer Martine Ali believes that true art is born out of an authentic experience, lifestyle, and unique process. Drawing inspiration from the “utility” of New York City, such as subway chains and delivery bikes, Martine is working to redefine the jewelry industry and break down the antiquated rules and gender norms within it.
Martine developed a passion for jewelry at a young age when her babysitter brought her to the bead counter at a craft store. By the age of 12, Martine’s hobby transitioned into a business with her mother hosting trunk shows where Martine would sell her jewelry to her mother’s friends and coworkers.
Martine moved to New York City and began interning at DKNY where she would often wear her homemade jewelry around the office. She was approached by a DKNY fashion editor who was intrigued by her jewelry, and shortly after, Martine was hired to design and produce the jewelry for the DKNY runway shows.
In 2010, after five years of working at DKNY, Martine launched her eponymous label to gain a sense of ownership over her ideas and concepts. “I knew I would never feel completely fulfilled handing over my designs to others. This was the main reason why I felt that being an entrepreneur was my only option,” says Martine. Inspired by 90’s hip hop culture and the industrial environment around her, Martine quickly developed a unique and signature aesthetic, defined by her chunky yet sleek, modular and utilitarian handmade silver products.
Since launching her business, Martine has taken the jewelry industry by storm, designing for and collaborating with some of the biggest names in music, such as Kendrick Lamar, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and many more. Equally as impressive is the global reach of her business, which in the past few years has started selling to stores in Japan and Europe, as well as influential stores such as Opening Ceremony and Kith.
Instrumental to Martine’s success is her philosophy that each of her pieces should be accessible to anyone regardless of their gender. “I opened my business at a time when there were still a lot of rigid rules for designers. For instance, the fashion industry had become more androgynous, but the jewelry industry was still very binary,” says Martine. Wishing to break down these barriers, Martine created a brand that serves to highlight the identity and style of the wearer, rather than reinforcing particular gender stereotypes. Today, Martine sells her pieces in both women and men’s clothing stores and has redefined the industry by making genderless jewelry an emerging trend.
Of course, like all small business owners, Martine and her business have had to overcome their fair share of challenges. As a female business owner, Martine has encountered sexism from fellow designers, store owners, stylists and clients, but has always risen above it by not letting it disparage her business, stifle her creativity, or hinder her passion.
In addition to the challenges that come with being a female business owner, Martine has also faced her own personal and financial challenges. Four years ago, Martine lost her mother which left her in a critical financial situation. This affected her personal credit and made it hard for her to qualify for a loan through traditional financing. Even as her business grew, Martine knew she needed to expand her knowledge on how to properly manage and track her finances if she wanted to stay on track for success.
To combat these issues, Martine sought out the help of an accountant, who recommended that she reach out to Excelsior Growth Fund (EGF) for help. Within a couple of weeks, Martine received a $50,000 SBA Microloan from EGF, and has since used her loan to purchase more materials to keep up with her products’ growing demand. EGF also connected Martine to a QuickBooks instructor who works one-on-one with her each week, free of charge, to help her organize her finances and overcome her financial management challenges.
With her loan and newfound business knowledge, Martine’s long-term goal is to open up a space that acts as both her studio and retail store. Her concept is simple: to establish a business that merges her creative process with the customer experience. “I want to create a tangible physical brand as well as an aesthetic,” says Martine. “I want my customers to understand who’s making the pieces and how they are made.” By doing so, Martine hopes to create a context and story for her brand that centers on creativity, design, and the merging of different thoughts and ideas.
EGF is proud to work with Martine and is excited to see how her business continues to revolutionize the jewelry industry.