Just a couple months before Mia Tonelli and Rachel Widmark turned 24 in December, they launched a jewelry line, Fernweh Jewelry.
“Do we look 24?” Widmark asks me after they reluctantly admit their age to me at the beginning of our interview. “Yes… I just didn’t expect somebody who is 24 to launch a jewelry line,” I say.
“That’s what most people have given us, but what can we say?” Tonelli rejoiners. “Start young!”
In fact, Tonelli and Widmark started working on their company in their senior year at Virginia Commonwealth University. When they took first prize in a business competition with 60 other teams, they decided to get serious and launch something out in the real world. That, along with their passion for traveling and experience studying abroad, spurred them to start Fernweh Jewelry.
Fernweh means wanderlust in German, and the graphic, modern jewelry in earthy colors represents a nexus of the two young women’s interests.Widmark interned at the costume jewelry designer Vickisarge in London during college, where she got to deal with press, work in the store, and even make some jewelry. Mia studied in Doha, Qatar, where she worked with a community outreach program that dealt with labor workforce issues. She saw how migrant workers were arriving to Doha because they lacked opportunity at home.
“Rachel and I brainstormed on how we could create employment opportunities and we decided the best way to do that was through microfinance, and so we started this line,” Tonelli says.
For their inaugural 19.0000° N, 99.1333° W Collection, they focused on a small village in the San Felipe valley in Mexico, and are working with En Via, a non-profit organization committed to supporting social and community development through microfinance, responsible tourism, and education. En Via led them to Mireya Hernandez from Teotitlan, Oaxaca, an artisan who makes the tapetes featured in Fernweh Jewelry. She hand dyes the finest wool and cotton, which are hand-woven into her original designs.
The ceramic pieces are hand-crafted and hand-painted at Uriarte Talavera in Puebla, Mexico, a workshop which specializes in majolica talavera, decorated earthenware pottery with a thin, opaque, white glaze made using the traditional processes developed in the 16th century. Uriarte employs local Pueblan artisans whose families have passed down the skill of creating ceramics from generation to generation.
Both materials are then shipped to New York, where they are cast into bracelets, earrings, and necklaces, and packaged into 100% recyclable materials. All items are made to order. And 2.5% of each Fernweh sale is invested in En Via in a self-perpetuating cycle of business growth.
“Mexico is so close to home,”Widmark says. She grew up visiting it with her family. “It has either a bad reputation, or people just think of it as a vacation spot. They help our industry and economy so much, it’s nice to show their beautiful work.”