Celebrity Jewelry Designer Porter Wages Kickstarter Campaign To Help Florida Oystermen
Porter Lyons’ designer Ashley Porter
Jessica Alba, Gabrielle Union, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lawrence, Kerry Washington and Taylor Swift have all worn New Orleans jewelry designer Ashley Porter’s creations. Featured in Elle and W Magazine, Porter’s jewelry, accessories and lifestyle brand seems far removed from the toil and travails of the oyster industry. But that’s just where she found her latest inspiration, merging southern grit with southern grace and raising awareness with a new $25K Kickstarter campaign.
“Our tag line is ‘Culture, Care, Create,’” Porter said of her New Orleans-based Porter Lyons jewelry and accessories business’ mission. “Every collection is inspired by a different culture, and we give part of the proceeds back to a cause that fundamentally protects that culture’s identity.”
Porter’s Kickstarter campaign will help launch The Torchbearers Collection, a tribute to the Gulf Coast oyster and the hardworking men and women who harvest them in the Florida Panhandle’s Apalachicola River Basin and Bay.
Using a mix of precious metals, minerals and handmade oyster tongs, Porter’s new aquatic creations include necklaces and pendants for both men and women.
“The first time I ever went to Apalachicola and the beaches in Florida, I was blown away,” Porter said. “The sand was like sugar, the waves were pristine, the water was so clear. It was so beautiful.”
Porter said the BP oil spill practically decimated the oyster industry in this Florida region, and it hurt a lesser-known industry of auxiliary oyster craftsman including Rodney Richards, a second generation oyster tong maker.
APALACHICOLA BLACKSMITH RODNEY RICHARDS
“His craft is amazing,” Porter said. “He forges each one of the teeth that’s attached to the oyster tong by hand with the same hammer that his father used. His job is actually becoming less and less now that the oyster industry is suffering so much. For this project he is making custom teeth for the artwork that we’re making. So with each necklace that’s made we’re really bringing natural beauty to bear with the craftsmanship of the oyster tong mixed with really rich materials.”
One of the feldspar elements used in The Torchbearers Collection is Labradorite. Porter said the crystal meaning behind it is that it helps the wearer read a situation clearly. “I thought it was really on point to use that to highlight this issue, and to have people be cognizant of the oyster industry…. and start the conversation,” Porter said. “You’re also directly supporting a craftsman like Rodney.”
Porter grew up in Northern California, earned a Bachelor of Science in Marketing and a Master of Finance from Tulane University and a graduate degree from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. She worked for Balenciaga and Ralph Lauren in New York City before returning to New Orleans where she derives most of her creative inspiration and delights in giving back to its culture.
At Porter Lyons’ French Quarter flagship, you’ll find previous collections inspired by all things New Orleans from alligators to Agate, Louisiana’s state mineral. There’s even a VooDoo collection and one inspired by Mardi Gras Indians. Portions of proceeds have been donated to organizations including the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Louisiana Endowment for Humanities.
Porter’s current Kickstarter focus can be described as a combination of elegant, contemporary design and rugged, timeless craftsmanship. “The Torchbearers Collection embodies the grit and resolve of the Gulf Coast’s traditional fishing communities and imagines a future in which tradition and progress coexist and support one another,” the campaign’s objective reads.
Porter said Apalachicola had traditionally produced about 10 percent of the oysters consumed in the United States and 90 percent of those consumed in Florida. Blacksmith Richards creates the spiky tongs that oystermen use to harvest oysters from the bottom of the Bay, a trade he learned from his Dad “Corky” who’s highly regarded as a local “legendary” tong-maker.
Porter said when customers purchase a piece from Porter Lyons’ Torchbearers Collection, they can provide economic support to craftsmen like Richards, one of the last working oyster tong makers along the Gulf Coast. By “restyling” his products and trade for a new purpose, he hopes to continue the traditions and pass down his craft to future generations.
“I would love to put a necklace around your neck and in your hands and for you to see how beautiful these tongs are in person,” Porter said. “We’re really trying to bring awareness to the oyster industry.”
Five percent of all proceeds raised through The Torchbearers Collection after its launch will go to support the work of the Apalachicola Riverkeeper, an organization advocating for the environment.
Porter’s Kickstarter campaign ends on Monday, Dec. 19.
631 Toulouse St.
New Orleans, LA 70130