Jewelry, whether its gold, platinum, silver or bronze its something we all love. For a lot of us, one of the first pieces we owned was a nameplate bracelet we received as newborn babies. Jewelry is personal to all of us, they are mementos and heirlooms from our families and for future generations. For Jamaican-American, Bronxite, Ashley Newman, the owner of Ben Oni Jewelry, jewelry has been something that the Bronxite has always had a passion for.
“I’ve always just loved jewelry in general. I knew that if I was going to start a business, it had to be something I was genuinely passionate about.”
How long have you been making jewelry, When did you get your start making jewelry?
Ashley: I made my first ring by hand when I was 19 years old. The ring consisted of one long bead and sturdy gold wire. My best friends and I still have it to this day.
Was there a specific piece of jewelry that made you want to pursue it as a career?
A: I really don’t remember a specific piece. I’ve always just loved jewelry in general. I knew that if I was going to start a business, it had to be something I was genuinely passionate about.
What was the feeling after you made that first piece?
A: I felt really proud and wanted to share my passion with people.
When you started what was that time in your life like for you?
A: It was comparable to the life of many 19-year-olds, I was just trying to find my way in the world.
What is the jewelry making process like?
A: Long and difficult. Mainly because of the language barrier that exists between my manufactures and me.
As the world struggles with the pandemic of COVID-19, companies are facing the same obstacles that people are as well. For Ashley, she is dealing with the fact that her company is currently on halt. And she understands that trying to get people to spend their money on her products when they can barely work and make money to survive, is something impossible right now. When she was starting up, the hardest thing that she had to deal with was working the courage up to push her product to us, the consumers.
“I’m taking this time of stillness to think about the future of my company and ways to improve/bounce back.”
When you first started making jewelry, what are some things that you noticed about the jewelry industry?
A: We’re all familiar with the diversity & discrimination issues that plague the fashion and beauty industry. Unfortunately, the same goes for the jewelry industry. I’ve found that many well-known jewelry companies barely cast brown models or even repost brown customers. This was one of my main inspirations for starting my own company.
What were the beginning stages of starting Ben Oni like?
A: A lot of research, labor, and trial and error. We’re still in this stage.
What is this point in your career and your life like, compared to the moment you started?
A: My life has changed so much since the launch of my business. When I launched Ben Oni in July 2019, I was working a full-time job. Today, I am completely self-employed and that naturally comes with many highs, lows, and uncertainties.
Why did you land on the name Ben Oni? What does it mean to you?
A: Before I started my business, I was working a retail job that drove me into a deep depression. My misery inspired me to fast and pray to God for a business of my own. During this time of fasting, I read the Bible day and night. One day, as I was reading a verse, I came across the name Benoni. It means son of my sorrow. I knew it was the one. The name represents the business I was able to conceive through the sorrow I was feeling.
What other jobs did you have before you started Ben Oni? How are they different?
A: Most of my experience is in retail sales. I was also a bank teller. These roles aren’t different at all. Both positions are challenging because you are required to be extremely patient with every customer no matter what.
“One day, as I was reading a verse, I came across the name Benoni. It means son of my sorrow. I knew it was the one.”
Since the creation of Ben Oni Jewelry, Ashley has been able to learn things about running a business, as well as learning about herself. The journey of starting her own business has shown her that she can take lessons and learn from them gracefully. Also, when it comes to Ben Oni, she doesn’t have a defeatist mentality. “I’m willing to get back up, no matter what,” she said.
How do you stay creative and inspired?
A: I honestly really struggle with staying creative. Sometimes my mind is flooded with ideas and other times there’s a complete block of creativity. I’m starting to make mood/vision boards for both my personal and business life. Hopefully, that helps.
How do you determine your next design?
A: Customer feedback! I try to bring in pieces my customers have mentioned they’d love for me to carry. I also like to add pieces that would pair well with the existing collection.
What is the most important piece of jewelry that you have in your collection?
A: The Beni hoops. I really feel like every woman should own them in all sizes and metals. They’re a jewelry necessity. They’re no fuss. Just shine, simplicity, and quality.
Are there any relationships that help inspire what you make?
A: Yes! One of the benefits of having a small company is being able to build long-lasting relationships with my customers. I follow them, engage with them, and most importantly I listen keenly to their feedback and requests. These intimate conversations allow me to understand what’s working, what’s not, and what I should introduce next.
What are you most looking forward to as your career progresses?
A: Providing jobs for minority women and building a great team that can take care of the business while I mainly focus on the creative.
How do you wish your brand to grow?
A: I have so many BIG and exciting plans for Ben Oni! Some of which include getting my pieces into stores + introducing bridal and personalized jewelry.
As time goes on, and we hopefully survive the virus, jewelry will always be there. If you are in the house reading this, hopefully, this inspired you to start taking more time to do what you are passionate about or put on your favorite piece of jewelry. Like the Ben Oni ‘Sade’ hoops, the‘Brook Pavé’ Safety Pin Choker, or just the jewelry that you have that is special to you. Also, support Black-owned, women-owned businesses, like Ben Oni Jewelry as Ashley grows with her company.