Actress, producer, philanthropist, investor, NAACP Image Award winner, Emmy nominee, Kerry Washington has always been a leading lady. And her resume just keeps building. Next up: This holiday season, the multi-hyphenate is debuting her third jewelry collection with female-founded sustainable fine jewelry brand Aurate. Featuring Art Deco details, gold finishes, and a touch of topaz, the “Be the Lead” collection consists of five stunning pieces—all sustainably sourced, and made to be worn by all genders.
Here, Washington spoke exclusively with ELLE.com about the partnership, her beauty and fashion ritual during the pandemic, and why jewelry is gender-fluid.
This is your third collaboration with Aurate. What’s your favorite part about working with the brand?
I take my partnerships very seriously. Life is too short to partner with people who you don’t want to be creating with. When I met these founders, Sofi [Kahn] and Bouchra [Ezzahraoui], I was blown away by them. They’re incredibly inspiring and impressive women. I loved their vision to democratize fine jewelry. I love working in a luxury space that makes fine jewelry more attainable for more people.
I also love their female-driven mission. Ninety percent of our customers are women, and we really draw a lot of success from our female community. Don’t get me wrong, we love our male customers too. You can identify as male and love jewelry since jewelry is gender-fluid. At first we were going to name the collection “Leading Ladies,” inspired by leading ladies in Hollywood, but we decided to name the collection “Be The Lead” to be inclusive of all our customers.
It’s also known for using ethical and sustainable materials.
Aurate has a really high commitment to sustainability. All of their pieces are designed and handmade using ethically sourced, sustainable 14 karat or 18 karat vermeil. We only use 100 percent recycled gold. Gold is an amazing resource that can be repeatedly reused without diminishing in quality or creating any environmental decay. We may only think about reusing and recycling when we’re thinking about paper plates or office materials, but gold is a place where we can have a very good impact on the environment.
And to top it off, it’s female-owned.
It’s so important to work with marginalized and disenfranchised communities. Women in the entrepreneurial tech space face very different challenges than men do. You really do, in some ways, have to be twice as good to meet the challenges that arise. These women [Kahn and Ezzahraoui] are definitely fierce and fearless in those ways. I love partnering with women entrepreneurs and women founders. I love finding women to partner with. I believe in the power of partnership and I believe in supporting female entrepreneurs.
How does Aurate use its platform to give back?
Giving back has always been at the core of how Aurate defines success and builds culture. From the very beginning when the company was founded in 2015, there has been an emphasis on paying it forward and giving back. I’ve always looked up to their partnership with Mastery Charter, which donates thousands of books every year to support literacy and build children’s imaginations all across the country.
What is it about jewelry that makes us feel instantly beautiful?
During the pandemic, I didn’t wear my Louboutins for a year and a half. Many things fell through the wayside, whether it was shoes or bags or even clothes below the waist for a lot of people. But jewelry was a part of my beauty ritual and fashion ritual that stayed with me through the pandemic. It’s one of the most intimate forms of fashion because it’s so close to our bodies. It’s the part of fashion that many of us sleep in and bathe in. For a lot of us, jewelry represents our most precious possession. It’s a really special place to play in for me, because there’s such added sentiment and emotion around jewelry. It’s a way to play with trends and play with fashion in very meaningful and intimate ways.
As someone who wears so many hats, how do you decide which areas you want to branch out into?
The most important thing for me is to be honest with myself about what my interests are and passions are. If I’m chasing different areas of interest in order to chase after success or impress other people or to meet other people’s expectations, that doesn’t usually work out well for me. When I look to go into new areas out of a genuine sense of my own curiosity, my own passion, my own sense of what I want to do next, that’s a better approach for me. A lot of it has to do with looking within and asking myself what am I curious about and what do I desire. When I start there, it tends to lead me in the right direction. It’s important [for me] to make sure [that] I am not walking through life trying to fulfill a bunch of “shoulds,” but that I’m walking through life with as much integrity and authenticity as I can, moment to moment.
What’s coming up next for you?
We have so much going on with my production company, Simpson Street. I am about to direct a pilot that we’re doing for Hulu for a really exciting new project called Reasonable Doubt that I am directing and producing. We have a couple of other series that I am attached to as an actor, and a few features that are in different places. There is a lot going on! It’s going to be a busy year.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
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