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KALI HAWK | H.CROWNE

January 7, 2020

Read the full interview on FlauntMag.com!

Kali Hawk is far more than an actress, she’s a female entrepreneur if there ever was one. You may have seen her on the small and big screen in comedies Bridesmaids, Couples Retreat, Fifty Shades of Black, New Girl, and Black Jesus, but four years ago she launched her own luxury jewelry line titled H.CROWNE.

Hawk describes herself as “an actress, a jewelry collector, a jewelry designer, and lover of all things flashy.” In 2007, the New York native moved to Los Angeles and had her big break in the acting world two years later, starring in Couples Retreat alongside Vince Vaughn and other big stars she favorited. Serving as her first hit movie and breakthrough into Hollywood, she was able to see the high points of how the business works — which opened the door to jewelry collectinIn fact, it’s her acting career that essentially funded H.CROWNE as a whole. The ‘H’ stands for her last name (Hawk), while the ‘Crowne’ resembles the launch of her brand: a collection of crowns. The next thing you know, Kylie Jenner is seen rocking her crown pieces, Quavo sported one for a Game of Thrones campaign with the Migos (sold out on the websitel), Taylor Swift rocks her eternity band… the list goes on.

But it was Madonna who was the first celebrity to kick things off. One scroll through the H.CROWNE Instagram, you’ll literally see every major star — something Hawk humbly attributes to the quality of her product. Whether it’s fine jewelry or costume jewelry, the stones sparkle undeniably. Her favorite thing in the world is when people can’t tell the difference between the real stones and the fake, something unheard of in the world of jewelry.

Flaunt Mag caught up with Hawk over the holidays in Los Angeles to discuss her passion for jewelry, female entrepreneurship, her Subscription Box, and more!

Talk about your upbringing, where are you from? 

I’m from New York. My whole family’s from New York. I love New York. I love that it’s the fashion capital of America. I’d say of the world, but I know people get really upset about that. [laughs] I love being a New Yorker, it informs everything I do especially as it pertains to the jewelry business. We love quality, variety. We love style and big business, so all of those things are important to you if you’re coming up in New York. It’s hip-hop. It’s business. It’s finance. It’s everything.

How did your passion for jewelry come about?

I love jewelry so much. I was telling a friend yesterday that my dad bought me a pair of diamond earrings when I was small. I was 2 going on 3, I was really little. I remember looking at them in the box and my parents arguing in the background. I asked about that as a grown-up, my mom’s like “well yeah, your ears weren’t even pierced yet. I’m asking your dad “why are you buying her diamond earrings if she can’t even wear them?’”

He’s like “everything doesn’t have to make sense. Her ears aren’t pierced now, but they will be one day!” I get a little bit of the practicality from my mom, but I definitely get the joy and the frivolity of fashion from my dad. The bigger, the better. It doesn’t have to make sense. You deserve the best, let’s try it out. Let’s see how great, how fun, how exciting things can be.

At what point did you want to have your own line?

When you’re a jewelry collector, you’re giving yourself a masterclass in craftsmanship and that’s what it became for me. When you start buying things from some of the best designers in the world, you’re looking at the best and the most top quality products there are. At a certain point, you start to request things to be custom-made. Once you’re having things custom-made, that’s the gateway to designing.

Suddenly, you’re wearing things out that you’ve commissioned for yourself and you see the response people have to it. I kept taking it bigger and bigger to the point where I’d be at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and see collections of crowns and things that belonged to kings. It was all so grandiose and so inaccessible. You can’t touch it, you can’t even get close to it. I thought “I want that,” so I started to commission collections of things like that for myself and I’d wear them out to the club. My friend Balthazar Getty started to deejay right around the time I was having jewelry made. I’d show up to his gigs around Hollywood wearing a giant crown and crystallized chandelier chestpiece. I saw the reactions I’d get. Whether it was big dudes or their tiny girlfriends, they wanted to try on everything I had. They loved it. I thought “this is something that can be shared.” Having a jewelry business is really just a joy that can be shared. I love jewelry and I get to share that with people.

You have everyone from Beyonce to Kylie Jenner to Madonna to Quavo wearing your jewelry. Is this through personal relationships?

No! Because I guarantee you, my life is so boring. I’m not going out and being like “hey what’s up” to all the superstars in the world. I was just having everything made and started to wear it out, and that drew attention from people. Then of course when you launch a jewelry business, you want to have a showroom where people can come in and view it. So I put everything into a showroom where I knew top stylists could come and see it. Celebrity stylists were coming in like “yeah great, we want this and we want this.” They showed my stuff to their clients and luckily the clients wanted it too.

What they told me at the showroom — which hosts other brands as well — is that they never have to push my items on anyone. People come in and go directly to my stuff.

What pieces did Madonna wear?

She’s wearing H.CROWNE rings on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. She’s also wearing a giant chest piece throughout the cover story. Madonna was the first superstar to wear my stuff once the brand was launched, and that Harper’s cover was the first magazine credit we ever had. Kylie came after that and then it was superstar after superstar. Later on, Madonna wore something of mine again when she launched her MDNA Skincare with Kim Kardashian. Her stylist said “out of all the things we put on her that day, it was your ring that she didn’t want to take off.”

Wow, what ring was it?

It’s one I’ve yet to release to the public. I call it The Virgin Cross ring. It was a sample for myself I put in the showroom to see who might end up being the person that likes it. Then Madonna ended up liking it. For me, jewelry design has been about trying things out and experimenting with my own taste. To see that my taste and creativity resonates with some of the greatest creative superstars happening right now — right now and beyond because Madonna’s legendary — it’s just really amazing. Legends are timeless. Beyonce is timeless. She’s also worn my stuff a bunch of times.

Can you talk about Queen Bey rocking H.CROWNE?

Again, I’m definitely not out there like “hey, what’s up Queen Bey?!” [chuckles] But I’m a huge Beyonce fan. The first time she wore H.CROWNE was a headpiece that she and Blue Ivy wore for the photos in the EVERYTHING IS LOVE album artwork. Then there’s a video that plays during the On The Run II Tour, and she’s wearing a headpiece in that with the twins. Then she wore some of our jewelry casually, and we have those photos on our Instagram. She has a wonderful stylist Zerina Akers who supports brands she believes in and thinks are making cool stuff. I’m definitely happy that celebrities and their stylists are happy with what we’re making, and they want to keep wearing it time and time again.

What is it about your line that sets you apart?

Quality. Timelessness. I want to make timeless pieces. I’m not interested in trends at all. As a jewelry collector, I picked things that I could wear and pass down to my children. The museum quality stuff you see that was great 1,000 years ago that’s still great today, that’s the stuff I wanted to be making.

A lot of companies aren’t focused on giving the best they can to the consumer. Their focus is on the profit margin first. I start with quality. Once I have the absolute best version of what something can be, now let’s figure out the margins. But that’s the second step. The first step is to deliver the very best quality I can, whether it’s fine jewelry, costume jewelry, or custom orders. I’m like, “Okay, what is it that you want? What’s the best that we can do? What’s the price range that’s comfortable for you? How do we deliver the best within those parameters?”

It’s the quality first. Anybody can make an eternity band. Anybody can make a hoop earring. Everybody has a Figaro chain, every brand has a Cuban link. Anybody can do it. But I found that whether it’s fine jewelry or a costume piece, quality is key. My stones always sparkle. Not everybody can do that. [laughs]

How’s it feel to be the first black jeweler to be on the cover of Vogue? 

You know what’s funny, I never thought about that. Until you said it, I didn’t realize I was the first black jeweler to have their jewelry featured on the cover of Vogue. Is that true?! I’ve heard a lot of firsts. Apparently I’m the #1 jeweler in country music. Brandi Carlile has worn my pieces a bunch of times, including Grammy week when she swept the Grammys and won a bunch of awards. She also performed with Tanya Tucker on the Country Music Awards wearing a couple of crosses of mine. She’s worn them several times. She loves the cross. Little Big Town actually hosted the Country Music Awards with the two main women of their group, Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman, wearing my jewelry. Then they went on Jimmy Fallon and wore my jewelry there, too.

Are you a fan of country music?

I love country music, so the fact that I’ve had my jewelry on so many country music stars is like a dream… Carrie UnderwoodTaylor SwiftLittle Big TownBrandi CarlileShania Twain. Someone said “name one brand that’s had that many country music stars wearing their jewelry.”

I feel like in the jewelry business, when you come along and you’re a person of color (specifically African-American), people expect you to be in one lane. Really, people expect you to just be a customer. They expect you to be a customer that has very limited taste, and a limited scope of what’s happening. I’m definitely an anomaly in the jewelry business in the sense that I’m a woman who’s walking around, I don’t work for anybody, it’s my company, and I actually know the merchandise. I have very unique tastes and sensibilities that have drawn me to learn a lot about this business. Sometimes though, the best thing that you really learn is to just play dumb. Because if people know you’re too informed sometimes, it can be a little bit scary. [chuckles]

For the most part, it’s fun. It’s fun making jewelry for superstars of every genre. It’s fun being in a male-dominated field. It’s fun surprising them with the level of business I’m doing. It’s fun surprising people with the quality of merchandise I can deliver. It’s fun to surprise people with how good things can be, and how enjoyable it can be to wear jewelry. Whether you’re a hip-hop artist, or a country music star, I want you to be having fun wearing jewelry that’s worry-free. That’s my focus.

Photographed by Amanda Demme .

Photographed by Amanda Demme.

What does female entrepreneurship mean to you? 

Female entrepreneurship… [rubs palms together] When I was growing up, I was raised in a very gender-neutral way. I consider myself to be a woman, but no one ever told me there were limitations around that. “You have to dress a certain way” or “you have to have certain interests as a little girl,” no one ever did that to me.

When I was a kid, I could be interested in whatever I was interested in, and do what I wanted to do without thinking about gender. The focus was more on excellence, and “what’s the quality of what you’re doing?” Whether it’s the quality of your playtime, or quality of the work or interest you choose for yourself, how good is the energy you’re putting into what you’re doing? Being an entrepreneur, it’s yet another thing for me that’s not about gender, but I do enjoy surprising people with the fact that I’m the dude bankrolling my operation. I get to make the choices, and you can take it or leave it. Guys have a hard time with that, but I pay them so they have to accept it. [laughs] Ultimately, they forget about gender too, because money has no gender. If you have the money to get into whatever business you want to be in, people will forget about your gender if you’re bringing quality and success their way.

How difficult was it for you to start? I feel like that’s the hardest part.

Well, I had to have a movie career first in order to start a jewelry company. [chuckles] The hardest part was getting over the limited ideas that other people have for you about what you should pursue. People think if you’re an actor, you should stick to that. Or if you want to do jewelry, maybe partner with someone else’s brand. But to just go out on your own sounds weird.

When you’re a kid, you’re encouraged to have really big dreams. Then you grow up, people are like “whoa, that sounds crazy.” Yeah, but everything we’re looking at and enjoying in our daily life was just a dream that someone had the balls to pursue. Really, the hardest thing is allowing yourself to experience the joy of having the balls to do what you want to do.

At the end of the day, I’m making jewelry that I like, that I’d want to wear for my own self. You hope that other people will like it and that they’ll enjoy what you’ve put into it. But if it turned out that people didn’t like it, I’d be wearing it for myself. I just so happened to luck out and have some of the best people like my jewelry. When those people like stuff, it tells other people they should like it too. So that’s been a really positive thing. The whole thing has been positive. I’m not in competition with anybody. I wake up and think about what I want to do and start to do that. Whoever finds what I do interesting, that’s my tribe. Your vibe attracts your tribe.

Are you still acting? Or has that been put on the backburner for jewelry.

Yeah, it’s tricky. I remember looking at my cell phone and the lock screen was a picture of one of my 24 karat gold rings. I did a whole collection in 24k gold which everyone said “no, you can’t do a whole 24k gold collection…”

Why?

Because people say it’s “soft”. But feel this [takes off middle ring]. That’s solid, pure 24k gold. Does that feel soft to you? No, it doesn’t.

What do they mean by soft?

When you’re working with it and it’s hot, you have to be more delicate in your handling. You can’t pound it the way you would when it’s mixed with other alloys. It costs more, it takes more time, but it’s better quality. Essentially, if you say that about anything, I’m in. [laughs] “Costs more? Takes more time? It’s got to be the best!”

When I started with that 24k gold collection, I had a picture of one of the rings as my lock screen. My mom’s like “the jewelry, they’re like your little children.” People normally have a picture of their baby on their phone. To me, that ring was my baby. It was a symbol of what people say you can’t do that can totally be done if you have the time and desire to pursue it. When you have a child, those first few years, you have to sit with it. You have to really be there. I have still remained open to acting and continue to remain open to it, but right now, I’ve only had the company for a few years so a lot of my energy and focus is still there. But I’m open to everything.

What’s the average price?

When I started out, everything in our shop was high fashion prices. Everything was being handmade and there was a costly process of building those pieces. Then I moved into manufacturing. That cut the costs, but you have to put out a lot of money to be able to do that. I was willing to take that chance and experiment with the manufacturing so now, I’m in the right place where I know I can deliver consistent quality. Now, it’s about maintaining the quality at a price point that’s even more accessible to people.

There are a few rings that’ve done really, really well, around the $168 to $198 price range. Rings that Hailey Bieber has worn, and something Katy Perry’s worn. Or Taylor Swift’s rings! I sold out of those a few times. In the case of those rings, there’s the fine jewelry version, but there’s also a costume version that’s under $200. What I pride myself on most is that you cannot tell the difference.

If you’re a fan like “oh I can’t afford the $80K oval-shaped diamond eternity band that Hailey Bieber’s wearing, but I can afford the $198.” When you get that ring you will be pleasantly surprised. I’ve had people say they thought they got the diamond one by mistake. That’s my favorite thing: when people can wear my costume or semi-fine jewelry with their fine jewelry and get more compliments on our affordable pieces. $168 or $198 seems affordable, but we’re looking at even more options. We’re also working on a Subscription Box.

I was going to ask about The Subscription Box!

Basically you don’t want to pump out tons of items for no reason, but I started to realize how much people liked the samples we were making. To get the $168 version of an $80K eternity band, you work through a few different levels of samples. People would see them and like those pieces. I originally wasn’t putting them out, they were just samples of what the fine jewelry would be. But people want both.

I thought “okay well if I know I have 1000 people to make this for, when I’m running off a sample I’ll do 1000 at once.” If you do 1000, 4000, or 5000, the price goes down enough that you can actually offer it to people at a very, very low price without diminishing the quality. Items are still being made to the same standard, but you’re getting offered a better deal because of the quantity of merchandise being produced at one time. The Subscription Box program is essentially a sample sale that comes to your mailbox every month. You get to see new pieces that I’m working on, that I’m thinking about. Pieces that may never get to the shop, but will make it to celebrities. They may have the real version, they may have the semi-fine or costume version. Sometimes they buy both.

When you’re on stage, maybe you want to wear the diamond one, maybe you don’t. No one can ever tell the difference. They’re like “which one is this?” I show my friends in the jewelry business all time, and they’re like “this one is diamonds right?” I tell them it’s not, and they’re like “wait a minute!”

The Subscription Box has a $50, $100 or $200 level. For $50, you could get sent an interesting, cute sample. It could be a pair of earrings, or a small stack of rings. Every month, you’re getting something. One client who’s married to a very famous actor, actually told me, “you know, I don’t have time to shop because I have kids and my husband’s career takes us everywhere all the time. When we do have somewhere to go, I don’t have anything to wear. If I can sign up for the Subscription Box and know I’m going to get really good quality things sent to me in the mail every month… I love it!” I love that I can give people the convenience and the quality at a great price. I aspire to do even more of that. That’s my ultimate dream.

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