Words Adekemi Savage
With an upsurge of global restrictions and countless acts of oppression on minorities, the feeling of freedom may feel unattainable for many. Jevon Smith and Max Greenberg-Thompson, owners of New York-based jewelry brand, CREATEFREEDOM; are revealing hope through their pieces with bold engravings that carry long-lasting messages.
In 2017, what started as frustrations in the fashion industry and a dainty yet impactful tattoo that reads ‘Create freedom’, Jevon found ease through the remembrance of creating this for himself. “[CREATEFREEDOM] was my way of rebelling against the standard, having a symbol to remind me of what I believe in, and what I want to fight for” he affirms. “I was frustrated with how the system was against anyone that didn’t conform to that environment.”
After four years of brewing his ideas and a degree in Accessory Design at The Fashion Institute of Technology, Jevon launched the first unisex collection during the pandemic. From working with brands like Hood By Air, Coach, and Calvin Klein; Jevon merged his strong suits in design with his cousin Max who studied finance at Rutgers University. The duo exemplifies high value in unity as they shaped their tight-knit bond into the brand.
We had a deep dive into the duality of freedom, how it is reflected through their brand, and what this means for the future of change.
What inspired the launch in 2020?
Max: In 2017, Jevon began designing the collection and conceptualizing the idea of CREATEFREEDOM. We were always talking about [starting a brand] since we were younger, but everything was fast-paced through high school, college, then getting a [corporate job] afterward; we didn’t have the opportunity to start. In 2020, a lot of things started to slow down and became a reflection period for [most]— a chance to explore themselves. One day Jevon came to my place, to talk about [the future] of the brand. He had something to tell me and it was about launching the rings. The cards were in the right space for us, nothing was forced; that’s when [CREATEFREEDOM] wanted to be born.
Jevon, how did you develop your design practice?
Jevon: Coming from corporate fashion, it was a catalyst to starting my own thing. [CREATEFREEDOM] was my way of rebelling against the standard, having a symbol to remind me of what I believe in, and what I want to fight for. I was frustrated with how the system was against anyone that didn’t conform to that environment. Jewelry was the perfect example of that symbol. Our designs start from our categories of freedom: evolution, family, unity, change, and legacy. Each ring was inspired by different stages in my life; whether it was being frustrated in the industry, inspired by a love interest, or trauma. I try to capture what means something to other people, but also us.
How did the five components of freedom come about?
Jevon: It came from my experiences and how I saw things that were important to me. This brand is becoming bigger than what we are and we’re trying to get that message across. Everything is open for interpretation for people to have their ideas with what these categories mean to them.
Max: These five concepts are a foundation for what freedom means to us. Unity is a component of freedom because of the connections shared, whether it be romantic or [platonic]. Everyone should have that in some shape or form to express this side of freedom externally. Our ‘New World Order’ Ring symbolizes change, being loud, and going against the status quo. It’s about internalizing that and passing it on to someone else. I think we’re all influencers in a sense with people that we’re close to. If I always speak my truth, then that truth persists throughout every individual that I speak with. By starting with these five topics we can then find instances that relate to a new concept.
Were there any obstacles faced in developing the first collection? What lessons were gained from those experiences?
Jevon: Everything that’s happened so far, has played a role in the collection to make it, what it is. Through COVID we’ve learned how to be more considerate of everyone’s schedules and figure out the best solutions around that. Also, lowering our expectations. From working in corporate-fashion, I’ve always [practiced] not getting too attached to my work or emotionally invested in it and being open to criticism or anything that comes with launching a collection.
Max: Everything is an obstacle but it’s about how we navigate it and incorporate that into our [work]. We never know who’s watching. We might not get the support from people that we expect to get support from. [However], it is hard to be patient because we live in such a fast-paced society that expects everything to happen overnight.
How have you merged your backgrounds in finance and design seamlessly?
Max: In high school, Jevon had a fashion blog and sold watches; I worked on this with him. I’ve always had an interest in the creative space, but I wasn’t good at it. When I got to college, I realized my medium of expressing my creativity was in mathematics, computer science, and finance. We’ve always had a common ground in the arts and fashion. Since we had that relationship, it was seamless for us to take the roles that we’re strong at. I took on web development, business planning, and coordinating everything while Jevon took on all the creative aspects of [the business].
How do you create your freedom? Why is that important to you?
Max: At an early age, as the only [visibly] Black person in my family, I didn’t understand who I was and my identity. I felt like there was always a part of me that was contained but by becoming more self-aware, I was able to become free. That’s how freedom extends past lifetimes; what we leave behind; what conversations we start; and family. We don’t have a big family, so it’s important to us to have that bond, and I treasure every second I have with Jevon. That’s how I was creating my freedom, it’s multi-dimensional.
What do you hope the wearer embodies in your pieces?
Jevon: I hope they feel confident in themselves; a place of belonging; a sense of freedom from whatever struggles they’re held back from; to look good and feel good, and wear the pieces like it’s their armor.
Max: We want them to feel like they have a place where they can speak their mind because we’re always open to having that conversation. We want to get feedback from other people and give them a platform in which they can speak up for themselves.
What are some current goals that you are aiming to achieve?
Jevon: From a design perspective, [we want to] solidify our assortment, expand on these ideas we’re talking about, pose new questions based on responses we have and formulate new design ideas. Overall, I mainly want to accomplish creating a safe space for people to feel a sense of belonging in our brand. What about you Max?
Max: Being a part of the community in some sense, establishing [our brand], and making a name for ourselves in whatever capacity that means. In the near-term, solidifying everything that we’re about, getting people to understand what to expect from us, and comfortable with that idea. In terms of actual goals, getting our rings featured in other places, doing retail partnerships, and [applying for] grants.
What would you name this time in your life and why?
Jevon: ‘The unknown,’ because we never know what each day brings. I always joke with Max that every time I take a shower and I’m not on my phone, something happens. It’s like that genie wish– everything happens at its own pace and that’s been the best feeling so far, starting this with Max. Every day is not the same and it’s beautiful that people see that.
Max: ‘Self-discovery.’ This is the first time I’ve been able to venture into the field that I was passionate about in some capacity. Now is a time where I get to be myself instead of always playing that. Not to say that I don’t love finance because I do; I love working with numbers. But now I’m able to fully dive in. I’ve always known that I wanted to get into [fashion], but now I’m rediscovering a part of myself.
Find out more about CREATEFREEDOM here
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