Cousins Ellie Clougherty and Kristen Malinowski have spent their entire lives together. Both women grew up in the neighboring towns of Vienna and Springfield, attended the University of Virginia and graduated with degrees in neuroscience.
Clougherty and Malinowski are also part of the more than 20% of young women who have experienced sexual assault in college, which ultimately put them on a long path of recovery, healing and transformation. For both women, art therapy through jewelry making was a key aspect of that path, ultimately leading to the inception of Kamaria—a jewelry business that benefits survivors of sexual assault, featuring pieces of irregular shapes and reflective colors as a reminder of the beauty of imperfection.
Upon graduation in 2015 (Clougherty with her master’s; Malinowski with her bachelor’s), the duo moved to New York City to become apprentices to a third-generation jeweler in the Diamond District, and spent the following year traveling around the globe to source all the products they needed to make Kamaria what it is today. And, the entire time, the goal of being a guiding light for survivors never faltered.
“We always wanted to support survivors and we kind of struggled to find an exact nonprofit to donate to because we saw that there was this void in the space of direct support for survivors,” explains Malinowski. “That’s why we created Restore Dignity, and we actually pay the bills to help them stay in school.”
The DC-based nonprofit Restore Dignity was born a year after Kamaria was launched, and gives financial assistance to survivors of campus sexual assault in the U.S. in the form of medical, rent and tuition assistance. For both Clougherty and Malinowski, who are now 29 and 27 respectively, helping survivors of the “red zone”—the statistically proven period of vulnerability for campus sexual assault, beginning when freshmen first walk onto campus until Thanksgiving break—was essential.
“It’s just such a vulnerable time in peoples’ life and it’s also a springboard … We just felt like we wanted to protect that because they don’t have their parents with them. It’s the first time they’re going into the world on their own. It just felt like a very special time to preserve and to heal for people,” says Clougherty.
Now, less than four years later, the cousins have launched numerous jewelry lines of varying styles, partnered with well-known companies like DC’s own Lou Lou Boutiques, and have given out 14 assistance funds to survivors of sexual violence worth thousands of dollars. When shoppers purchase a product from Kamaria, 10% of the proceeds go directly to Restore Dignity and with every direct donation, there are no overhead fees or third parties involved, meaning that all funding goes right to the survivor. From there, the family team behind the nonprofit (Ellie’s mom, Anne Clougherty, serves as the executive director) can work with the medical care provider, school, landlord or other entity the survivor would like in order to pay the bills directly.
“Every time we get an application from a survivor, it’s such an exciting day. You feel that there’s going to be a transaction of hope here and it’s almost no effort on our part. It’s so awesome,” says Clougherty. Malinowski adds: “What’s been pretty cool right now is that Kamaria and Restore Dignity have grown at the same rate. So every time we’ve grown as a company, we’ve always been able to help the demand of the survivors.”
This year the concept grew again, as the women launched two new lines: an eco-chic collection consisting of lab-created gemstones, as well as the Butterfly Collection, which represents hope, rebirth and transformation. Almost all of the pieces are made with labradorite, moonstone or other reflective gemstones, inspired by the idea of embracing your inner light.
And, through both their nonprofit and their jewelry business, Clougherty and Malinowski want one main message to shine through: “You don’t have to have a lot of power. You don’t have to be in a position of wealth or authority or prestige to have a huge impact on the world,” says Clougherty. “It’s whatever power you do have, whether it’s just listening to someone or just standing up for a stranger or paying off someone’s medical bills or any debt they have. That’s all part of the journey for a survivor to feel hope.”