fueled by

the transformation

Rebel Nell helps women gain independence by fueling fashion with one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces.

Rebel Nell helps women gain independence by fueling fashion with one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces.

Starting with multi-layered paint chips that have fallen to the ground from graffiti and murals, Rebel Nell uses a petroleum-based secret sauce to create a chemical reaction that mixes all of the paint layers. This results in her jewelry’s abstract wavy and rippling patterns, and every piece is one of a kind.

Rebel Nell handcrafts trendy, vibrant and hip handmade jewelry pieces that can be dressed up or down. But it’s so much more than a retail company. Rebel Nell’s mission is to hire women living in shelters and teach them how to master a skilled trade while helping guide them through the process of overcoming personal and financial obstacles.

“The whole purpose of why we do this is to provide education and employment opportunities for the women we hire from the shelters,” says Amy Peterson, co-founder of Rebel Nell. Plus, there are all of the wraparound services that have to be considered. The nonprofit arm of Rebel Nell is focused on providing business education workshops, household budgeting sessions, housing services and legal aid. “We are a very fun organization. We create an amazing family atmosphere, but it is really hard and absolutely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life,” she says. “It can be emotionally draining because we’re emotionally invested in everyone that comes into our family, and we want so badly for everyone to succeed.”

Va Rebel Nell May18

Personal transformation is at the heart of the company. But another kind of alchemy is helping fuel all of this positive change. The pieces Rebel Nell makes are crafted from chipped pieces of graffiti walls, random multicolored chunks that’ve fallen from the wall then collected from the rubble. There are decades of paint on these pieces, sometimes up to 10 layers, sprayed and resprayed over the decades. When Rebel Nell applies its proprietary mix of petroleum-based chemicals onto these otherwise discarded shards, the layers of colors blend in an incredibly artistic and impromptu fashion, creating abstract, one-of-a-kind, wavy and rippling patterns.

Founded by a lawyer-turned-social-entrepreneur, the company started small in 2014 with three women who were hired from a shelter near Peterson’s home. Now, Rebel Nell sells a couple thousand pieces a year at more than 35 stores in 11 states across the country. Here are some even more incredible stats: Rebel Nell recently hired its 17th woman from the shelter and is actively interviewing for their 18th and 19th positions. “Of all the women we’ve hired, none of them have gone back to a shelter,” Peterson says.

Rebelling against the hand society dealt them.

Peterson is fueled by the beauty in providing opportunity, which is evident in the name of the company itself. Peterson says the name Rebel Nell is directly inspired by the iconic First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. “She was an amazing advocate for humanitarian rights, civil rights and women’s rights,” Peterson says. “But her father gave her the nickname ‘Little Nell’ and we thought she deserved a more kickass nickname. So we call her Rebel Nell.”

Peterson says the women they’re hiring are “rebelling against the hand society dealt them” and also notes that “graffiti has long been viewed as a more rebellious art form,” so it’s easy to see how the name of the company propels its more strident community-minded mission.

The third major transformation that Rebel Nell has spurred has been within Peterson herself. In the summer of 2018, she quit her gig in pro baseball — the fulfillment of a lifelong dream — to follow a calling to create positive change in the city of Detroit and run Rebel Nell full time.

“The corporate world isn’t cutting it anymore,” she says. “I think it’s kind of an overarching theme. More and more people are feeling compelled to do something that makes them feel they’re giving back.” So Peterson asked herself what would it look like if she could go full steam ahead, if nothing was holding her back but herself.

She says, “If I didn’t do it now, I’d always wonder — what if?” It turns out that amazing things happen when Peterson swings for the fences and answers

those “what ifs.”

Years ago, she wondered what if I dropped just a little petroleum ether on a piece of old, crumbled graffiti-laden cement?

The results have proven to be resourceful, impactful and beautiful.