Today we’d like to introduce you to Karen Boelts.
Hi Karen, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
I studied graphic design at The University of Arizona and worked in the field until I had two children. I quit my job to raise the kids with the intention of returning to my career. As much as I loved being at home with my kids, I desperately needed a creative outlet so I started designing jewelry.
I made a necklace out of Swarovski crystal beads, pearls and sterling silver Balinese beads. I loved mixing the beautiful bright colors with the soft textures. After I completed my first necklace, I proudly wore it to a block party where my neighbor asked if she could purchase it. Happily, I sold it to her and immediately went back to the bead store to purchase more beads, there the obsession began.
I taught myself how to work with precious metal clay, beading, basic silversmithing and set out to create a side business. I sold my jewelry at fairs and home parties and made enough money to pay for family vacations, piano lessons and various other extracurricular activities. Three years into my business in the year 2000 after putting my then six years old child into therapy my husband and I were told by the therapist that our child was transgender.
There was very little information on transgender kids at that time so I put jewelry on the back burner and put everything into learning about transgender, raising my two children and advocating for my trans child. I realized early on that the hate in the world is fueled by ignorance so I set out to educate as many as possible about LGBT kids. I worked with the school districts to include gender into the health curriculum, install gender-free bathrooms, worked with doctors, clergy, educators in helping them to understand transgender kids, what their needs were and how best to support them. I worked especially hard with the Boulder Valley School District which, in 2016 was held up as an example for other school districts when district guidelines were issued by the U. S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice. The district now provides protocols for privacy, names and pronouns, restroom and locker room accessibility, competitive sports, dress codes and other areas. Students can change their name and gender in the school system even if they have done so legally and are encouraged to use whichever locker room or bathrooms they feel most comfortable in. Along with adding policy, the district added training for educators through a partnership with the University of Colorado.
After spending 15 years fighting for equality for my kiddo and others, I knew I couldn’t just put the torch down and pick up where I left off with my jewelry so I decided to marry my passions and created a line of equality jewelry. I designed pieces with hand-carved messages such as love is love, live and let live, love wins, equality, “equality is the soul of liberty” ~Frances Wright, “those who deny equality to others deserve it not for themselves”~Abe Lincoln. The design is subtle and the message is powerful.
Fierce and Free Jewelry can be found in over 120 stores across the country and online at fierceandfreejewelry.com.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Owning my own business has its ups and downs. Every day I learn something different, sometimes they are costly lessons and sometimes not but I can count on stretching and growing every day. Owning a business is a bit like raising children. I must keep the focus on its health, nurture it every day, help it grow and give it lots of love and attention.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
My design comes straight from my heart, I feel in line with my higher power when I create. I am especially inspired by social justice. After George Floyd was killed, feeling insanely angry and helpless I sat down at my workbench and created a piece that says “we stand together” with a fist and donated proceeds to organizations that support equality.
What are your plans for the future?
Keep on keeping on. Learn and improve on technique, learn more about growing my business and continue to change the world one necklace at a time.
- Earrings range from 35.00-120.
- Necklaces range from 60.00-200.00
- Bracelets range from 50.00-145.00
- Website: www.fierceandfreejewelry.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/fierceandfreejewelry/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Fierceandfreejewelry
Photo taken by Karen Boelts/ Fierce and Free Jewelry