Behind Rebel Nell’s Graffiti Layers, Hope and Creativity is Found

Posted: October 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

By: Amy Cooper, Detroit Ginger


Many companies are corporate, cut and dry, and compromise heart for checks and balances. One company coming quickly on the radar that is breaking this mold is the Detroit-based jewelry company Rebel Nell.

Co-founded by Amy Peterson and Diana Russell, Rebel Nell combines re-purposing graffiti into one-of-a-kind jewelry with human compassion and makes it a full time job that revolves around Detroit women that have previously been in tough spots or in local shelters.

Rebel Nell pendants fashioned out of re-purposed graffiti shards.  Photo by Amy Cooper

Rebel Nell pendants fashioned out of re-purposed graffiti shards.  Photo by Amy Cooper

This group is not a charity or a non-profit, it is a self sustaining business. The sales from their pendants earrings, cuff-links, and rings completely fund the business, so much so that they are even able to donate a portion of the proceeds to The Alley Project, which helps at risk youths use their creativity to formulate murals and art on sanctioned buildings in a safe and legal way.

On top of their assistance in the community, Peterson and Russell offer their employees an open, flexible schedule, a family encompassed environment, and education on business and life skills that create opportunities for the women to have stable, self sufficient, and successful futures.

Sitting in their workshop, located in 4731 Gallery and Studios, onlookers quickly realize this is a family, not just a production. It’s a home away from home. Karen, Mykira, Patricia, and Amy have a brief skull session prior to getting to work on their designs. It’s obvious while viewing this business meeting that these women are passionate about what they want for this company and what it stands for in principal.

Cuff-links made out of shards of re-purposed graffiti.  Photo by Amy Cooper

Cuff-links made out of shards of re-purposed graffiti.  Photo by Amy Cooper

“My quality of life has improved. I can think clearer. Live my life without as many fears. It’s given me hope,” said one of the three jewelry-smiths. Another commented that it has opened her eyes to see different things in the city and has given her “a new life perspective.” The women shared their backgrounds and how they got to where they are today, but the important part of Rebel Nell is not where they came from, but where they are going.

“We would like to hire more women and stay self sufficient,” said Peterson. The future looks bright for the company, from larger orders to festivals, and even a prime feature on Channel 7 with Carolyn Clifford and Stephen Clark. The women feel an overwhelming level of support and feel so lucky and thankful to be part of the Detroit Community.

In regards to the art, every woman lends her own creativity to create a unique piece using an equally unique piece of graffiti shard. It’s sanded down to a lower layer to reveal its own beauty, symbolic to the Detroit roots each piece has. “It’s an empowering process,” said Peterson. For each women to single-handedly have complete control over the outcome of the piece, each employee gets to be in creative control every day they attend their job. “Everybody has a story,” one of the employees said, and it’s very true. This miraculous story of each pair of hands that touch these pieces bleed into the art creating what anyone would call their work: priceless. 

-Amy Cooper, Detroit Ginger

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