Kind Karma is on a mission to help you look good while also doing good.
Founded by Laurinda Lee-Retter in May 2017, Kind Karma Co’s mission is to spread goodness through their commitment to ethical fashion that gives back and creates opportunity. By employing at-risk and homeless youth to make beautiful, custom handcrafted jewelry, all Kind Karma pieces have a positive impact not only in the Greater Toronto community but throughout the world of fashion.
“Kind Karma was born on the principle that if we spread good, then good will not only come back to us but will continue to spread,” said Laurinda. “There is so much that we cannot control in the world but we can control how we treat each other. Amidst all the chaos of natural disasters, divisive politics and incomprehensible tragedies, nothing shines brighter than a little kindness.”
Proceeds from sales are also returned to Kind Karma’s youth employees to support their individual goals, such as funding their education, housing or courses. By offering meaningful employment to a demographic that often finds maintaining employment challenging, Kind Karma hopes to minimize and eliminate poverty in urban areas like Toronto.
“Our mission is to break the cycle of poverty by enabling vulnerable members of the future generation reach their full potential so they can continue to pay kindness forward.”
What’s the founding story behind Kind Karma Co?
I started Kind Karma through my own experience trying to find meaningful employment while recovering from mental illness. As a youth who had no degree and no work experience, I was forced to confront the limited employment options available to someone like me: retail or service. I ended up going the retail route but the long hours, inflexible scheduling and constant customer interaction only exacerbated my mental health challenges. I would eventually quit a couple months into each job attempt.
This inspired me to work with at-risk and homeless youth who might be struggling with the same issues of finding meaningful employment in a world where employment opportunities are limited without education, connections and experience. Most of these youth have been through much more than I ever went through in terms of trauma and emotional and mental health challenges and given their struggle to often meet basic human needs, most of them don’t have the educational background to get jobs that would accommodate their unique circumstances. They end up getting lost in a system with homelessness being a cycle that can often last generations. Kind Karma was born as a low-barrier, art therapy-based employment option to help marginalized youth reestablish their faith in themselves, build confidence and achieve the financial independence needed to create fulfilling and successful lives.
What inspired the name ‘Kind Karma’?
I truly believe in karma and the fact that what we put out in the world will eventually come back to us and will also, hopefully, continue to spread. I thought about what the world needed more of and I settled on kindness because I think kindness is one of the most underrated things with a phenomenal impact. There is so much conflict, discord and disagreement in the world and while we don’t have to agree with everything that everyone says or believes, if we can treat those differences with kindness, respect and understanding, it goes a long way to creating universal peace and harmony. The hope is that by wearing any of our pieces, it will be a reminder to always be kind and to treat those that not only agree with us, but those that have different views and opinions, with kindness and respect.
Tell us about the youth involved with Kind Karma Co?
We currently employ four youth artisans and they have been with us for a while which we are super proud of! We find our youth artisans in conjunction with employment centres within shelters and organizations that also work with marginalized youth such as Covenant House, Eva’s Phoenix, Yonge Street Mission and Youth Employment Services to name a few. This past year, we have dedicated even more time to expanding the skills of our youth artisans so we now have youth that help out in different areas of the company such as social media, operations and customer service in addition to handcrafting jewelry. My goal has always been to create a company run by street youth – I would love to one day see a VP of Marketing or Sales as a youth who started out as an artisan!.
Can you give us an example of a youth who has worked with Kind Karma and how the experience has changed their life for the better?
I think all of the youth we work with can say that the experience has changed their life for the better. As one of our youth artisans said: “For the last six years, I was unable to hold down a job. Now, I love coming to work and Kind Karma is actually the only structure that I can really count on in my life.” This sentiment has been reiterated by all of the youth we have been privileged to employ and they are all surprised by the environment that is Kind Karma. To read a full account of what Kind Karma has meant, one of our youth artisans recently wrote an entire blog about her experience and you can check it out here.
What’s the process behind designing and creating each piece?
Since most of the youth artisans we employ have never made jewelry before, I decided to design the pieces to keep a consistent aesthetic. Both out of personal preference and for sustainability reasons, I try to keep all designs very minimalist so that you can enjoy pieces no matter what outfit you are wearing. I will never forget when statement costume jewelry was on trend and you’d have to get a different piece for different outfits; most were only worn a once or twice before they tarnished and were then thrown out. Since Kind Karma jewelry is high quality, tarnish resistant and is designed to go with everything, our hope is that we avoid pieces creating additional waste in landfills and dumps.
This also made it easier for youth new to jewelry making to learn fundamentals through pre-designated designs but as their skills have developed, I am happy to say that so too has their involvement in the design process. We recently launched a brand new Artisan Collection featuring a piece co-designed by each of our youth artisans that reflects their personality, favourite gemstones and style. It has given them greater ownership over their artistic creativity and we hope to expand the collection as we grow!
What do you love most about Kind Karma Co?
The youth I get to work with! They are truly the reason I do what I do and it has been such a privilege watching them grow and develop into amazing individuals with their own goals and aspirations that I get to (even indirectly) help them achieve. There is nothing that I love more about working at Kind Karma and it truly makes any challenges and obstacles worth the journey.
What’s been your most memorable moment(s) so far?
There are so many memorable moments but I think one of the most memorable was making it into the Toronto Life holiday gift guide during our first year of operation. I was still working part-time to make ends meet and I had no idea we were in Toronto Life until my boss at the time texted me a photo and asked “Is this your company?” Since he had been the CEO and President of huge corporations and so successful in his endeavours, having him see what I had started and congratulate me on my work was definitely a highlight and one of the most memorable moments I can remember.
What’s some great feedback you’ve received from customers?
We love hearing feedback from customers and we read every testimonial, review and comment! We get a wide variety of feedback, some of it about how they love the jewelry and that a necklace or bracelet is now their favourite piece that they never take off to those that are inspired by the mission behind the jewelry. We always hear feedback about how impressed customers are that vulnerable youth actually made the jewelry they love because it is of such high quality and craftsmanship; we love hearing that our pieces are loved and enjoyed as fine jewelry but has so much more meaning behind it.
Future plans for Kind Karma Co?
I would love to see Kind Karma grow as a brand and become an industry leader in fine jewelry. It would be a marked shift in consumerism to be able to see a sustainable jewelry company, dedicated to giving back, become one of the go-to places to treat yourself!
Along the way to this goal, I would love to open Kind Karma offices across Canada in urban cities to help more youth with meaningful employment. I think youth tend to fall in the cracks in major cities simply because the cost of living is higher and they are just one in a million. So to be able to help marginalized youth nationally by offering meaningful employment is definitely a goal that we hope will start to take shape in the next couple of years!