DETROIT -- To understand how the Detroit Red Wings Foundation became partners with Rebel Nell, a local company that works to help women who face barriers to employment, you have to start at the beginning of what is far more than a jewelry company.
Amy Peterson, Rebel Nell's co-founder and CEO, was working for the Detroit Tigers and living in the city next door to COTS, the Coalition On Temporary Shelter.
"I just went and had conversations with the residents there and it was around 2012-2013 that I was like, what if I could do something more? These women are my neighbors, they're incredible," Peterson said. "So I wanted to create a company that would teach women to fish, what does that look like? Fast forward six years later, this is what we're doing."
What Rebel Nell does is work with COTS and other local organizations to find women who have had trouble finding jobs and keeping those jobs.
Rebel Nell hires these women as Creative Designers and teaches them how to make special pieces of jewelry out of discarded layers of graffiti, all while offering them additional training to help them become completely self-sufficient.
It is not completely by accident that Rebel Nell decided to focus on jewelry as both Peterson and her partner, co-founder Diana Russell, had a little bit of knowledge about it.
"To be honest, we had the mission first and the company was kind of secondary," Peterson said. "Diana, my business partner and I, had a very basic jewelry-making background, very, very simple. To call us jewelers is an insult to actual jewelers. But that was a common denominator for the two of us and we wanted to create something that was Detroit-centric but we truly had no idea until I went running on day on the Dequindre Cut and I had seen a piece of fallen mural.
"I picked it up, thought, 'Oh, that's neat, but there's all these layers underneath that piece, how could we expose them?' We just played around and about five months from that, we had a solid prototype and have been doing it ever since."
Rebel Nell maintains a very holistic approach when it comes to education for their employees.
"We don't hire a lot but we go really deep with the women that we do hire and kind of tackle a lot of the barriers that have been prohibitive in the past," Peterson explained. "Just starting with getting them in a better footing so that they can actually make strides toward a sustainable life. So we do everything from housing resources, financial literacy, a lot of workforce development.
"Actually we're working really hard right now through our non-profit arm called T.E.A. (Teaching. Empowering. Achieving.) to build out that program so that we're going to help fill a gap, particularly in the customer service world. That's where we're focusing a lot of our training because there is a big need in Detroit, now especially we just opened a retail store and that is going to be part of the curriculum and then we will matriculate our ladies after they've gone through the course and they've completed a lot of stuff to help improve their lives. We will recommend them for jobs that are higher-paying and better opportunities for them."
Rebel Nell and York Project, a Detroit social enterprise that creates social streetwear, opened their joint retail store in late August near New Center. It offers the entire Rebel Nell product lineup.
Certainly each woman that has gone through Rebel Nell's program and graduated into her new life has left an imprint on Peterson and her staff, but their first hire has a special place in their hearts.
"Her name is Karen. I credit her all the time," Peterson said. "Now she serves on our board of T.E.A., she was our first hire, first graduate, she really embraced what we offered. I think if it wasn't for her really proving that what we thought was a good concept, a good business model, for her to be the return on our investment, the success story, I don't know if we would have kept going. It's insanely hard work but she truly was the reason that I think about her all the time. I really, really do. She's just an amazing human being and doing very, very well now."
Peterson said Karen graduated in 2015 and is now working for Detroit Central City and thriving.
"In fact, we still are in touch with her on a regular basis and as I mentioned, she's on our board and has kind of helped guiding the next generation of Rebel Nells," Peterson said.
Although Peterson once worked for the Tigers, she did not have a direct connection to the Red Wings until recently.
"To be honest, I've always kind of wanted to find creative ways to merge my two passions, especially coming from the sports world," Peterson said. "I didn't know how I could make it work and then, just as serendipity would have it, I drove by the Joe several, several months ago and I actually saw the paint, which was literally falling off the building, flaking off. There was a giant pile on the sidewalk and it was like, oh, here's my idea. So we sort of collected it and I reached out to the Red Wings Foundation and said, 'I have a great idea. What if we partner on this and everybody wins? We can help raise money for the Red Wings Foundation and all the great work that you guys do, but additionally, we can shine a spotlight on the unique work that Rebel Nell is doing. Plus now, we're able to preserve this incredible landmark and the significance of it and how cool is it to wear a piece of something that they were in the process of demolishing? It will no longer exist but there are so many incredible memories that happened there and now you can own a piece of it.'
"They said, 'We love it, let's do it together.' So that's how it happened."
The limited edition Joe Collection will be available at the Little Caesars Arena Team Store and at detroitredwings.com/thejoecollection on Sept. 27. Those interested can also sign up on the Rebel Nell website for the early access group.