Wear Their Names’ jewelry inspired by Black death, glass from Charleston unrest faces backlash

Critics have blasted the 'Wear Their Names' jewelry collection as exploitative

Loading the player...

The recent deaths of Black people in the country have led to protests and are now the inspiration for jewelry and backlash.

Paul Chelmis and Jing Wen are behind the jewelry collection Wear Their Names that uses broken glass from the Charleston unrest to create the trinkets, The Post and Courier reported. The two, who are in a relationship, were inspired after a protest and subsequent unrest following the death of George Floyd in May.

The couple witnessed peaceful protesters marching for justice taken over by those who were vandalizing and breaking the windows of various businesses in Charleston, S.C. on Facebook Live. Chelmis, a photographer, regretted not being there in person to capture the tear gas and resulting fire of the unrest that ensued.  

Wear Their Names Charleston Black thegrio.com
Paul Chelmis and Jing Wen ((Credit: Paul Chelmis/Post and Courier)

Read More: Counter-protester pulls gun on Black Lives Matter protester

“My camera is my greatest weapon of making a difference in the world, and it was killing me I couldn’t be there to document that moment,” Chelmis said.

Chen, who is Chinese and has a permanent residency in the United States, had the idea to gather the shattered glass from the scene and turn it into a manner in which they could give back. Others were helping to clean up the damaged properties but they believed their approach could lead to a more lasting impact.

“Make something beautiful out of the rubble,” Wen thought.

Wear their Name is a play on the rallying cry “Say Her Name” and “Say Their Name,” which is meant to affirm those who have died from violence. Such pieces include Tamir Rice earrings and an Eric Garner necktie pendant. Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Trayvon Martin, Tanisha Pughsleyalso had their likeness appropriated for the jewelry.

Read More: Officer responsible for George Floyd murder wants case dismissed

Wear Their Names Charleston Black thegrio.com
(Credit: Paul Chelmis/Post and Courier)

Their actions have come under heavy criticism by those who feel their efforts are using Black death for content and commercial gain. Their actions were likened to “souvenirs white southerners would take after a lynching.”

Mika Gadsen, an activist in Charleston, blasted the enterprise as shameful despite any intent to donate proceeds to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“This is disgusting. SHAME on Shanshui for exploiting Black death for commercial gain. No matter how much they donate, they stand to benefit financially and in other ways. This is reprehensible and offensive. This line needs to be pulled ASAP!!!,” she tweeted.

Others were still left uneasy by the assurance that the proceeds raised would benefit Black Lives Matter and weren’t persuaded that Kanika Moore, a Black woman, gave her approval for the venture.

“When Paul came to me with the idea, he really wanted to make sure that it would be perceived the right way,” Moore said. “He was cautious about it and the way it would be viewed. He wanted it to be a positive influence.”

That is not how this effort has been received who believe Black bodies, many of whom have been killed by police, are being further harmed.

Wear Their Names Charleston Black thegrio.com
Kanika Moore wearing a bolo tie from the “Wear Their Names” collection. (Credit: Paul Chelmis/Post and Courier)

“They went to their 1 blk friend,” one blasted.

Chelmis and Wen have seemingly responded to the backlash by removing some of the pieces. However, they have not pulled the website or ceased selling the items.

Have you subscribed to theGrio’s podcast “Dear Culture”? Download our newest episodes now!

Loading the player...