Charleston, SC – A jewelry company that used shattered glass from the Charleston riots to create its “Wear Their Names” line has permanently shut down the project amid backlash from the community.
The company, Shan Shui, used the broken glass to create rings, pendants, bangles, and earrings – each of which was named in honor of a black person who died during a confrontation with law enforcement, The Post and Courier reported.
All proceeds from the sales of the pieces – which ranged in price from $45 to $500 – were slated to go to Black Lives Matter, according to Complex.
Shan Shui owners Paul Chelmis and his girlfriend, Jing Wen, came up with the idea to “make something beautiful out of the rubble” while watching footage of the riots that took place in Charleston on May 30, The Post and Courier reported.
The next morning, they drove to the city from their Summerville home and gathered glass from demolished storefronts.
“That morning, we were thinking on a much smaller scale than we should’ve been,” Chelmis told The Post and Courier. “I’m kicking myself for not gathering 10 times as much glass.”
The couple ran their project idea by their friend, musician Kanika Moore, for advice and assurance.
“When Paul came to me with the idea, he really wanted to make sure that it would be perceived the right way,” explained Moore, who is black. “He was cautious about it and the way it would be viewed. He wanted it to be a positive influence.”
Moore said she backed the plan, especially after the couple named each piece in honor of someone who had been killed by law enforcement officers, The Post and Courier reported.
But social media users denounced the project in swift order and accused Shan Shui of trying to profit from the deaths of black people, Complex reported.
just when we thought it couldn’t get ANY worse… pic.twitter.com/iGm7423PeI
— sophie the cat lady (@sophieming_) September 8, 2020
“Is it just me, or is naming each accessory after victims of police brutality & then pricing them differently giving…..slave auction-ey vibes???” one tweet read. “It’s as if the name attached to the product determines the monetary value of each life.”
“1000% disturbing and unethical, this is insane like who sees tragedy and thinks ‘I should exploit this for monetary gain and further rub sand into the still open wound’ like who raised these people to think this was ok,” another Twitter user ranted.
Others referred to the “Wear Their Names” line as “reprehensible and offensive,” and demanded the company be shut down.
Charleston Activist Network spokesperson Tamika Gadsen said that Shan Shui was turning black trauma and pain into a commodity, The Post and Courier reported.
“It made what happened on May 30 into a caricature,” Gadsden said. “Really what it is is perpetuating white supremacy.”
“It was tone deaf,” radio host Kris Kaylin said, according to The Post and Courier. “If you wanted to pay tribute or help the community, you could have shown Black kids how to make jewelry or invested in a grassroots organization.”
Wen and Chelmis have since removed their website and taken down photos of the “Wear Their Names” line from the Shan Shui Instagram page, Complex reported.
“Just want to say we’ve heard the feedback from the community loud and clear and are taking it seriously. So sorry to those we offended or harmed,” the company said in a statement, according to Complex. “While our intentions were pure and we consulted with a wide variety of people before launching, it is clear that there are issues with the approach we took.”
The couple said that they “only wanted to honor the victim’s names and retell their story,” but that they now see that using those names “was inappropriate and in poor taste.”
Wen and Chelmis further noted that people seemed to be confused about what they intended to do with the proceeds from their jewelry sales.
“Some didn’t like the organization we chose, while others didn’t see that we were donating 100% of our profits, and others felt even then we were only doing it for credit,” their statement read, according to Complex. “We want to make things right. Thank you for holding us accountable. Nothing but respect for our activist community.”
The shutdown will be permanent, but the company said it will fulfill all orders that were made prior to the decision to discontinue the line, Complex reported.