Friends and former roommates Ken Leung and Dana Chin left behind lucrative careers on Wall Street to pursue their true calling: jewelry making. The creation of ken & dana design in 2004 allowed total immersion into a once creative project of making one of a kind pieces for those who dared to be different.
While still learning the ropes of the jewelry industry, Leung and Chin have perfected their voice of the two collections under ken & dana design, BYLU and B-Side. While both collections target different trinket mavens, the political statements, unsuspecting designs and graffiti tagging are seamlessly interwoven into luxurious and precious metals that received accolades from Beyoncé, Sessilee Lopez and Keri Hilson.
Clutch spoke exclusively with co-founder Dana Chin about catering to the “stylishly different” crowd, creating pieces for Doo.Ri’s earlier collection and why they’re devoted to giving back to the community.
Clutch: The birth of Ken & Dana Design doesn’t follow the traditional recipe for success. Tell us how you all got started.
Dana Chin: Success.. that is very kind of you. Ken and I were roomies in college, graduated and moved into the city. We both had taken jobs on Wall St. and didn’t want to kill each other so we decided to stay roommates. After a year of no sleep, Ken left his banking job for a month long beach sitting adventure in Greece. When he got back to the states he decided to take his parents up on an offer to run the family gemstone business.
For the following year as I pretended to be useful on Wall St. Ken and I would talk shit about starting our own biz… pretty standard for 23 I believe. After my second year out of school I pulled the plug on my corporate job and joined ken.
Of course we had no friggan idea what we were doing. We would come up with fancy (or so we thought) designs that were going to revolutionize the jewelry industry only to find out they had already been done or they were just too nuts to ever make. Needless to say nobody wanted to make the things we came up with, and so one tool at a time we started to build a shop.
Clutch: Your first collection, BYLU had already cemented your position in jewelry design so what encouraged the creation of B-Side?
Dana Chin: BYLU and b-side are different labels. The main distinction is that BYLU is fine jewelry (gold and diamonds and all that) and b-side is Fashion Jewelry (not gold and diamonds). We produce collections under both labels.
Our start was in fashion jewelry. For two years we made things with wire and beads and all that. We even made a collection of items for Doori Chung and her 2005 Spring Runway show. After which we decided that we wanted people to take our work more seriously and started working with gold and precious stones. In hindsight I think fine jewelry at such an early stage is a double edge sword: on one hand we realized we loved working with these materials, and the connections of a very important piece with the wearer. On the other hand fine jewelry is very difficult because of all the costs. For a young designer it can be very difficult to execute all the funky ideas you have if you have to pay out the ass for materials all the time. We launched b-side to get back to our fashion roots. We wanted to make things that were fun and easy to pick up again.
Clutch: What are the differential elements between BYLU and B-Side?
Dana Chin: Again fine v fashion is the real divider. But whatever collection or label you’re talking about all of our work is strong: what I mean by that is there is either a strong story the piece is telling or the look is very bold. That is the unifier. We like to talk about similarities rather than differences (OBAMA!!!!)
Clutch: Your creations are all handmade pieces, how long does it take to complete a look?
Dana Chin: Ummm yeah. That depends. Some of the enamel work can take a while to set, and some of the stone setting can be rough. But we can make most pieces in a day or two. We run production cycles every two weeks and to be honest a lot of the time is involved in planning and sourcing the materials. Once you have all the parts it tends to be pretty easy to construct (assuming you have done it a few thousand times).
Clutch: Three of Clutch’s favorite women, Beyoncé, Keri Hilson and Sessilee Lopez, have been photographed in pieces from the B-Side collection. How stoked were you all when you found out?
Dana Chin: We totally played it cool. Um no. We were real excited…. To be honest we get excited when any one wears our work. But yea we were quite happy. Beyonce bought her pieces so that made us happier.
From a design perspective we will always create work that is bold and expressive.
Clutch: What inspires your design process the most?
Dana Chin: All the cliché stuff inspires us (as with most people). I mean anything you create is always infused with your personality and perspective so I don’t think its any one thing. Having said that we make work that we want to connect with people. Sometimes its an emotion connection (see our upcoming RIGHTS collection), sometimes is on a visual level (ie. Bold cube looks).
Clutch: What can we expect to see from Ken & Dana Design in the future?
Dana Chin: More work that impacts our local and national community (lofty hugh). We are donating a portion of our sales from the upcoming “RIGHTS” collection to the Harlem Children’s Zone. Beyond just writing a check we are looking to invest in our local communities youth art’s education. We are working on a few projects to get ourselves more involved in the artistic development of our community (with focus on the youth) as well as create works that raise awareness. From a design perspective we will always create work that is bold and expressive.
For more information on BYLU and B-Side Jewelry, visit www.kenanddanadesign.com.