A New Orleans’ designer is looking to raise the profile of the Gulf Coast’s fishing communities through a new collection of oyster industry-inspired jewelry.
The Torchbearers Collection, designed by Ashley Porter of Porter Lyons jewelry, is a tribute to the Gulf Coast oyster and the hard-working men and women who bring them from the ocean to the plates of consumers. Each necklace is assembled in New Orleans' French Quarter using oyster tong teeth hand-forged by traditional Apalachicola, Fla., blacksmith Rodney Richards.
“The Torchbearer’s Collection embodies the grit and resolve of the Gulf Coast’s traditional fishing communities and imagines a future in which tradition and progress coexist and support one another,” writes Porter on the collection’s Kickstarter fundraising page.
The jewelry is meant to serve as a conversation piece and raise awareness of the difficulties the oyster industry has faced since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
“Since the oil spill, 90 percent of the oyster industry is completely gone,” says Porter. “When you get a dozen oysters, oftentimes you don’t think about the process it took to get them to your plate.”
Richards learned the art of making oyster tongs from his father. But now his ancestral trade is in peril. He is one of the last working oyster tong makers along the Gulf Coast.
This collection of jewelry is meant to help preserve the craftsmen culture. “By restyling their product into fashion accessories, we can give them a reason to continue plying their trade, so that they can hopefully pass it on to the next generation,” writes Porter.
All Porter Lyons jewelry collections are focused on a specific culture, and some of the proceeds from sales go to a cause that fundamentally protects the culture’s identity. Five percent of all proceeds raised through the Torchbearers Collection after the launch will go to support the work of the Apalachicola Riverkeeper, an organization that advocates for the environment and a healthy oyster habitat.
The project needs $25,000 to launch before Monday, Dec. 19. As of Wednesday, Nov. 30, the campaign had raised $1,015 from 10 supporters. Per Kickstarter rules, each person who donates to the project is awarded a gift of some kind for their support. The campaign is accepting donations of $5 to $2,500, with rewards ranging from hand-written thank-you notes on custom oyster postcards to a limited-edition 14k gold tong pendant, two tickets to the launch party and a two-night stay in the French Quarter.