Grad and Local LA Designer Christine Street Empowers Women With Expressions of Acceptance, Love, and Strength Through Her Brand Chocolate and Steel
Christine Street started out making jewelry as a hobby while working part-time at Anthropologie. She wore one of her designs to work one day and it caught the attention of a shopper. That week she made her first sale and it changed the trajectory of her career. She graduated from FIDM in 1999 with her degree in Fashion Design, and launched her jewelry brand, Chocolate and Steel, on Etsy in 2006, just one year after the global online marketplace was founded. She’s been in business for over 17 years now and sells through retailers including Sundance Catalog, Smithsonian Museum, New York Public Library, and numerous boutiques across the country including Blue Skies in Chattanooga, TN; Island Farm in Denver, CO; and Miraval Resort in Austin, TX.
We visited her private studio in Los Angeles where she has mastered the art of jewelry-making. Her design process includes lost-wax casting. Her studio is a happy space, brightly lit and beautifully appointed with the tools of the trade. She uses a flex shaft to assist with drilling, cutting, carving, and polishing her pieces. All of her pieces are made with recycled sterling silver. The gold vermeil is sterling silver with a heavy coating of "eco gold," which is a technique that does not require harsh chemicals in the plating process, which she conducts in her studio, as well.
Christine said she likes to choose a word for the year to focus her attention, and this year her word is “community.” She recently hosted a trunk show at Lundeen’s, a local Culver City boutique and longtime Chocolate and Steel retailer.
She is committed to making the world a better place, and donates 20% of every piece sold from her Pride Collection to The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning) young people. We caught up with her to learn more.
Describe your jewelry brand, Chocolate and Steel: The mission of Chocolate and Steel is to empower women with genuine expressions of acceptance, love and strength in the form of jewelry, with sustainability and giving back woven throughout. With a style born in the salty breeze of the ocean and baked in the dry winds of the California desert, the jewelry is timeless, classic and has built in ease. We consider our planet in all stages of production, choosing reclaimed sterling silver and compostable/recyclable packaging for our products.
What types of metal and stones do you design with? I have three favorite ways of creating jewelry—fabrication, and casting from carved wax or sculpted clay. Depending on the design and materials I chose one of those ways—or combine them all. I cast using recycled sterling silver and electroplate with 14kt gold. I have not met a stone I didn't like! Currently my obsession is pearls, herkimer diamonds, and aqua blue chalcedony.
How did you come up with the name? Years before I started making jewelry, I saw a painting entitled "Chocolate and Steel.” I flippantly said "that would be a great name for a jewelry line.” Cut to many years later when I was looking for a name for my line, my husband reminded me of that. I loved the name because it's a nod to the duality of jewelry. It is made from hard industrial materials and stone, yet it represents something so much softer—the emotional and sentimental comfort that a meaningful piece of jewelry can bring you.
Where is your jewelry sold? I have a robust website, chocolateandsteel.com, and I sell to boutiques, catalogs, library stores, and small chain stores.
What do you love about the creative process? How do you feel when you're designing and creating? I feel like a kid again when I'm creating. It usually starts in a somewhat dreamy phase—magazine cutouts, pin boards, color stories, an array of stones, and sketching. But when I get down to making it, I feel like a kid that is taking apart a machine to learn how it works. A big part of my creative process is at the tactile stage because I'm not only the designer but also the creator.
What is the best thing about owning your own business? The best thing about owning my own business is the flexibility to try new things. My ideas don't have to run through a bunch of people so I don't have to account for or get approval when my inspiration takes me in a new direction.
Why did you choose FIDM? I enrolled in FIDM for Fashion Design. I loved fashion my entire life and I couldn't believe that it could be a career. FIDM was a foundational step in my journey towards starting this business. I worked in the fashion industry for many years before getting into jewelry. My time at FIDM opened my eyes to so many areas within the industry that I was not aware of.
Anything else you'd like to share? I am a member of 1% for the Planet and we donate 1% of annual sales to environmental non-profits.
Learn more at chocolateandsteel.com and on Instagram @chocolateandsteel.