There’s no dearth of accessories these days that raise money for charity. People across the country sport bags, clothing, bracelets, and whatever they can get their hands on to support their cause of choice. But back in 2001, when Elisa Ilana founder Laurie Langdon-Gerber was opening her first store in an Omaha, Neb. shopping mall, the concept was less familiar.
“There was not this big pink [breast cancer support] craze that there is now,” she says. “It was kind of a new concept, making jewelry that was affiliated with cause marketing.”
Langdon-Gerber reconnected with her son’s former sixth grade music teacher, who had breast cancer, in the mall where her store was located. Moved when she heard about her friend’s diagnosis, Landgon-Gerber began to contact charity organizations to see if she could donate some of the proceeds from a specialized jewelry line to their causes.
“Believe it or not, we actually had people turn us down,” she laughs. But once production got underway, it took off, and even her son’s former teacher got in on the action. “She came in during chemo and radiation so that she had somewhere to go that was a support group, and she helped to make the bracelets,” says Landgon-Gerber.
Soon, the word spread and more organizations contacted Elisa Ilana to have designs made for their causes. One of the requests gave birth to the Liz’s Legacy collection, which honors the memory of Liz Karnes, who was married to former Nebraska Senator David Karnes. She lost her battle with ovarian cancer in 2003, and Langdon-Gerber hopes Elisa Ilana’s line dedicated to Karnes would raise national awareness about her life and legacy.
“When they approached me with this, we kind of had a national presence,” she says. “So I was hoping to lend … their foundation a boost.”
Landgon-Gerber and her small design staff have hand picked every charity their designs benefit, from AIDS to diabetes to soldiers’ families.
“We chose the things that we actually were passionate about,” she says.
All these years later, with a second store opening and a thriving online presence, Elisa Ilana is still a pioneer in the business, and they are dedicated to donating 10 percent of their proceeds to the specified cause.
“The jewelry isn’t significantly different today from when I originally designed it because I like the design,” says Langdon-Gerber.
Elisa Ilana’s designs feature handmade sterling silver, 14 carat gold, freshwater pearls, and Swarovski crystals. The awareness line’s most popular piece, the pink Spectacular bracelet, is inspired by the trademark color scheme for breast cancer.
“The different piece parts that are in my jewelry all have significance,” Landgon-Gerber says. Take, for example, Elisa Ilana’s signature piece, rings that move over the beads. The movement that the design lends to the jewelry represents that “the move toward a cure never sleeps,” she says.
And the awareness brand grows with a limited edition piece every few years. The designs are sometimes purposefully designed to mark a milestone, like a 10-year cancer survivor.
“The last one we did was made from genuine 14 millimeter pink tourmalines, and they were in a variety of shades and colors and so forth,” says Landon-Gerber. “Within the next couple of years we’ll have another limited edition.”
Don’t look for an East Coast retail location anytime soon, though. Elisa Ilana is considering a Las Vegas installment in the future, but in the meantime, the company continues using its online store as the main sales outlet. Check out‚ www.elisailana.com for more information.
I really enjoyed reading this article and finding out one of the pioneers of donating proceeds for a cause. Two groups I donate to every month include the ASPCA and Northern California Border Collie Rescue, where I adopted my current canine buddy. I recently opened a shop on the handmade site Etsy, and I plan on donating proceeds from my sales, as well.