Q&A: NU alumna Kourtney Kinchen on her nonprofit passion project, Encircled Jewelry


Photo courtesy of Kourtney Kinchen

Kourtney Kinchen crafts an earring order from her most recent collection. The Weinberg alumna started Encircled Jewelry in November after graduating in 2020.

Sara Kadoura, Reporter


When a global pandemic disrupted her gap year before law school, Kourtney Kinchen (Weinberg ‘20) started an online jewelry shop. Inspired by Northwestern student-run Friends Who Earring, Kinchen gives all profits from Encircled Jewelry to groups that support and uplift current and formerly incarcerated people — raising $2,700 so far. Kinchen is currently accumulating profits to donate $2,500 to the Compassion Prison Project to fund the publication of a book of creative writing written by incarcerated people. The Daily sat down with Kinchen to talk about her jewelry shop, creative process and inspiration. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

The Daily: How did you come up with the name “Encircled Jewelry” for your shop?

Kinchen: I graduated in September. I didn’t have a job yet, but I knew I wanted to do something. And so I started looking at Pinterest and different types of jewelry making. I watched a few videos on YouTube and just decided that I was going to make a business out of it within a week. So I was rapidly trying to come up with a name. Encircled is kind of communal, like a hug. But I was also thinking encircled, like people who are incarcerated are encircled by walls and just this horrible experience.

The Daily: Could you expand on where you got the idea for the business?

Kinchen: I had been volunteering a lot at the Northwestern Prison Education Program, so I felt very directly connected. And obviously, because of the pandemic, no one’s connected to anything that really matters to them. And I’d always wanted to start a business. And I like jewelry and fashion. So I thought that Encircled Jewelry would be an easy way to combine different interests and passions.

The Daily: What does the creative process look like for you?

Kinchen: I do go on Pinterest sometimes and piece together different things that I like. My dad, for Christmas, bought me a little sketch pad. I’m not a good drawer, but I can do little circles. I also go on Etsy and search for materials. Materials inspire me. I try to take the first week after a collection release to experiment with different colors I might have purchased or different parts that I might have used. But a lot of the time that idea that I was envisioning doesn’t actually happen. I change stuff last minute — it’s kind of a jumbled process.

The Daily: Where do the profits go?

Kinchen: It’s changing every time. The first time, I donated to an organization that helps pregnant incarcerated mothers. The second time, I donated to Northwestern Prison Education Program. And then there was this really cool organization that I found from a woman who had previously been incarcerated. She was pioneering this jailhouse lawyer project that created a network between people who are currently on the outside and people who are on the inside. So just giving people the resources inside to have the ability to advocate for themselves was kind of her mission. This current one that I’m donating to — the Compassion Prison Project — is helping people deal with their childhood trauma.

The Daily: What’s the inspiration for the next collection?

Kinchen: Every time I finish a collection, I stop liking it. I’m just looking forward to the next one. This current collection might actually stay my favorite one. Bright colors, flowers, natural elements. I think it’s cool to combine mediums more than just metal and resin, which is what I have done in the past. I think it gives a broader range for creativity.

Clarification: This story has been updated to better reflect Kinchen’s future plans.

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