Founded by social entrepreneur Peter Thum, creator of Ethos Water and Fonderie47, Liberty United is a jewelry line whose aim is to reduce illegal gun violence in the United States by putting forth 25% of proceeds from each piece towards funding anti-violence and advocacy programs. All of the brand's jewelry incorporates melted down metal from destroyed illegal guns and bullet shell casings and the serial number of a destroyed weapon is featured on each piece. Some of the biggest names in the jewelry industry including Philip Crangi and Pamela Love have collaborated with Liberty United to create collections, with more to come.
We spoke to Thum about his latest entreprenurial venture.
theFashionSpot: Were you always passionate about gun control?
Peter Thum: While working in Africa five years ago, I met boys with assault rifles and was stopped at roadblocks by armed men a few times — that was enough to get my attention.
tFS: Can you tell us a little bit about your past ventures and how the idea for Liberty United came about?
PT: I began using business to tackle social issues about 13 years ago after meeting people in South Africa who lacked water access. That gave me the impetus to come up with and start Ethos Water, which took me back to visit our water projects where I first was confronted by people carrying assault rifles. This experience was the catalyst for me to want to start Fonderie 47, a brand that transforms African AK47s into ultra high end jewelry and watches, each of which funds the destruction of a specific number of assault rifles when sold. So far we've removed over 34,000 assault rifles from circulation since 2010. Liberty United, which works to reduce gun violence here in the U.S., was launched this year in June. We had thought about it for a long time, but my wife Cara said, “Let's do this now."
tFS: How did your designer collaborations come about?
PT: We wanted to work with great designers from the beginning of Fonderie 47. We didn't know anyone though, so friends and journalists gave us advice and we met with people. We met jewelers Philip Crangi and James de Givenchy through mutual friends and then Adrian Glessing and David Candaux, who together are making our watches, through one of our investors and a long series of trips to Switzerland. When we started work on Liberty United, my first call was to Philip. I asked if we could make the railroad spike out of bullets and illegal guns and we got started.
tFS: What's the process like when you're working with designers?
PT: It is great. My creativity is different from theirs, so it is a lot of fun for me. It also tends to be quite personal. In most cases we've become friends. We select people very carefully based on their passion for our mission, their prowess as designers and their qualities and values as people. Of course, they choose us too.
tFS: What do you wear day to day jewelry-wise?
PT: I wear a Fonderie 47 AK47 and gold signet ring that Philip Crangi made for me. It bears the serial number of the gun from which it was made, and either a Bullet Spike necklace by Giles & Brother for Liberty United that says "Peace," or a Bullet Spike bracelet that bears my daughter's name.
tFS: Where do the illegal guns and bullet shell casings you work with come from? What was the process like to get your hands on them?
PT: The material we use to create Liberty United pieces comes from the police departments in our partner communities of Philadelphia, PA, Newburgh, NY and Syracuse, NY. These either are guns and bullets that were released from evidence, or that were handed in through a gun buy back program.
tFS: Can you tell us about the process of turning them into jewelry?
PT: The illegal guns are destroyed by a chopping or crushing device, or they are melted by a foundry. We get the metal and the attendant serial numbers from those weapons as well as the bullet shell casings and then work with designers to give them the material in the form that they need in order to make the pieces. We work with many companies here in the U.S. to then turn the gun metal and bullets into jewelry.
tFS: Liberty United’s pieces can be personalized. Any particularly memorable ones people have asked for?
PT: One day, I went to meet a man for the first time who runs a very specialized company that does some of the work on our pieces for us. This was in the last few months. He did not know anything about our brand or our mission to reduce gun violence. After I gave a brief explanation to him about what we do and showed him the piece with my daughter’s name on it he told me that his son had been killed less than a week earlier in a mass shooting. It was very difficult. This quietly courageous man was back running his company just after his child's life had been taken. We gave pieces of our jewelry to him and the members of his family with his son's name engraved on them.
tFS: What's an average day like for you given your many ventures? Any other ventures in the works?
PT: My wife and I wake up when our 11-month-old daughter does, usually around 5:30 a.m. I go straight to the gym for an hour and then after playing with our daughter as long as possible I head out for the day. Most days involve every part of what we do from meeting with designers, to figuring out how to make something, to talking with journalists and people from the cities with whom we work. I run two social enterprises and two not for profit organizations. I have lots of ideas, but my plate is pretty full.