VanLeles jewelry designer Vania Leles’ exquisite designs come with a nice little side effect: they’re feel-good finery, too. Not only are her gems and metals ethically and sustainably sourced, but her latest collection Sahara supports the charity Women for Women International, which helps marginalized women affected by war and conflict in Western Africa and other regions. Here, Leles tells us about the endeavor, her line and shares her advice on forging her own entrepreneurial path.

The jewelry bug bit when…

As a child I used to rifle through my mother’s jewelry box in our home in Guine-Bissau.

First piece of jewelry I fell in love with…

My mother’s Cartier gold bib necklace with colored gems and diamonds. I was six when I saw it for the first time and remember being struck how magnificent it was.

VanLeles is…

Jewels with soul and a story to tell. Ethically sourced in Africa. Passionately crafted in Italy. Our Mission statement is SSSS:
SOUL is about giving back. We are sponsors of WFWI [Women for Women International], and I am so proud to know that the sales of our new Sahara collection will support the amazing work they are doing for women in West Africa.
STYLE is, of course, about our exquisite design and craftsmanship. Bored with so much of the generic jewelry I saw around me, I set up with the intention of creating supremely feminine, elegant and versatile jewelry for modern women.
SUSTAINABILITY is our focus on the ethical sourcing of all our gemstones and our work with fair-mined African gold.
SUBSTANCE is about our African heritage and authenticity. I was born and raised between West Africa and Portugal and draw almost all my inspiration from Africa.

I was inspired to launch it when…

Back in 2001 I was modeling in New York City, shooting a jewelry editorial for a magazine.

And because…

I had always loved the jewelry world but, after a few years working within it, I realized that although jewelry houses have been mining in Africa for centuries, no high jewelry house had an African Creative Director or CEO. So the seed of Vanleles was born. My mission was to create the first African high jewelry house and inspire others to join me. In the future I would love to see more Africans in high jewelry companies in Europe and beyond. Who knows what can happen in 100 years time?

Read the full interview with Vania on Tory Daily.