Chari Cuthbert has not slept much since Michelle Obama’s speech on Monday, the first night of the four-day Democratic National Convention. “It’s like that really good dream when you wake up and you’re like, I had a dream that Michelle Obama wore my necklace at the DNC, and then you’re like, Michelle Obama actually wore my necklace,” she said Tuesday morning.
The former first lady was one of the few who managed to meet the challenges of a virtual convention, in both her speech and her presentation. She spoke with urgency and clarity about the challenges the nation faces, all while wearing a necklace that said “VOTE.” It made the viewer look twice, the small but clear letters pulling one in as Obama delivered her message. And, as is her way, she promoted an American brand in the process. Cuthbert is a Los Angeles–based jewelry designer and her company, ByChari, has been popular with the influencer set, especially those who are mothers, since its founding in 2012. (Some fans spell out their child’s name or initials in the lettering, or simply proclaim themselves a “MAMA.”)
Before Cuthbert drove home from her L.A. office Monday night, the calls for interviews, texts from friends and family, and flurry of social media posts spilled over. It was overwhelming. “I sat at my desk and just cried. It was like everything you’ve ever worked for all came rushing in in, like, a minute,” Cuthbert said. “Mrs. Obama is wearing your necklace. I mean, that in itself is a privilege and an honor. Having her put you on a platform that no amount of luck or opportunity or money can buy, it’s just—I have no words. It’s honestly the most humbling experience.”
The plan for Obama to receive the piece came together in the third week of July, Cuthbert said. “Meredith Koop, Mrs. Obama’s stylist, who she’s worked with for many years, reached out. She emailed us and she’s like, ‘I’d love to have a necklace made for Mrs. Obama.’ It came through just a regular info email.”
As soon as the ByChari P.R. team confirmed that the request was indeed on behalf of the Michelle Obama, they got to work. “We were like, ‘It will be done in an hour,’” Cuthbert said, laughing.
Cuthbert had no idea what event the request was for, but guessed, because of its timing, that the former first lady wanted something nice to wear for her husband’s birthday on August 4. It was instead featured during one of Obama’s most powerful speeches to date.
To underscore how out of the blue it was, Cuthbert said that she even had to hand over her Twitter login to a friend so she could manage it. “She’s like, ‘Honey, I had to clean up some stuff in there,’” Cuthbert said. She was thankful for the help. “I couldn’t even look at Twitter because I was on email and phone calls.”
This prime-time placement was a thrilling bit of luck for Cuthbert after a long summer full of an unexpected focus on her work. She’d seen a bump in orders over Mother’s Day, when COVID had many people at home in front of their computers. And then she’d woken up one Thursday morning to another flurry of activity after the Black Lives Matter protests took off and inspired a larger social media push to buy Black. “My name is the brand, but I’ve never felt it necessary to make myself the face of the brand,” she said. It was a friend with some influencing oomph who had posted that Chari of ByChari was a person of color, and the orders took off from there.
And now, after all this, Cuthbert has two goals: to make a more affordable version of the necklace so that it can be more accessible and to “hire more women.”
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