SKANEATELES | It started as an assignment in an art class at Syracuse University for Skaneateles native Jordan Dudden: She had to design and produce a ring for a project, and she really wasn't sure what to do at first.
But, she had a "huge collection of keys" from her grandmother's house when her grandmother died, and Dudden thought she could make something out of those.
So, she said, she bent them into a circular shape for a single ring. For a double ring, she said, she shaped two rings and then soldered them together.
"Now, I really like the double, and the teacher really liked it," she said. "After the class, I just wore them around hoping that they were just good fashion statements for myself."
But, as she walked around campus, Dudden said people started asking her questions about the unusual rings — "Where did you get that?" she said passers-by would ask. "I was like, 'Oh, I made them.'" — and she began to think that she could take the rings beyond a class project.
That led her to create JoJo Rings — a brand-new, Syracuse-based company that produces single and double rings made out of recycled keys and sells them to support charitable causes around the region.
"I was like, 'Let's go for it and see where it goes,'" she said.
Dudden lauched her business in January with the help of her boyfriend, ChronicleMe founder and fellow Skaneateles native A.J. Richichi, and found Tim Gottschall through the Syracuse Arts Learning & Technology Makerspace to help her produce the rings for local stores.
As well as Nest 58, she said one store in Hamilton and another in Rochester sell JoJo Rings. And after a profile about her ran in The Post-Standard, she said, six other stores in the Syracuse area contacted the company to inquire about displaying the jewelry.
"He helps us make the rings down at the SALT Makerspace,” Dudden said of Gottschall. “He's been super helpful in just getting big orders in for these stores.”
To make the rings, she said, the keys are heated up with a blowtorch and bent into a ring shape. In fact, she added, Gottschall helped the company develop a special machine to bend the rings. Then, to make a double ring, two rings are soldered together after they are formed.
Dudden said the company hasn't yet figured out how to size the rings and offers stores and online customers a variety of options to pick out a ring that is the right fit. And along with that, the fact that no two keys are alike ensures that each ring is a custom, one-of-a-kind product as well, she noted.
While she said the company is “trying to figure out where we're going to have them in Syracuse,” she noted Nest 58 was the first business to express interest in offering the rings. The two others followed suit, and “it's been really good so far,” Dudden said.
But the sales of the rings are as unique as the pieces themselves: Part of the proceeds from ring sold supports an area non-profit organization. In February, JoJo Rings supported Vera House, and in March, each ring sold provided 17.5 meals for the Food Bank of Central New York.
Next month, the company plans to work with the Syracuse Habitat for Humanity. Dudden said the company plans to feature a different organization with its giving each month.
“I'm really excited about that because I was a part of that at Syracuse (University),” she said. “I think it's a good change because a month goes and we've sold so many, so we're excited to help them but we want to help other people as well.”
Aside from the philanthropic component of the company, Dudden said the rings attract merchants and customers alike who share a preference for items produced right in the region.
“I think they really like just the handmade in central New York aspect,” she said. “Especially in the boutiques that we're selling to, they like to have things that are made in the area.”
And, she added, the fact that the proceeds of each ring goes toward a local cause is not lost on the merchants and customers either.
“I also think that the charity aspect is really nice too because people do want to help others out, even when they're buying something for themselves but they know that it's going to something else,” she said. “I think the rings are a reflect of our commitment to social change.”
As well as interacting with the businesses and customers, Dudden said she took a tour of the food back before the company and the organization teamed up and she enjoyed that familiarization as well as she continues growing the brand.
“Getting to walk through and learning about everything they do is amazing,” she said. “It's really nice for me to have that understanding. Even though you're giving them money, getting to know what they do in a closer, more intimate way is great.”