small talk // kristy santelli // jewelry designer of drift / riot


i met kristy santelli at the capsule womenswear tradeshow this past february. kristy is a jewelry designer and art educator based in richmond, virginia. she runs drift / riot, a line of incredibly cool handmade jewelry. i immediately fell in love with kristy's knot chokers above and found chatting with her just like talking to an old galpal. since metals are very malleable, kristy's design process is both organic and sustainable allowing her to easily re-use jewelry by melting it down and starting over. is it just me or does this sound like a life metaphor?

more about kristy + drift / riot below:

cultureisland: tell us more about you.

kristy santelli: i moved around a lot growing up. that's really where the drift concept comes from. i was always moving to the next place and readjusting to my surroundings -- i loved it! i studied at fit for my undergrad and have a degrees in fashion merchandising + ad comm. i took the first job i could get out of college and waitressed to make my rent, i was first a set designer (working on sets for oprah + jay-z) and then got into fashion pr. i realized working there that i had to do something with my hands, i hated sitting at my desk and writing. so i started taking a photoshop class to help with press releases and flyer's. then took a lifestyle drawing class at sva and became addicted to making. i decided to pursue teaching art where i could work with students making all day and still teach. i'm in my 5th year teaching high school art classes while also running drift / riot. it's getting harder and harder to juggle both but i really love working with my kids so i will keep teaching as long as i can. i started working with metal at fit but revisited the medium during my masters at vcu. taking metals at vcu started as way to get out of taking another theory class but it really became something i feel in love with. i would be at the studio until midnight working on a ring instead of working on my thesis! from there i started making pieces for friends and then met my fiancé, who not only is the love of my life but really the reason i began drift / riot. he motivated me to take it to the next level and just go for it. he also designs my kick ass website so we're a pretty good team! 

 drift / riot  signet ring  +  drifter cuff

drift / riot signet ring + drifter cuff

cultureisland: tell us more about drift / riot.

kristy santelli: drift / riot is my baby. i started selling at a local boutique before i had a name. but product kept moving and people wanted to know about the brand. i decided it was finally time to put myself out there. i am a drifter at heart and have always drifted so that was the easy part. but i wanted my company to be more dynamic than just drifting. so my sister and i started brainstorming names that might work. i think she came up with riot  and as soon as she said it that was it! i like how it's a juxtaposition, kind of dueling philosophies. i liked the idea of making it a riot -- going crazy with it, maybe adding a little humor, and really just going for it! i like to hear what other people think it means. 

 drift / riot  brass tube  +  textured hoops

drift / riot brass tube + textured hoops

cultureisland: what is your design process? what kind of products do you make?

kristy santelli: we make lovely things for your ears, neck, fingers, and wrists! i just started making tie clips for men and hair pins which i love. my design process is a bit chaotic. i don't have a lot of time so when i'm in making mode i tend to kind of vomit all of my ideas i've had built up. i'm working on creating more of a collection when i design now and trying to sketch out my ideas before hand. i want to have more of a theme or fluid direction. but it's definitely challenging when time is limited. 

cultureisland: do you stick with the same styles and/or release new styles seasonally?

kristy santelli: i have products that i love and that are really timeless so they will stay but i'm working on releasing new products that have more of a theme every season. i go back and forth and cut products when i don't feel like they fit anymore. again, it's hard for my to scale it back! a lot of times it's about the challenge of making it. 

cultureisland: who is the drift / riot customer?

kristy santelli: i love our customers -- it's crazy but we really cater to every age. i know high schoolers that rock drift / riot but i also sell at many high end boutiques that cater to women 40 and up. i have a lot of women that are in their 50's that are my best customers! and they know how to wear it. that's another thing i love about making jewelry -- it's something you collect over your lifetime + pass down. 

cultureisland: what plans do you have to grow the brand?

kristy santelli: oh wow -- where do i begin? we are looking at buildings in rva to open a store. my dream is to have the bauhaus of jewelry. where people can come and learn, shop and hang out. to create a place that encourages other artists and helps them expand. would love to house visiting artists and help them get their start, build them a website and watch them grow as well. it's not about me but it's about the community and bringing people together.

cultureisland: where can we find drift / riot in stores?

kristy santelli: we have always been focused on bringing people to our site as an in-house brand. but have just started working with wholesalers. although we are trying to be mindful as to where we place the brand. we want to sell to store we admire and care about their customer. right now we are at need supply co., sunroom austin, rosewood clothing co. and have a few others on the horizon which we are very excited about! 

cultureisland: where do you find inspiration?

kristy santelli: everywhere! it's hard not to be inspired. i have to sometimes shut off my surroundings so i can focus on a collection. it's so easy to go crazy but limiting that selection is what's challenging for me. 

cultureisland: what are your favorite places to shop, eat, hang out and grab coffee around richmond? any other richmond based brands we should check out?

kristy santelli: my favorite places to shop are need supply co. + rosewood clothing co. they are my go-to's. my favorite restaurant is stella's and the most amazing coffee is the nitro brew at sasion. richmond full of makers! my two other favorite jewelry brands are giantlion + young frankk, na nin makes my favorite candles + perfume oil, emimade has really cute ceramics, and ledbury for the men in your life. 

cultureisland: what are you listening to right now?

kristy santelli: ha, right now kygo / firestone is playing! but i also teach spin classes at a local boutique here in richmond so i'm constantly making playlists and love love love all music. when i first started drift i named all the product after songs. i think i'm going to start that again. 

* check out drift / riot jewelry here // instagram // facebook // twitter *