August 2019

Selina King-Daly: Heart of Gold

Author: Courtney Hampson | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Selina King-Daly just picked up the phone, called her and said, “I know you do not know me, but I grew up with your husband… .” King-Daly explained to the surprised widow on the other end of the line that she was so touched by their story she needed to reach out. “I shared that I was a jewelry designer and that I wanted to give her a piece of jewelry. I invited her to go to my website to pick out any piece she wanted. She, somewhat reluctantly and humbly, accepted my offer.”

It is hard not to feel at ease when you talk to Selina King-Daly. Her eyes shimmer and her inviting smile tells you in your gut that she is a good person, and you’ll be better for having known her. We met quite by accident, but soon I realized there was a story there.

Born and raised on Hilton Head Island, King-Daly’s generous spirit is inherited from her parents who were always giving back. Her mom was a domestic violence victim’s advocate. Her father was a construction worker by trade, who developed emphysema and soon had to find a new career. He opened Noah’s Ark thrift store on Hilton Head Island, and in his free time, he was a craftsman making jewelry and working with crystals as any self-admitted hippy would do. Together her parents taught King-Daly what was important in life, including shopping vintage. It sounds funny, but growing up poor and shopping in secondhand stores would soon give King-Daly her start. “I grew up in secondhand clothes and worn out Chanel flats. I didn’t have a lot, but I knew one day I would find a way to give back,” she said.

King-Daly was 16 when her father became so ill that he needed constant care, so she finished high school early to help her mother. He died a year later. “He knew I wanted to go to college. He also knew I never would have left him; we had an extremely strong connection. Sadly, I’ve always felt that he stopped fighting to let me go.”
At his funeral, King-Daly received the opportunity from an old family friend to go to New York and check out Parsons School of Design. “Through another random string of blessings, I eventually received a full scholarship to Parsons from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” King-Daly said.

So, at just 18 years of age, King-Daly was in New York, pursuing her dream, being mentored by Tim Gunn (yes, that Tim Gunn), juggling school, a part-time job and a full-time internship. She graduated in three years with a dual degree in business and fashion, which launched her into the world of high fashion. She worked for Elle magazine and a fashion photography agency, but she wasn’t happy, until she stumbled into a church thrift store and everything changed.

“It was 2003 and vintage was just happening,” King-Daly said, so she parlayed that into survival. Vintage stores across the city loved her style and wanted her to buy for them. She was on a high, but soon that wasn’t enough, and King returned home to Hilton Head Island to do some soul searching.

That search led her to her dad’s old jewelry tools. Soon, she started taking pieces of her own vintage and costume jewelry apart and putting them back together to understand how they were made. “I made a pair of earrings and told my friend, ‘I just made these’ and she asked, ‘Can I buy them?’” And soon, five or six stores on Hilton Head Island were selling her jewelry. But still, something was missing.

In her search for that missing link, King-Daly headed back to New York and back into high-fashion, thinking this time things might click. She worked Italian Vogue, fashion styling for the likes of the Olsen Twins, Chloe Sevigny and Diane Von Furstenberg. Her last photo shoot was a 12-day job for Lacoste, during which her best friend in New York passed away. And everything changed. Again.

“Life is short. I was missing life. I needed to change my life,” King-Daly said, so back home she came. “I had this new passion, I knew what I wanted to do, and that was enough for me. What I didn’t anticipate was the response.”

Selina King Jewelry grew quickly. “Now, I’m a brand,” King-Daly said, which comes with its own set of responsibilities. Today she’s always working at how to create the perfect package around her brand, but one thing remains a constant: “I want to build a brand through personal connections, not social media,” she said. “I want people to see the name behind the brand and tell their friends, ‘This is handmade jewelry. This is quality. I know the designer.’”

The Empowerment Project
It was that phone call last January to a childhood friend’s grieving widow that sent Selina King Jewelry in another direction. In hearing that this woman had been her husband’s primary caregiver she said, “I just wanted to give her the experience of treating herself to something nice, no matter the cost.” The symbolism was not lost on me as King-Daly reached out to a woman who, like her and her mother, cared for a dying loved one.

After bestowing that first gift, King-Daly knew that her mission was about more than designing and making jewelry; it was about sharing her gift. So, just like that, the Empowerment Project was born. And suddenly King-Daly’s father’s words from her childhood meant more than ever: “Even though we don’t have much, there is someone else in a worse situation. We need to help others.”

King-Daly has lived by those words her entire life and now they resonate even louder as she has the unique opportunity to empower women and “give them something nice, make them feel good about themselves,” when the rest of life may be knocking them down.

Her work
King describes her work as “both contemporary and evocative of artifacts from ancient times,” which makes sense as much of her work is a nod to her own personal history. What began as metalsmithing has expanded to include handcrafted fine jewelry, created with vintage, ethically sourced stones.

King-Daly’s entire journey has been about people. In fact, her high school sweetheart turned husband, artist Gavan Daly, has been by her side since her second year in New York, when he joined her there, sadly just after his mom passed away—two kids in New York City, outrunning their grief, bonding over loss, and trying to make it. “A huge part of our relationship is supporting each other and helping each other’s career and goals. So, often we would move back home or back to New York or even out to California to help each other push to that next level to attain our dreams,” King-Daly said of her husband.

Today, they split their time between Manhattan and Hilton Head Island, where King-Daly’s studio sits on the same property where she was raised, and she still works with some of her father’s old tools.

As an advocate for women’s empowerment, you must admire her. As a jeweler, you want to trust her. And I will. Later this month, I will give Selina a little bag filled with a dozen small diamonds from my great-great-Aunt Mary, and I can’t wait to see what they become. Stunning, no doubt. But more important, a piece that one of my nieces will wear one day. And, I’ll tell them the story of this woman I met quite by accident, how she helped me create this piece of their family legacy, and how she told me that when you do good things, good things happen.

See Selina King-Daly’s jewelry collection online at www.selinaking.com or follow her on Facebook or Instagram.

Nominate a Candidate
If you know someone who is selfless, loving and has done incredible acts of kindness for others, Selina King-Daly would like to meet them. To nominate, please reach out to her at info@selinaking.com with the subject line: Empowerment Project Candidate.

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