Austin jewelry making business promotes sustainability, feminine power

Grace Barnes

Beyoncé needed it in 24 hours, and Nina Berenato delivered. 

Last spring, Berenato, an Austin-based metalsmith and jewelry designer, got a call from her public relations firm. Beyoncé’s stylist had an emergency project for her: making custom jewelry pieces for the music video for “Spirit,” a song from the live-action remake of “The Lion King.” 

“Since the beginning of my career, I’ve had my jewelry in a showroom in New York, and that’s how Beyoncé’s stylist knew about me,” Berenato said. “She reached out to my showroom and said, ‘Hey, we have this emergency project, we need it in 24 hours, can Nina do it?’ People know that I have my manufacturing facility here so I’m able to pivot pretty quickly and create things.” 

After negotiating so she could ship the materials to herself, Berenato got to work on the 10 custom gold face masks. 

“I pulled it off, I shipped it to them and didn’t hear anything about it,” Berenato said. “The whole project was very hush-hush. I had to sign this huge (nondisclosure agreement). The next thing I knew, they were putting out the video and I got to see them (the face masks) in the video, which was awesome. It definitely got us a lot of recognition in the fashion industry.” 

Despite the quick turnaround time required for the piece,  Berenato sourced the materials sustainably in order to stay true to the company’s mission.

The female-run business recently converted their packaging to be 100% compostable, which was a long-term goal of the company. Berenato said changing their packaging was one of the biggest challenges to overcome.  

“We only ship out maybe six or seven packages a week, so sometimes it feels like we don’t make that big of a difference,” Berenato said. “But even as a small business, we’re setting an example that (sustainability) can work.”

Berenato said every piece of jewelry at her Austin studio is designed with the goal of empowering women and making them feel beautiful and capable. Many of Berenato’s collections are inspired by movie heroines or figures in Greek and Roman mythology. She said her newest collection is called “Furiosa,” named for the “Mad Max: Fury Road” character.

“(Furiosa) really stood out to me because we rarely get to see the female hero overtake (the male hero) in all aspects — brute strength, mental strain, everything,” Berenato said. 

Lillian Hutchinson has been the wholesale coordinator and media manager at Berenato’s studio since they first started selling pieces out of a refurbished trailer on Barton Springs Road. 

“I’ve loved being able to see how far we’ve been able to grow and how much we’ve been able to help our community with everything that we do,” Hutchinson said. 

Morgan Spencer, a sales associate and assistant buyer, started working at Nina Berenato several months ago but has already come to appreciate the business’ focus on sustainability. 

“We do all these really cool things (like supporting female creators), but we also stand for something really amazing,” Spencer said. “So much of working with vendors is asking, ‘Please don’t include extra plastic, we’re really trying to cut down our plastic here.’ Not everyone else is necessarily pushing for that.”