Elon Innovators: Colleen Judge ’20 creates jewelry for a cause with entrepreneurial venture Charms for Changes

Judge designs and sells jewelry to help raise awareness about the global issue of human trafficking and support for Polaris, a leading non-profit organization in the fight against human trafficking.

Sparked by her research with Professor of Economics Casey DiRienzo on the economic implications of human trafficking , Colleen Judge ’20 paired her passions of jewelry making and raising awareness of the worldwide problem of human trafficking to create Charms for Changes. Created in January 2020, her venture donates $1 from every purchase to Polaris, a nonprofit organization committed to preventing and combatting human trafficking.

An economics, finance and marketing triple major from New Jersey, Judge is the third person to be featured in a series of Today at Elon profiles highlighting student innovation and entrepreneurship. Through simultaneously developing her business and working to complete her senior year, Judge has expanded her knowledge of human trafficking and its effects while raising money to support Polaris’ efforts in the fight against human trafficking.

She recently answered questions from the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business about her venture, experiences and vision for Charms for Changes.

Four bracelets on a table
Colleen Judge ’20 created Charms for Changes, selling handmade jewelry with a portion of sales going towards Polaris.

How did you become interested in entrepreneurship?

It was not until I attended the National Student Leadership Conference for Business and Entrepreneurship at Yale University in high school that I became interested in pursuing my own entrepreneurship venture one day. Enhancing my business acumen and knowledge at Elon University along with my various internship experiences later provided me with the ambition and tools I needed to succeed. Not only am I a creative, driven and passionate person, but I also believe the best way to truly understand the “ins and outs” of a business is by starting your own.

What inspired you to develop Charms for Changes?

Since my junior year, I have worked closely with Dr. Casey DiRienzo to better understand the economic implications of human trafficking. After serving as her research assistant, I grew passionate – and ultimately quite frustrated – about the lack of awareness on Elon University’s campus pertaining to this global issue and blatant crime affecting millions of men, women and children each year. While I later took on the challenge to research the effects of natural disasters on human trafficking worldwide for my economics senior thesis, I wanted to do more. Yes, I was furthering research on this growing black market industry. But, my work was not going to raise funds nor sufficiently push for the awareness this problem so desperately deserves. This is where Charms for Changes comes in.

What goals do you hope to accomplish in the future?

My ultimate goal is to raise as much awareness as I can about human trafficking. I hope when people use, wear or share one of my products, the Charms for Changes’ mission of spreading awareness is at the forefront of their mind.

Once you came up with the idea for Charms for Changes, how did you go about creating and launching your project?

Like swimming or driving a car, anyone can learn a skill as long as you consistently practice and put in 110 percent effort. In my opinion, jewelry making is very similar. After my first year at Elon, I interned at a jewelry start-up, Chavez for Charity, which gave me a glimpse of what the jewelry retail industry looked like. But, I learned primarily through research and, of course, trial and error. Once I had created a handful of products I was proud of, I thought to myself, “Now what?”

Thanks to the unwavering support of my friends and loved ones, I partnered with the Student-Made Store. This is the student-run online store for student artists on campus. Consequently, I launched my brand on Instagram (@Charms4Changes). My brand name and logo would not be what it is without the help and long nights of brainstorming with my fellow Elon peers: Anna Gordon ‘20, Emily Epstein ‘21 and Meg Boericke ‘20.

A key factor for Charms for Changes’ success so far has been the support of the Elon community, including students, faculty and campus organizations.

How have your experiences at Elon prepared you for the work you’ve done so far?

I began making jewelry and planning my business in January 2020 while I was taking one course over January Term – Nature Awareness with Scott Morrison, associate professor of education. Especially as a triple major in finance, economics and marketing, this course was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I spent three hours a day, every day in an outdoor classroom, no matter what the weather was. And it was totally worth it. Professor Morrison pushed self reflection, critical thinking and challenged me to think creatively.

By the end, a strong appreciation towards nature was instilled in me. Through this experience, I realized how much time is wasted indoors and on technology. Creating jewelry became my alternative. It could be done anywhere, even outside. I would encourage others to find a passion that pushes them to be outside and take a break from the internet, social media, etc.

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How has the outbreak of COVID-19 impacted your business?

Because my primary method of selling and distributing products was by sending them to campus boxes of Elon students, I’m struggling with sales and my target market. I now have to re-evaluate my whole distribution platform. However, being partnered with the Student-Made Store, where buyers can order online and have products delivered to them, definitely helps. More personally, the coronavirus quarantine has given me a lot more time to work on my brand and make more products. It’s obviously very difficult to be away from so many friends and loved ones, especially when so many are struggling right now, so I have been sending some of my friends and loved ones my products as a surprise to brighten their day.

Bracelets on table next to a succulent. Do you have any advice for fellow students looking to start their own business?

Do not avoid or shy away from criticism or feedback. Instead, embrace it and ask for it!

What is next for you and your company?

As of right now, Charms for Changes primarily sells bracelets and keychains. I hope to later expand into other product offerings such as earrings or necklaces. In addition, Charms for Changes is most widely accessed via Instagram. I hope to expand to other social media platforms and, more specifically, create a website to boost legitimacy and accessibility.

About Polaris
Polaris works to dismantle the systems that make sex and labor trafficking possible and profitable in North America. For more than a decade, Polaris has provided real-time response to victims and survivors through the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline and harnessing what is learned from that experience to help inform, design and implement scaleable, long-term, solutions that leverage the insight of survivors and hold all actors in the human trafficking ecosystem accountable.

People can be connected to help or report a tip of suspected human trafficking by calling the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, texting “BeFree” (233733), or chatting at www.humantraffickinghotline.org.