Only a few years ago, Alex and Ani bracelets were a sought after fashion statement produced by a tiny company that grew from relative obscurity into a shining star of entrepreneurial success. This same company, whose owner bragged about relying on bizarre New Age practices to guide her, is now barely mentioned. What happened?
According to an excellent article written by Aaron Gell for the business publication, Marker.com, the company that was touted as being worth $1 billion in 2014 began to crumble almost as quickly as it grew.
“…[B]eginning in 2018, the luster began to fade as chaos that had been building behind the scenes for years increasingly made itself felt,” Gell writes. “Top executives had come and gone, often in less than a year. The local grapevine buzzed with talk of interoffice romances and wild parties…Former insiders questioned Rafaelian’s penchant for making major business decisions in accordance with ‘Biblical numerology,’ astrology, and other New Age spiritual practices they don’t teach at Wharton. A succession of lawsuits alleging a hostile work environment, religious and gender discrimination, and anti-military bias, among other things, drew unwelcome headlines.”
This internal chaos might seem hard to believe by those who visit the company’s trendy website and read the incredible success story of the founder, Carolyn Rafaelian, who named the jewelry line after her two daughters. The simple wired bracelets she fashioned include charms designed to please just about everyone on the planet. There are charms of the Blessed Mother, Buddha, and the Eye of Horus (an Egyptian amulet worn for protection), to name a few.
When we first reported on this company in 2013, their website was proudly proclaiming its New Age beliefs, such as boasting about how a belief in the power of positive energy is one of the core principles of the company.
“Inspired by the wisdom of ancient thinkers, Alex and Ani researched the most effective methods of designing our products with the beneficial positive energy that scientists refer to as vital force,” the site explained at the time. “Ancient and modern traditions refer to vital force by many names; chi, prana, etheric energy, life force, zero point energy, homeopathic resonance, etc.”
That all appears to have been scrubbed. As of today, the only mention of its infamous New Age weirdness is the simple statement: “The universe speaks to us in signs and symbols. Find yours.”
But that doesn’t mean the company has abandoned the New Age! Far from it. In 2014, we reported on a Bloomberg Businessweek article that stated: “…(T)he company uses numerology to choose the most auspicious dates for store openings and occasionally employs shamans to bless its workplaces.”
Little did we know at the time that this was just the tip of the iceberg.
As Gell reports, “At Alex and Ani’s headquarters, desks and walls were studded with crystals for positive energy. Statues of Rafaelian’s spirit animal, the panther, prowled atop bookshelves, desks, and filing cabinets. Spaces were regularly ‘smudged,’ or purged of bad energy with burning sage. Store openings were timed to coincide with auspicious astrological phenomena.”
In 2014, Rafaelian told The New York Times that every piece of jewelry sold “has been blessed by my priests, it has been blessed by my shaman friends, protected from radio frequency, from radioactivity.”
She believed this “blessing” insured that each item was sure to “hold vibration of pure energy, healing love.”
One former executive walked away from the company believing that Rafaelian believed in witchcraft. He described her use of a “freezer spell” in which she wrote the names of her alleged enemies and then put the paper in the freezer, believing this gave her control over them.
Another employee, named Gregory Williams, a former senior director of retail operations and an Episcopalian sued the company in 2017 after he was terminated. He believed he was fired because of complaints he made about some of these bizarre practices, including being made to undergo tarot readings during the hiring process. The case was eventually settled out of court.
Rafaelian also allowed a “master intuitive” named Jocelyn Coleman to influence personnel matters. Anyone looking to join the company had to meet with her and employees were given the “gift” of being allowed to consult with her on a monthly basis.
Gell also reports on a company “retreat” during which Rafaelian announced, “Every single person in this room is divinely put here by God,” a fact she claimed to have received from God Himself. “He basically said, here’s your warriors, Carolyn…Here’s the people that are going to help you deliver the message. His message.”
Unfortunately for Rafaelian, the true identity of the spirits with whom she was consulting began to make themselves more obvious in the increasing chaos inside the compnay that eventually saw her pushed out of the business entirely.
“A financial restructuring left private equity firm Lion Capital with a controlling stake, and in May, Rafaelian was officially terminated,” Gell reports. “Given that most of the staff had already been laid off or furloughed due to the pandemic, a source with knowledge of the company’s finances tells Marker, ‘It was pretty hard to justify paying Carolyn $500,000 a year’.”
Rafaelian was left holding a substantial minority stake, but had no say in the future of the company she founded.
“How could an entrepreneur who spent 15 years building an empire that was the envy of the retail fashion industry allow it unravel so spectacularly?” Gell asks.
For those of us who look at the world through the eyes of faith, the answer to that question is a no-brainer.
“Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God…” (1 John 4:1) because “by their fruits, you will know them” (Matthew 7:16).
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