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Metal and Smith: Evidence and Allegations

May 01, 2024 8 min read

The link below is to the full document containing testimony, images, and evidence:

Metal and Smith: Information and Allegations Document (50 pages)

Dear friends and colleagues in the independent jewelry industry,

The end of an open secret requires a distinct delivery of information: it must be  unignorable

The jewelry artists and small business owners involved in this effort are not professional journalists, PR experts; or lawyers (though we did consult with two Maryland attorneys). This is not a legal document. This is a journey through concise allegations supported by evidence against Ms. Lee Ann Wright Stevenson, CEO of 9th Group, LLC and her various operations since 2012 including the Cult of Progression, District Showroom, BEAUTY2, Metal & Smith, Jewelry Independent Summit, Metal and Smith Trade Show, Finery Row, and Wareable Things. 

It is alleged in this document that Ms. Stevenson is the sole person behind 9th Group LLC, Metal and Smith and all related programs and staff aliases other than one occasional event helper. It is alleged that Ms. Stevenson has positioned Metal and Smith as a respected and legitimate organization by misrepresenting personal qualifications, inflating organizational capabilities, and leveraging relationships with editors, affiliations with respected industry players. It appears emerging jewelry designers have paid the price.

More than 40 designers and Metal and Smith clients contributed testimonials or deliverables, many of which are represented in this document. Their stories are included with explicit consent, which was given with great fortitude and moral conviction. Many more artists have worked behind the scenes. Without each voice, this chorus of artists would not have been loud enough to be heard. 

This document has been researched and compiled by Creek Van Houten of Compass Rose Design, Kelty Pelechytik of Kelty Pelechytik Fine Jewelry, and Starr Miller of Pieces of Starr; each artist-owners of small independent female-founded jewelry brands. For context: Starr Miller and Kelty Pelechytik have been Metal and Smith clients for either events or paid consulting reports. Creek Van Houten had not heard of Lee Stevenson before Ms. Miller’s viral FebruaryInstagram reel and became involved because of knowing artists affected. 

The goal of this work is to raise the bar high enough to invite scrutiny from appropriate parties. This information will be shared with entities including but not limited toThe Maryland Attorney General Consumer Protection Division;The Federal Trade Commission;The FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center, the Jewelers Vigilance Committee; media outlets inside and outside of the jewelry industry; and other available avenues to explore allegations of fraudulent activity, as detailed near the end of this document. 

This document provides information which may be useful to various authorities or journalists. We invite coverage by media outlets; contact from Metal and Smith clients seeking support understanding the reporting process; and factual additions or corrections via email at:submitmands@gmail.com. 

A Call for Ethical Conduct in the Independent Jewelry Industry

Metal and Smith provides a case study in transparency, legitimacy, and due diligence. These are important topics for emerging jewelry designers seeking advice and industry connections. Independent jewelers lack the protections afforded by guilds or unions. Artists rely on reputation, media coverage and their own due diligence to vet parties with whom they choose to work. A majority of independent jewelry startup companies seeking consultant help are small operations predominantly run by women, many of whom lack industry experience. This places independent designers seeking professional guidance at higher risk for being potential targets of fraudulent exploitation.

This work is an effort to prevent further potential financial harm to independent jewelers; to safeguard and strengthen the journalistic integrity in the jewelry industry; and to explore what protections exist for emerging designers to prevent similar situations. This document will explore how open secrets like Metal and Smith and its associated programs are enabled (regardless of intent) by media and industry experts at the cost of the victims, in this case small emerging jewelry designers. 

This issue has affected emerging designers, was exposed by emerging designers, and this evidence is presented from the perspective of emerging designers. We hope the appropriate experts will use this evidence to investigate these allegations. In focusing on evidence-based truth, an absolute defense against potential accusations of defamation is established as is custom in the State of Maryland and the US in general.  

Allegations against Ms. Stevenson, CEO of 9th Group, LLC; founder of Metal and Smith include: 

  • Use of Sock Puppet Accounts; Fabrication of Staff Personas and Social Media Profiles
  • Misrepresentation to Media 
  • Misrepresentation/Failure to Deliver Services 
  • Fraud through Impersonation on the Phone
  • Falsification of “Custom” Client Deliverables 
  • Impersonating “Expert Consultants” In Written Reports
  • Plagiarism in Client Deliverables
  • Falsification of Sales Data, Website Traffic and Commerce Reports
  • Misrepresentation in Contracts
  • Falsification of a Hate Incident
  • Pressure in Contracts to Gift to Editors
  • Legal Threats to Clients, Whistleblowers and Press
  • Operating while in Forfeiture and without a Trade Name

Each allegation is detailed below accompanied by relevant evidence and links to supporting sources. Some information has been redacted for privacy.

Why Did This Open Secret Get Perpetuated for 12 years?  

This document describes allegations of possible misrepresentation by Ms. Stevenson of her industry experience and qualifications. We see many forces, even benign or self-interested ones, that function to perpetuate open secrets like Metal and Smith. In this case for an astounding 12 years.

In general, speaking out, pushing back, and whistleblowing are by their nature difficult because they are in contradiction to the status quo. Dozens of artists reached out to us and we also reached out with basic inquiries to many artists, influencers and designers. We were met overwhelmingly with transparency and relief. 

We have discussed the use of social media and photographs of industry experts and media to bolster the image of Metal and Smith. We have documented scarcity tactics and pressure sales used by Ms. Stevenson with clients using language of “nomination” and “selection” and urgent opportunities created by a cancellation. 

We’ve outlined the role of the media and industry experts in legitimizing Metal and Smith, even inadvertently. As of April 25, 2024, JCK has not responded to two separate email inquiries dating back to the first week of March to both an editor and editor in chief regarding: participation in the January 2024 Editor’s Luncheon; magazine gifting policy; and clarification about why the 2022 Metal and Smith article was modified but similar action is not being taken given the evidence available in this document on the other many articles with probable false information or fake alias names. JCK is the publisher of 11 of 17 articles on Metal and Smith since 2016.  

Small artisanal businesses often operate in isolation. It is not common for artists to share private consulting deliverables. Many clients felt very alone in this experience, some for many years. The target audience of Ms. Stevenson’s many programs has long been emerging artists who do not have decades of industry experience which is why they are seeking guidance. Time after time - clients are told in a scolding tone, and further provided with what appears to be falsified data to show the lack of sales is not Metal and Smith’s fault. When clients pushed back or simply questioned advice, they were treated harshly and even threatened with legal action. 

When you add up these programs that have very compelling allegations from this rather small sample of clients with $100, $400, $900 dollars per program for what appears to be copy and paste pdfs and up to $4,000 for a 2 hour lunch occurring two to four times per year, a back of the envelope calculation is 6 figures. 

Once this information gets out - the open secret is broken. When people discover allegations of a wider story of exploitation, they cannot be ignored in good conscience. That goes for all stakeholders in our industry.

Taking Action

The goal of this artist coalition’s tremendous effort is on one hand to support the people affected in feeling seen and being made whole. The actionable goal of the whistleblowing artist coalition is to raise the bar high enough for appropriate authorities to investigate and to continue to spread the information. This is not artists’ job or expertise. We call on the appropriate authorities and anyone who has a voice to use it.

There are several avenues of action available:

  1. Make coordinated reports toThe Maryland Attorney General Consumer Protection Division;The Federal Trade Commission;The FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center, We are working to support artists doing this - gathering contacts. The Maryland lawyers’ advice was to report as a group of individuals in a set window.We are currently aiming for the reporting window to take place during the last 2 weeks of May starting on May 15th. Metal and Smith clients seeking information about how to make reports even after May: emailsubmitmands@gmail.com 
  1. Continue to publicize this story to industry press and organizations; and secure press coverage. We have been very diplomatic and careful together in this effort, but there are a lot of fascinating details that would make a great long form article.  

Positive Outcomes and Lessons Learned

This is a wake up call for artists, influencers and media partners. 

Due diligence and transparency are extremely important. Fifteen minutes of research can end up saving a reputation or a lot of money. Particularly for artists, given the lack of industry protection and the divergent interests with even industry influencers and media partners. To be clear we understand how people are limited by their positions. We hope artists have the confidence to trust their own due diligence going forward. Now we know to use tools like SEMrush to check out websites. Many jewelers have built casual networks and text chains and DM threads of peers who are trusted people to share with - whether that’s pricing, strategy, sharing deliverables or an ethical gut check. Assemble your team. We have certainly learned from this experience that many small women jewelry entrepreneurs adhere to an attitude of plenty and sharing and openness. There is room for us all. We see in finding trusted people to share information with, we can protect ourselves and each other. 

It may be advisable for media organizations to clarify their gifting policies and realize that disclosing organizational policy is normal and expected. Obfuscating questions to answers that should be clear - whether you are Metal and Smith or a media outlet - will invite suspicion and inquiry. If an organization or person is found to be operating unethically, they should not be supported by the industry. An organization or an artist  should be legitimized through their actions and professional conduct and quality delivery. We all bear responsibility in what our industry looks like and why this went on for 12 years. 

As a closing thought to ourselves, our fellow artists, media outlets, influencers. What kind of industry do we want to be a part of? What is our role in making that industry? What is our responsibility to each other?  

The heart of this experience is the power of transparency, and the importance of trust and ethical conduct in our community of independent jewelry artists. Without a guild or trade union, artists must stand together. In this case, we have.

In Community,

Creek, Kelty, and Starr. 

If you are an affected artist seeking support or a media outlet seeing to help:
Email: submitmands@gmail.com

Metal and Smith: Information and Allegations Document (50 pages)