There is such precision and balance in the jewelry of Design Atelier designer Melissa Kaye that I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that she had once held a high-powered job in finance; quantitative strategy to be exact. I was however, seriously taken aback when, upon first meeting this quiet, affable and petite woman, when I learned that she is an amateur boxer! After getting the chance to delve further into what she describes as a “very serious hobby” I started to understand the correlation between what’s appealing to her about both boxing and jewelry design, and it became evident that there is a common thread of passion that runs through all aspects of her life.
COUTURE: So how did you get into boxing?
Melissa Kaye: I grew up in New York and got my undergrad in computer science at MIT. I went on to work in finance while also getting my masters in computational finance from Carnegie Mellon. I specialized in quantitative strategy, which is very technical, quantitative work. It was a great experience, and I worked with some great people, some really smart people, but the high charged environment also meant my schedule could oftentimes be very volatile. There were periods when I was exercising and then periods when I was not exercising, so when I left my job I was determined to get back to a regular exercise schedule. I grew up doing gymnastics so I was always a gym rat, and I wanted to get back to that. I tried a bunch of different classes at the gym—Pilates, spin, yoga—and ultimately fell in love with boxing. I became more and more focused on it and it became a very serious hobby, which is what it is today. I’ve been training now for almost 7 years, and I’m at the gym at least 6 days a week.
COUTURE: So what is it specifically that appeals to you about boxing?
MK: The interesting thing about boxing, and it’s the same thing that’s interesting to me about jewelry and gymnastics, is that there is a combination of science and art at play. Boxing is a very technical sport, with a lot of nuances. Anyone can throw punches and “fight,” but a true boxer artfully applies her technical skillset. In jewelry, there’s also a lot of science and technique, but it’s applying your personal voice that makes your designs unique. You work with a technical foundation, and apply it in a personal, artistic way that is distinctly you.
COUTURE: As a former gymnast, you’re no stranger to physical challenges, is that also some of the appeal of boxing?
MK: Yes, boxing is a full body workout. And while that means you focus on balance, speed, agility and strength, it is really the mental challenge that is more critical than anything else. When you’re in the ring, it’s just you and your opponent. You have to believe in what you can do. Which means it’s not always the best person that wins. Oftentimes, it’s the person that thinks they’re the best or is mentally the toughest. Boxing is about instilling your will, and it’s about believing in yourself and your skills. Without sounding too cheesy, it really is a metaphor for life. It teaches you how to toughen up, how to take a hit and keep on going. It is one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do. It has required me to develop a thicker skin.
COUTURE: An even thicker skin than you had to develop working in finance?!
MK: It’s a different kind of toughness. If you know you’re doing good work in the office, it’s easy to respond to challenges – which is very different than responding to punches being thrown at you! Even though I worked in a competitive field and went to competitive schools, I never saw it that way, and I certainly didn’t see myself as a fighter. So with boxing, I really had to toughen up. Boxing is also very emotional; there is an implicit bond between you and someone you’ve exchanged punches with that you don’t see in many other sports or careers. It’s an unusual type of affection and respect you develop for someone who shares that experience with you. This is a sport where you see the most aggressive fighting turn to mutual respect and hugging after the bell.
COUTURE: This sounds like a sport where you could develop a really strong sense of community?
MK: As a boxer, you have your family, you have your friends, and then you have your boxing family. You have this sort of unique bond, this connection.
COUTURE: Well we know you’re getting prepped for your first showing at COUTURE, what’s on the horizon for you with respect to boxing?
MK: I’m a very polite boxer, so I’m working on being more aggressive! I am a natural counter-puncher so I like to wait for someone to do something, and then respond. I do pretty well this way, but you can’t always be nice. Sometimes you have to go after someone. So the rule today is, go forward!
COUTURE: Sounds like another metaphor for life!