Kelly Hughes: Balancing Her Own Jewelry Line, HÜES, Motherhood, & Modeling Sports-Illustrated
By: Ezzah Rafique
Kelly Hughes- mom, model, and entrepreneur- sits with HAZZE MEDIA to talk about running her business, being the first model to highlight her cesarean section scar in Sports-Illustrated, & the #scarlovechallenge with World of Children.
Photo by: Andre Gabb
Q. Hi! Thanks for your time, tell us a bit about who you are!
I was blessed to be born and raised in sunny Miami, FL and even though I travel a lot and lived part-time in many cities, Miami is still my home. I started modeling over 20 years ago with Next Models. There was something about the energy and adrenaline on set that made me embrace this industry and never look back. In 2009, with work slowing down due to many uncertainties in the economy, I began working part-time in a restaurant. I noticed my manager had a stack of bracelets on his wrist and I had the thought one day to see if he wanted to add one more. I went home that night and out of a determined spirit and a God given talent I didn’t even know I had I made my first bracelet. With word of mouth, I sold over 200 bracelets until my first store Base on Lincoln Road saw someone wearing it and invited me for a meeting to sell my jewelry there which was the catalyst to my now successful unisex jewelry line HÜES that is sold in high end boutiques and hotels.
In 2018 my resume expanded from model and jewelry designer to the most rewarding job yet - Mom. When I found out I was pregnant I immediately started researching birthing plans. With so many options to choose from, my holistic DNA leaned me toward hypnobirthing. After weekly birthing classes and countless doctor visits the most important day of my life had come, and I was ready to give birth. Unfortunately, things did not go as I had planned, and I ended up 36 hours later in a c-section. Thankfully my son was healthy, however, I ended up having a serious infection from the c-section that led to having to go back to the hospital for another 8 days and having a second surgery to remove the infection. It was definitely not the birth experience I had imaged nor dreamed of, and I never understood why things were so difficult for me until earlier this year when I was blessed to have an opportunity to show my c-section scar in one of the most influential magazines in the world, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit. I was the first model in the magazine’s history to show a c-section scar. This was so much more than any other photoshoot I had ever done because not only did it impact women around the world, but it also did so much for me personally. It opened my eyes to the fact that I was not alone and that so many women were struggling on their journeys, yet there was no one talking about it.
Q. This year you were the first model for a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue to highlight your cesarean section scar, do you remember the moment you found out you were going to be in the issue and how did you feel?
When I found out I was confirmed to shoot for a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit I was shocked and so excited. This is every model’s dream job and really is an opportunity of a lifetime, so to find out at 42 years old that I was going to be in the magazine after modeling for over 20 years was beyond incredible and I don’t know if words can explain the feeling. However, I then realized I was going to show my c-section scar for the very first time because I had never shown my scar before, and I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it or how it would be received. I have been very open about the difficult labor I went through and the insecurities I struggled with, but it was truly incredible how MJ Day, the magazine’s Editor-In-Chief, made me feel like my scar was the most beautiful thing in the world. She even referred to it as a smiling face with the 2 drain scars I have above it (from my infection surgery afterward).
Photo By: Kata Boos
Q. How did you balance work life with mom life?
This is always a challenge. My son is in preschool which is great for us but being a single mom with no additional help definitely has its difficult moments where you feel like it’s all falling apart and then other days where you feel like superwoman, and you have it all under control. I think it’s all about time management and priorities which is something I’m still working on, and I don’t know if it can ever be perfected but so important to strive for. We all have busy lives these days so it’s just important to be diligent in what you do with your time having a schedule helps and leaves you a lot of wiggle room because things always change.
Q. You empower a lot of women around the world by taking the initiative to change the stigma around scares and recently started #ScarLoveChallenge, tell us a little bit about that!
ESTAS Beauty sent me one of their scar kits after seeing my photos in Sports Illustrated. I loved their branding to love on your scars instead of trying to get rid of them. So, I sent them a thank you for the products and told them I wanted to do something with them to give back. I suggested the challenge because after seeing the amount of dm’s I received from women from all over the world saying how much this empowered them or encouraged them I thought to myself how much more would it empower people if they could come to a place to see 100’s or 1000’s of people loving on their scars. I didn’t want to limit it to just c-section scars, so all scars are welcome. After some research we came up with the #scarlovechallenge hashtag and we connected with World of Children to donate $1 for every post that uses the hashtag.
So many people in the world are hurting because most of the scars we have come with the more obvious physical pain that might now be healed but we also experienced mental pain that sometimes takes a lot longer to heal. I think there needed to be a safe place for people to go to no matter where they were at on the journey in their life. If you feel ready to join in on the challenge and do a post or if you don't feel ready to share yet, you can go there to feel encouraged and reminded that you are not alone and maybe even connect with some of the other people there. I just wanted to help as much as I could because I didn’t find any help or an outlet when I was going through a long recovery not only physically but also mentally and that needed to change.
Q. Not only are you a mom and model but also an incredible entrepreneur. What's the story behind launching your jewelry line, HÜES?
It was 2009 and there was a pullback in the economy, so I got a second job at a restaurant part time. It was there that I was inspired to make a bracelet for my manager. I thought it was just for fun but right after he started wearing it, I started selling 100’s of bracelets just by word of mouth. Soon after I got into my first retail store called BASE on Lincoln Road in Miami, FL which was the catalyst of my now successful jewelry line today.
HÜES is a genderless jewelry brand that consists mostly of bracelets, necklaces, and rings. I wanted the brand to be for everyone without limitations so HÜES being it’s a take-off my last name Hughes was perfect by definition. We specialize in our link bracelets, and we are known for our waxed-cotton cord throughout the line with mixed metals. We also make custom orders and have recently added a section on our site called made for you. This is one of the core values of the brand since it started via word of mouth most of the orders were customized and this was what made it more unique than most other jewelry brands. I still have some of the first bracelets I made, and I have come a long way from those first bracelets but it’s a great reminder of where I started. So, I always encourage people to try new things because you never know what could come of it.
Q. HÜES has been worn by JBalvin, Young Thug, Alicia Keys, & more. Do you remember the first time you saw another celebrity wearing your jewelry?
I will never forget the first time I saw a celebrity wearing my jewelry. It was Ricky Martin in his music video “The Best Thing About Me Is You” in 2010 and I freaked out. Not only did the entire video look like a HÜES campaign because he was only wearing a t-shirt and the background was plain in white and black, but the focal point was the bracelet. The even funnier thing is I know his team personally and they didn’t ask me for a bracelet to use for the video instead the stylist bought it at BASE a retail store in Miami and Ricky himself chose to wear it which meant SOOO much more to me.
Q. You took a small project and launched into a massive success, what advice do you have for those looking to start their own company?
You only have what is in your hands so don’t be afraid to just start and use that until you can build on it. I will be the first person to say I never imagined owning my own business I thought just getting a company registered and a bank account set up was too difficult because that is what I had been told. Thankfully, I had a God given talent I didn’t know I had but I was willing to use it and explore any door that was open to me. Today with so many outlets and social media most of the time you can start a business without any initial investment which is a huge advantage compared to how it used to be in the past. One last tip, don’t always listen to what other people say or try to copy anyone else’s story. You are unique and the way you find your way to success is different than someone else. I was told over and over that there was no way I could do it and with the help of people that believed in me and were placed in my life for a purpose I did it at a moment in my life where I was almost broke and had no resources.