Nor Cal Explorer: Jennifer Montana Design


Growing up in Northern California, no one could blame me for claiming Joe Montana is the greatest quarterback of all time. To fully appreciate his influence, even considering the players challenging the claim today, you had to see him play. It’s just a little thing I get to own.


Note: Click images to open links, websites, and social media related to this exploration.


When the legend retired, I thought the man was conspicuously intentional in stepping off from the spotlight. Montana was so famous, and here’s a guy that probably literally had the key to the city, a name that could open doors to any powerful connection you could imagine, but I guess maybe he just wanted to settle down and enjoy family life in relative privacy. In Chico, I worked in the same building as Jeff Stover, another 49er from that generation, and I think there was an unspoken rule to let these larger than life brands go about their business as just other local people like anyone else. Considering this well-earned prize for their success, you might almost look at it as bad form to approach them for their fame, especially as you might run into them at the supermarket or find them enjoying time with their family at the park.



Even though I do explorations of people and businesses in Northern California, I would lean to extending this courtesy to Joe Montana. One thing that had caught my attention though was he has been active in the business world, getting involved in the finance world I think and investing in some tech startups. That represents kind of an interesting story for me to look into, but again I usually pass when I come across various news on his activities. The other day I came across one that made me decide to make an exception to my rule. Something caught my attention about what he and his wife Jennifer Montana are doing with their charitable foundation, and the more I looked into her project, the more I was impressed to share it in the context of what makes Nor Cal great.


It starts with the name because as I said, Montana is a name that is naturally going to open doors in Northern California. It’s certainly the reason why I first noticed Jennifer Montana Design. Now I sometimes talk about developing a brand out of your name as a sort of ultimate business strategy, and when talking about “design”, I usually like to point out the root of the word stems from “signature”. What Jennifer Montana is doing with her signature jewelry collections embodies all that insight and more. For all the elegance and class behind her project, there’s also a simplicity of purpose and a drive for results. It’s an innovative idea, but it’s proving to work… it’s clutch.



The Montana's are leveraging their name to give back to the community, especially to some women who are in a tough spot in their lives. What can you say but that when you are down you can feel used, worthless, and thrown away… like an old key. The program “upcycles” what would otherwise be tossed away and lost. How else to say this… it’s a very uplifting movement!



The idea of taking an old key and turning it into a piece of jewelry is more of a personal sentiment and design statement. Some people can afford to go spend six figures on some diamond piece, and there’s no doubt a classic market for this. Some people feel obliged to present that kind of value as a token of their love, and still others kind of demand it. Just look at some of the commercials out there going into this holiday season.



What is up with this commercial?! I have to look at this through my lens as a digital strategy consultant, but what kind of demographic are they trying to target with the animation approach? If I were a penguin, maybe I might be worried that all guys look the same to women, so there might not be a better way to distinguish myself than forking over a better rock, lol! Yet, there’s another side of value that kind of sheds the limits of expensive jewelry. Someone is just as likely to take something like a key and wear it as jewelry, and this has more to do with some intimate meaning connected to the item, the intention behind it – why it was given, why it was worn, why it was designed, etc.



This has become a pretty seriously acknowledged business strategy in the jewelry market. Consider the Jane Seymour Open Heart collection – which ties business to a cause. Same company, this time with a brand ambassador, and jewelry designed around meaning. It took me a while to realize this might support a foundation, but even then you kind of have to wonder to what extent this is accomplished. Surely Kay has some significant business interest to invest so heavily in the advertising, and I can only imagine what is left over in the markup from the actual product. To be fair, maybe on aggregate this does generate a lot of charity dollars, but maybe more of that still goes into pockets. What I can say is JMD might seem comparable, but it’s a clearer picture of minimal production cost for items sold at the same kind of low end price range, with direct local impact you can see for the beneficiaries, and a pretty transparent commitment to pass through of profits.



Or, take that a step further to the whole Troll Beads movement – which isn’t even tied to a cause so much as a focus on moments and stories. Pretty sure all that goes into pockets, but it might also be more necessary considering the evolving business climate and consumer markets. I’m pointing these things out to help frame how what Jennifer is doing is really quite brilliant. If you want to talk viral, jewelry is a major trending topic for fashion bloggers, something I have written about as major companies try to position for leverage in the emerging social media environment. In fact, I’ve noticed major movements into home-made jewelry; really it’s something anyone can do, and all it takes is a website with a shopping cart and you are in business. Lots of people have been jumping in on this idea over the last 5 to 10 years to the point it is oversaturated, take my word for it, and I have a strong feeling that without those people you would not have heard of emerging social platforms like Pinterest.



I bet Joe Montana can relate to the idea of jewelry with meaning – probably owns a handful of rings that carry special sentiment for him, and that is a nice lead in to his foundation’s name. So let’s examine this particular theme of keys, because there are symbolic and functional elements to it that set the idea apart. Jennifer Montana Design seems to take advantage of every possible tie in you can imagine, and I have already mentioned the idea of keys to open doors, but I will expand on a few more things that come to mind.


Who are you opening doors for? The main thing that I was drawn to was how Montana is a name that opens doors, but how through the venture, those opportunities and benefits are extended to people in need. The people who make the product are constructively employed, most of the profits go back toward supporting worthwhile causes, Montana drives the sales, and what you have is a virtuous cycle. If you purchase the items then that says something about you, if you give it that communicates a special appreciation for the meaning, and if you wear it that endorses the broader idea.



Keys are something you can forget, lose track of, spend a lot of time looking for. They are a necessary part of a given process (lock to key), they enable A to B, one is made for the other, and the outcome cannot be realized without the one. It’s the cause to effect, the access to resource, the solution to the problem, the triumph over the obstacle, and the win in the clutch. It’s perfect ;)


Keys are responsibilities, some of which are so important that people will wear them around their neck and close to their heart. Keys protect that which you keep inside, they symbolize the diary of the mind. Again, think about this in the context of the people Jennifer Montana Design supports. Keys get you to where you want to go; they are symbolic of the basic need of having a car, as well the achievement thereof. Keys represent your own place, something that many people don’t even have, and the idea expands to the lifetime accomplishment of finally being able to buy your own home. Keys indicate special trust and confidence, that someone would give them to you, and that you would in turn not let people down. Keys are what capable family providers carry. You see what I am highlighting here. Keys are really a beautiful idea for a jewelry concept, especially when the point of the product is to support people in need.



The products represent something that would sell anyway regardless of the cause they support. You can go to any highway gas station and find key chains with names or phrases etched in. In terms of small token items, these are there for a reason - they really sell well. At the same time, you can expand this to the higher realms of art. I was watching a PBS documentary called Beauty is Embarrassing where an artist paints words across old fine art oil paintings, which might be considered a dubious repurposing, but the paintings had already been disregarded, and the art world has received these with great acclaim – they sell really well too. Now I’m not one to talk much about fashion, but I get the picture Jennifer Montana Design also covers this angle just fine.



You’ve just got to check out her Twitter page though. There are so many pictures of people showing their JMD jewelry. You can see many big names involved from Hulk Hogan to Snoop Dog. The project appears to be a fantastic success and wildly supported. Special collections get repurposed to support all kinds of causes from Father’s Day, patriotism, local economy, cures for cancer, and so on. She turns the keys into items for sale that benefit NFL charities like the 49ers Foundation and Marshawn Lynch’s Fam 1st Family Foundation. Montana and family are there every step of the way building community and making a difference. It’s all just awesome, so I highly recommend checking out what they are doing. With Thanksgiving and the holiday shopping season around the corner, I figured now as good a time as any to do this feature on Jennifer Montana Design.


I do digital strategy for some clients in the music space, so part of my work involves browsing through music media of contemporary artists, and the other day I noticed one artist was showing off a key necklace. I’m fairly certain it was part of the art in the production, but I found myself trying to catch a better glimpse of the key to see if it was a Jennifer Montana Design. Either way, that kind of makes my point people would wear these anyway. They’re definitely fashionable, but by participating in this movement, we can spark a chain reaction, and be more than just fashionable…  


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