In “Lil Baby & Gunna Go Quarantine Shopping!,” Gunna visibily grins beneath a face mask as he tries on a bedazzling necklace while a jeweler named Zahir stands in front of him. “Y’all remember when I was broke?” he asks Zahir, looking around the Icebox Jewelry store as he removes the heavy necklace and laughs. The expensive piece bounces in mid-air. “I love watching where I came from, and you just never forget. That’s how you just hold onto it.” A picture of him with Quavo, Offset, and others from a while ago is shown on screen to showcase his growth. He’s no longer at the edge of the circle while his rich friends buy jewelry, he’s at the center now.
Since the days of Run-DMC’s gigantic Dookie chains, rap has had a torrid romance with fine jewelery. Artists love to show off the fruits of their labor with spectacularly designed necklaces, watches, and rings, giving them a sense of wealth and superiority that then drives the content of their music. Because of this, rappers have great relationships with individual jewelers who provide them with pieces which go on to become hallmarks of hip-hop culture.
Icebox is the jewelry store of the new generation, not only because of its popularity with the chart-topping rappers of an unprecedented scale, but also because of its one-of-a-kind approach to showcasing what these lyricists buy. The store has a YouTube channel with 864,000 subscribers featuring videos of Lil Baby, NLE Choppa, Lil Yachty, Swae Lee, and just about every other rapper that you can think of having fun at the store while getting custom necklaces made. Rappers love to show this stuff off, of course, but in an age where fans are more connected with their favorite artists than ever, the ability to accompany them on trips to buy new jewelry has made Icebox the most intriguing new industry-adjacent business in recent memory.
But YouTube videos and Instagram posts of what rappers buy can only tell so much about Icebox’s story... Highsnobiety sat down with one of its jewelers, Mo Jooma, for a firsthand account of the store and its success.
So where did Icebox begin?
In 1976. It’s the year that our father, Mike, entered the jewelry industry. Four years later, our mother, Dinar, migrated from Pakistan to join him. They started with nothing, selling sterling silver in flea markets, sleeping in their car and driving across America in pursuit of the “dream.”
My brothers Rafi, Zahir, and I literally grew up in our family’s jewelry stores. We worked long hours with our parents, seven days a week, from open to close. Before we could tie our shoelaces together, we knew how to clean jewelry for clients, change watch batteries, and we could help the goldsmiths solder gold chains or size a ring. Icebox, the iteration that you know of today, opened in Buckhead, Atlanta in 2009.
Why has the store rebranded over the years to get to where it is today?
I wouldn’t call it a rebranding so much as an evolution. From the beginning of Icebox, we have always been focused on men’s fine jewelry. Today, there is a direct correlation between our growth and the growth of hip-hop music. It is the new pop. Our evolution is interchangeable with the growth of the genre; we are heavily invested in social media and digital content. Our clients are increasingly asking for the finest quality, finest materials, and most sophisticated design. We stay one step ahead, setting the trends and establishing what’s hot in jewelry.
Do you remember any of your first big buyers?
One of our first major clients, who is a very good friend and who we still work with today, was T-Pain. He was the first person to trust us with large, detailed designs before we ever made pieces like we do today. He lives in Atlanta and still comes by for holiday shopping. We will always value him as one of our most important clients because he trusted us so many years ago.
What is the process like to create some of these massive, custom chains? How long does it take?
I can tell you with confidence, because we have spent a long time refining our process and our people, we have the best jewelry engineering team, tools, and technique in the world. Our team is capable of making literally anything in diamonds and gold. Our process starts with the customer’s idea and then it goes through our design department. Once the design is finalized it goes into the engineering stage and several more steps before it goes to the production team to be completed. Because our team is so skilled, we finish most items in roughly four weeks.
If you had to estimate, what percentage of your business do you think comes from entertainers?
The outside world thinks that all of our business comes from entertainers because of what they hear and see online, but we have tons of “regular” clients; business owners and wealthy people who come from all over the world. If I had to estimate, I would say about one third of our business comes from actors, athletes, and musicians.
To you, what does it mean to be a leader in the jewelry industry?
A commitment to quality, advancement in technology, customer service, and never letting fans of our brand down, and by releasing exciting products all the time. Our executive team is constantly reevaluating the brand and finding better ways to bring Icebox to our clients and fans.
What impact has COVID had on jewelry sales?
Our volume has increased considerably because, for the most part, our city was one of the first to be fully open. We have had that advantage to put in 100% of our time in the office while others can’t. There is a whole new client base that already knows of and admires Icebox that now visits Atlanta to come see us. The people who are not traveling as much, going out to eat or to the clubs, are purchasing Icebox pieces from our website or over the phone. They are buying luxury goods as an investment.
Who would you say has spent the most in Icebox?
To be perfectly honest, we have lots of high spenders. If you’ve visited our YouTube channel or if you follow us on Instagram you’ll regularly see our clients dropping hundreds of thousands of dollars. We’ve sold a handful of individual pieces in the 7-figure price range. I’m also not afraid to say we have dozens of local clients who regularly spend well over a million a year, year after year.
When did you decide to make the YouTube channel and what was the decision like?
Our brand, our story, and our clients are all really compelling. So as you can imagine, we get lots of offers for reality TV shows, especially in this day and age when reality content is king. We’ve had meetings in LA where networks bid against each other for the rights to our show. Ultimately, we didn’t like the terms and we didn’t want to give full control to a production company. They wanted every episode to be a manufactured story and we believe the key is to be totally authentic. We decided to do everything ourselves, in house, and we’re very satisfied with our product. We own the content on our YouTube channel and we don’t have to “act.” It's all raw, authentic, and unscripted and our viewers get to see exactly what happens daily at Icebox.
How has YouTube and social media changed the brand for the better? What’s it been like seeing that growth?
Humans are naturally voyeuristic and there is something extremely satisfying in watching your favorite celebrities spend insane amounts of money. We’re really the first retail brand in the world to offer that experience; there is no luxury brand consistently letting you watch some of the biggest celebrities in the world spend their money. It’s revolutionary, and we have heard from large retailers that have taken an extreme interest in our strategy and several who have tried to emulate it.
Have you ever thought about relocating? Any particular reason that you like to stay in Atlanta?
Icebox will never leave Atlanta, because this is home. Atlanta is an integral part of our brand identity. We love this city; we are part of its fabric and it is part of our fabric. Relocating is out of the question, but we will definitely be expanding and preparing to be all over the world. We do have a serious plan to open in several new markets and we’re the type of family who doesn’t talk about our next move. So when we do open our new boutiques, the whole world will know.