The RealReal x Catbird. Model wearing sustainable jewelry from upcycled collection next to logos
The RealReal x Catbird. Model wearing sustainable jewelry from upcycled collection next to logos

The RealReal x Catbird


As people get back into getting dressed and going out, we see a demand for on-trend fine jewelry. So we considered how to bring jewelry into our upcycling initiatives. We decided to start by collaborating with one of our favorite jewelry studios, Catbird, on a limited edition collection of sustainable pieces.

A pioneers of the demi-fine market, Catbird was sustainably-minded before it was a trendy brand identity. They focus on recycling and ethically-sourcing metals and stones to create their well-loved designs.

For our partnership, we gave Catbird dated heirlooms from our inventory to upcycle into elevated takes on their classic offerings. The collection includes styles like the Holy Cannoli necklace, a tribute to Catbird’s NYC heritage, but embellished with 21 diamonds. There’s also their iconic Angel Hair studs, but with an additional wine-red ruby drops. 

The RealReal x Catbird. Model wearing Holy Cannoli Supreme necklace in gold and diamonds, sustainable jewelry from upcycled collectionThe RealReal x Catbird Holy Cannoli Necklace


To celebrate the launch, we caught up with Catbird’s creative director Leigh Plessner to take a look behind the scenes, talk process and what’s inspiring her these days. Shop the full collection here.


How did you approach this collaboration? 

With enthusiasm! We were so excited to design pieces that referenced our collection but really played with color and scale. 


Did the initial pieces inform the designs? 

Yes! Our wonderful design team sketched and sketched based on a dossier of possible pieces that TRR gave us. We whittled it down to what we thought the collection could be and then we went to look at the pieces in person. We spent hours pouring over them, matching pieces to sketches. And then, once the team started removing stones, and looking at everything under the loupe unseated, we had to make some adjustments.

The RealReal x Catbird. Photograph for design sketches on a table for sustainable fine jewelry upcycled collectionDesign sketches in the studio


What were the particular challenges of this project? 

We don’t do custom, or really work this way at all! Everything we do is designed for production, and to stay in our line for the long haul. We iterate endlessly. For this collection, we had one shot to make the piece! Totally different from how we usually work.


What do you look for when sourcing materials? 

We look for the most ethically-responsible version of a material that is available,

and if that is not sufficient, we have scrapped designs. But generally, we work with a very tight palette to allow us to keep track. And, we only work in precious materials that can stand the test of time, in every way.

The RealReal x Catbird. Photograph of a female jeweller at a work bench, holding pliers and working on a piece from the sustainable fine jewelry upcycled collectionInside the Catbird studio in Brooklyn, NY


Are there any items that are too precious to upcycle? 

We left a few pieces behind at TRR’s warehouse that we loved too much to take apart. All of the pieces we worked with were so special, but the ones we left behind were more than the sum of their parts. 


How do you know a piece is done? 

When my breath goes soft but tight all at the same time. But also when we have tried EVERY other possibility that we can think of.

The RealReal x Catbird. Model wearing Mismatched Angel Hair Stud earring in gold with ruby and diamonds, sustainable jewelry from upcycled collectionThe RealReal x Catbird Mismatched Angel Hair Studs


What connects all of the pieces? 

They are Catbird in spirit. To us that means to be worn everyday: To paraphrase Joan Didion, use the good china everyday because every day is all there is. We look to create timeless work that is full of joy and light.


Who are 3 people you’d love to see wearing pieces you’ve created? 

There is nothing more thrilling than spotting someone wearing Catbird on the subway or at the coffee shop. I never ever tire of it. I’ve been thinking about the answer to this question for the last few days and I keep on going back to: My mother: she died before we really picked up steam but she knew where we were going. My daughter, who also would love to wear what we have made. (She is three and notices every sample that I come home wearing.) And Daniel Day Lewis. 


What’s one tip you have for people shopping for jewelry? 

Wait for the thing that makes your heart beat fast. 

The RealReal x Catbird. Model wearing Sapphire Moonflower ring in gold with sapphire and diamonds, sustainable jewelry from upcycled collectionThe RealReal x Catbird Sapphire Moonflower Ring


Do you have any tips for mixing jewelry pieces from different eras in a surprising way?  

I love wearing chunky old rhinestone necklaces – from my grandma and the thrift store – with my Catbird jewelry and with jewelry that once belonged to my mom and my grandmother, and will one day belong to my daughter. It makes everything feel a little more playful and pushes the scale in a way that I find exciting. 


What’s one tip you have for shopping resale? 

Set up feeds! I check my RealReal list every day. Okay, multiple times a day.


Any jewelry care tips? 

Wear your gold all the time, take your pearls off when you swim and shower. 

The RealReal x Catbird. Model wearing Baby Pearl Hoop Earring with Diamonds in gold with pearl and diamonds, sustainable jewelry from upcycled collectionThe RealReal x Catbird Baby Pearl Hoop with Diamonds


Do you listen to music while you’re working? If so, what’s on your playlist? 

Yes! We all work in an open office, and I’m not always the one picking the music, but if I was DJing all the time, I’d play:  Beach House, Leonard Cohen, Billie Holiday, The Velvet Underground, Cate Le Bon, Edda Dell’Orso, Al Green, Radiohead, Frank Ocean, Björk, Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, The Supremes, Big Thief, Bob Dylan, The Ronettes, Os Mutantes, Stereolab, Blonde Redhead, Sufjan Stevens, Mazzy Star, Serge Gainsbourg, old film soundtracks, Maria Callas, William Onyeabor, and Carpenters. 


Sometimes I like to listen to something on repeat for a really long time – like “The Creator Has a Master Plan” (Louis Armstrong & Leon Thomas) or The Nutcracker Suite – for sweeping the mind clean and really getting down to the nitty gritty.


*This interview was edited and condensed for clarity. 

Honoring heritage brands and extending the lifecycle of luxury items.