Written by Caitlyn Raymond
I got the fantastic opportunity to interview Nai’a Elle, from Jewelry by Nai’a Elle, who has turned a beautiful, handmade jewelry line into Kona Gems by the Sea, a Hawaii exclusive jewelry shop in Kailua-Kona. Nai’a and I met at a farmers market early on in the summer of 2021 and I immediately knew should have an incredible view on the world that needed to be shared. I have followed Nai’a’s journey from jewelry designer to shop owner and am excited to see where else her life guides her. Today we sit down with this inspirational, island woman to hear about her creative journey and the love that IS the Aloha Spirit.
What has been your biggest inspiration?
Mother nature. She’s always been there and honestly through the hardest times I would go to mother nature and I would just be able to be myself; and look at her, she is so beautiful and so imperfect. There’s no rhyme to reason, there’s phases, she’s always changing, she’s unpredictable, I love that. I love her and respect her and that is my biggest inspiration.
How has growing up, here, in Hawaii shaped who you are?
When I look back and say that I’ve been on this island for 26 years, my entire life, I think about, first off, what everyone knows Hawaii to be. It’s on the screens, in movies, you see this fantasy world, this vacation, magical place and it’s exactly that. It’s a magical place and people come here with a one way ticket and they never leave. So being surrounded by so much magic by so much vibrate nature — the way that my mom and my dad brought me up being like consistently active in the community and in mother nature — I’ve really learned that through my years, that’s the most important thing to me; being active in nature and my community. Theres nothing I haven’t liked about living here, being raised here, knowing the community. Those are honestly the things that made me the happiest, I’m super grateful.
Have you ever thought about moving anywhere else?
Oh yeah, I’ve thought about moving to San Fransisco because I’ve always wanted to be an artist at a young age and I knew that back then San Fransisco was such a diverse place for artists to be and thrive and to learn from other people. I was set on moving there until college when I heard that Google had come in and started raising the prices and changing the living environment there so I kind of was like I’ll just stay in Hawaii until I feel called to go to a place, but I’ve thought about moving there, or New York just because of fashion honestly. I still think about moving to LA, constantly. Actually I am planning on figuring out a way I could go back and forth between LA and Hawaii. I literally always said my entire life, if you could find a home on the mainland and Hawaii and go back and forth thats like the best of both worlds.
What would you want to do in fashion?
Ugh, that’s a loaded question. My intention with fashion is to bring self confidence and feeling good in your own skin, feeling good in your own clothes, everything honestly, that’s sort of my intention is to help you thrive and who you feel you want to be and but pretty much clothing and designing. I love designing and I enjoy creating pieces and seeing the vision come to life and then when I see people find that piece that they are in love with and seeing how happy they are — I love that. Seeing people just glow, it’s so fun, you really see the essence of life there. Like, wow, that’s the state that we should reach to be in, is just that bliss, that excitement, happiness.
Is that what you want to do with your jewelry?
Totally. It’s crazy the perspective it’s given me working with people one on one in jewelry or just customer service in general, when you make someones day just how much it impacts someone’s life. You can see it in their face or in their eyes or through their energy just changing when they aren’t even planning to find something that they absolutely love or cherish and they stumble upon it or treat themselves or take a risk and they surprise themselves. It’s such a beautiful environment to be in, especially on a consistent basis. Making people’s day, finding the joy within by just treating themselves or getting a gift for someone else — it’s not like you buy jewelry all the time but when you do and it’s a wholesome experience it definitely stays. It’s a memory made. It’s special, those moments. That’s pretty much what I am striving for on a consistent basis.
Where has jewelry taken you in life?
I can’t say that I started really intentionally building my business until February. I wasn’t really doing it seriously beforehand, if you asked me anytime from before this February if I was gonna be a jewelry maker I would’ve been like, No. That’s not what I’m gonna do. I wasn’t planning on it at all. I knew that I wanted to be in art — I still do — I’m a painter at heart, and a drawer, so I envisioned I would be doing something like that, and I still can, and I plan to, but to be in my career right now, to be making jewelry and planning jewelry, it goes to show life is just a journey and you have to go with the flow. Where it’s taken me is probably way farther than I thought I could go, honestly. I think opening up a shop, it’s taken me to this whole new career path and opportunity, and with having a shop, manning a shop, owning a shop, I’m learning all of these things that I’ve never thought about before or had to. I didn’t prepare for this but I feel like it’s taken me to this whole other level of responsibility and even leadership in a way because I know a lot of eyes looking at me now.
I have people messaging me constantly about things they wanna make and things they want me to design for them. I have flight attendants that regularly come back to me it’s like keeping this image of my Hawaii, which is a whole other role and experience. It’s been a trip. I don’t know what I’m doing but I’m just going with it. And it’s interesting because I’m finding myself listening to more podcasts; really looking for leadership for myself so I can be the best leader and be the best that I can be, everyday. It’s a consistent basis of growing. It’s crazy because jewelry has given me this opportunity for growing into leadership and to be an example. Without this motivation or without this responsibility I probably would be the same person, and here I am, really trying to make a different in my life and in myself and to impact people in a good way. Jewelry and this responsibility made me think, How can I impact my community more how can I impact the world more? Where am I going with all of this? It’s given me a greater span of the vision and just purpose.
What are your future plans?
I’ve been thinking about what are the next steps? My biggest goal at the moment is to become a goldsmith, and so I’m looking into invest in machinery and that’s really the title of jewelry that I would like is ‘goldsmith’ and setting my own stones and pretty much creating a super magical collection that’s exclusive to Hawaii. The other goals I have is traveling and getting to know people, networking. [Right now], I’m really perfecting my pieces my collection my website.
5% of all your sales go towards…
Ocean conservation! It’s called Hawaii Wildlife Fund. All sales! So yeah, it’s interesting because my uncle, actually my business partner, mentioned a lot of people do it off of profit. I take pride in that and it’s really cool, each month its been growing. It’s amazing. It’s insane. Donating is probably the most efficient. I can donate a part of my sales, my being, my lifestyle to people that don’t even have half of what we have. When I think about the opportunity for us living in the United States, it’s pretty big, let alone Hawaii, to be able to live in Hawaii and be where we are do what we do its pretty dreamy. A lot of people dream of this, I imagine. I am really trying to see on a moment to moment basis what is it that I really have that’s to complain about?
There’s definitely positivity all around here, I’ve noticed. I would say people are very open, very kind. They’re very connected with nature which is something I know that I need.
I’ve never lived in a city so I always love hearing about peoples experiences over there because I’ve never lived there, ever. I think it’s the island lifestyle, because I’ve travelled to other islands like the Philippines, (that’s where my ancestors are from) Indonesia, and you go to any of those little islands and those people are just like that, the same, you go to any island. They have the same energy to them. Island lifestyle, island living, I think it creates this same sense of simplicity that people realize all they have and all they need is right here. You don’t need much, you don’t need much. I just feel like what cities are based on are capitalism, right, and island lifestyle is based on community. So then the idea of ALOHA SPIRIT. What is the Aloha Spirit? It is love, it is kindness, it is hello, it is goodbye, it is welcoming of whatever, wherever you’re coming from and respecting that, it is respect. And when I think about the Aloha Spirit and when I talk about Aloha Spirit it is so it’s almost, in the Hawaiian culture, the highest vibration. It’s universal, honestly. It doesn’t matter where you come from, it doesn’t matter where you’re going; where you go and where you take it with you is how you embody the Aloha Spirit. Going and traveling with this Aloha Spirit and what you learned — take it other places. It’s universal, it can be taken, you’ll see it in other places. When you bring Aloha Spirit with you somewhere else you’ll recognize that Aloha Spirit within them and they might not know it as Aloha Spirit but that’s what the idea of this love is, this universal love. It’s really cool. It’s a way of life. It’s an energy flow. You just have to tune into that vibration.
Do you have any words for readers? Any inspiration you would like to share?
“The world has so many treasures to offer and the key is paved on the journey to self love.”
I’ve experienced it myself. There’s all this opportunity in the world and where you find where you’re going to thrive is in your own heart, your own intuition and really tuning into yourself. Once you know who you are and what you want then you can go out and get it. I was young and I thought I needed to do what the world told me to do because that’s what everyone else was doing but I realized that wasn’t working for me and I was very unhappy for so long by doing that. So I stopped and I looked around and said I have to take care of myself first. I don’t even know what I want. It’s the journey to self love. It’s going to unlock all your treasures.