I've really missed writing - the creative process, being able to express my own thoughts and feelings (hopefully evoking similar thoughts and feelings in the reader), and the utter satisfaction and joy I feel after finishing a piece. I had always wanted to be a writer, however when I attended college, I made the practical decision to get my degree in Business. Although it served me well and helped me to attain and work in positions to gain the knowledge and experience that I use to run my business (all of the administrative stuff), I still wonder...what if I majored in English, Communications or Journalism instead?
Although I definitely don't have the time right now for literary pursuits, from time to time and when an opportunity presents itself, I can allow myself to indulge and express myself through writing.
I had been wanting to get into Kakaako Vert Magazine for over 3 years (ever since I opened the boutique at Ward Centre). I had been approached multiple times to purchase advertising space, however always told the sales representative that visited me that I would only consider buying an ad if I also got a feature. As a small business with very limited funds, a feature would provide a more meaningful return on my investment. She would always say that she would let the team back at the office know but nothing ever came of it.
Then during my 10th Anniversary Sale in July, I somehow got on the Managing Editor's radar - possibly because I was collaborating with 8 other businesses (some that she follows?) that were reposting on Instagram about the sale? She reached out to inquire if I was interested in being featured in their upcoming Fall Issue. My professional reply was, "Sounds great!" but inside my head I was thinking, "HECK YA!" (well...that is the cleaned up version of what I was actually thinking - you can use your imagination haha). I was so excited!!!
The editor sent me a short list of standard questions but I ended up spending 7-8 hours on my answers, knowing that it could be my one and only chance to share the story behind the Blue Bird brand. I knew I needed to highlight the human aspect behind the business and my special connection to the Kakaako area to make the article relatable and relevant to the magazine's readership - who are all potential customers. In general but especially in Hawaii, people are more inclined to support people who they can relate to and businesses with owners who have been part of the community for many years. So it was really important for me to share as much as I could. In the end, I knew that the editor wouldn't be able to include everything I submitted but I was really happy with what was published.
You can take a peek at the article below:
KV = Kaka'ako Vert
BBJH = Blue Bird Jewelry Hawaii
KV: How did the idea for Blue Bird Jewelry Hawaii come about?
BBJH: I started beading, strictly as a hobby, in the early 90’s - going to local bead stores for materials and supplies and making simple jewelry for myself and as gifts for family and friends.
In the mid to late 90’s, some of my pieces were sold (under my first business name “Jewelry By Jana” - *cringe*) at Villa Roma at Ward Warehouse during prom season and I was also making bridesmaid jewelry for friends and then through word of mouth, friends of friends.
I then ended up taking an unintentional 10-12 year break from jewelry making - life got busy with work, dating, pursuing other interests and hobbies, planning a wedding, getting married and enjoying being a newlywed. However a freak accident 15 years ago in late 2008 (I slipped and fell in the shower and tore my ACL) set me on the path to jewelry making again, finding my passion and ultimately turning it into my career.
After tearing my ACL, I was stuck on the couch with nothing to do. So I dusted off my jewelry tools, excited about creating again. Discovering that I needed more supplies, I visited my local bead store. Those visits became more frequent as I took classes to expand my knowledge, skills and repertoire, eventually discovering the techniques I enjoyed most. It was also the beginning of my love of sparkly gemstones. At this point and for several years after, it was still just a hobby and I was still only making jewelry for myself, sometimes selling a few pieces to co-workers for extra cash.
Feeling unfulfilled and unhappy at my job, I wanted to make a change. However because of financial obligations and responsibilities, my options were limited. I wasn’t able to quit or completely change fields/industries and I didn’t want to go back to school. Compelled to do something, even if it was only on the side, in July of 2013, Blue Bird Jewelry Hawaii was born.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with Blue Bird so I just started making jewelry in my spare time. Several months later, a co-worker suggested doing a “Jewelry Party” with some of her friends. There would be food and drinks, creating a fun atmosphere to hang out and shop in the comfort of one of the friend’s homes. After several successful Jewelry Parties, I had the confidence to approach my first retail store and in January 2014, Blue Bird was carried at Mikinola at the Koko Marina Shopping Center.
I went on my first gemstone buying trip in May 2014 - this was the tipping point that really impacted my overall design aesthetic. Selecting my own gemstones directly from suppliers versus buying from bead stores with their own curated offerings, made all of the difference in developing my own distinct style and look. It also saved me money since I could purchase at wholesale prices versus retail. Shopping for and working with gemstones is and has always been my favorite part of the jewelry making process.
Because I spent so much money on my buying trip, to try and recover some of my expenses, I decided to do several craft fairs during the 2014 holiday season. I was nervous and unsure about how Blue Bird would be received when exposed to a wider audience, but was very happy after a successful craft fair season. It was the first time that I realized and acknowledged that I could actually do this and that Blue Bird was a legitimate business.
Still unhappy at my job, in January 2015, I decided to take a huge leap of faith - I quit my day job to do Blue Bird full-time from home. I started the Blue Bird Instagram account and launched the bluebirdjewelryhawaii.com website soon after.
For the next 5 years, Blue Bird was carried and had pop-ups and trunk shows at several local boutiques such as Fighting Eel, Allison Izu and at Ten Tomorrow, just to name a few. I participated in numerous events at various venues such as Honolulu Night Market, back when it was in Kakaako, Temari Trash & Treasure at the Japanese Chamber of Commerce, several Sip n Shop events at the Ritz Carlton Waikiki, private shopping events for members of the Oahu Country Club and countless events at the Blaisdell, including what would become my best event of the year: the Made in Hawaii Festival. One of the coolest opportunities I had was participating in a retail pop-up market during Honolulu Fashion Week at the Convention Center in 2015 and 2016.
To create more opportunities for Blue Bird during the off season, I hosted many of my own trunk shows at the Ala Moana Hotel. I was able to create a more intimate, private shopping experience away from the crowds, reminiscent of the Jewelry Parties in the early days.
After the end of the 2019 holiday season, on the day after Christmas, I found out about an exciting opportunity that would change Blue Bird’s path in a major way.
KV: When did you open in Kakaako?
BBJH: Having a boutique at Ward Centre has really been a full-circle moment for me - like coming home.
I lived in the Kakaako area for almost 30 years. I grew up at 1350 Ala Moana (on the corner of Ala Moana Blvd. and Piikoi St.) back in the 80’s when it was the only condo in the Kakaako area. My husband and I lived on Waimanu Street a year before and for several years after we got married from 2006 through 2012. The Ward area had been my stomping grounds during high school and college. My mom would have breakfast at Yum Yum Tree (currently Genki Sushi) every Saturday morning with a friend. My friends and I would hang out at Borders (currently Kid City) or Mocha Java (currently Tali’s Bagels & Schmear) to study, hang out or drink coffee. My husband and I had a marathon first date (we went home at 1am on a weeknight!) in 2001 at Ward Centre - first with dinner at Scoozee’s (the old Red Pineapple; currently a Golf simulation place), coffee at Starbucks (the old Merriman’s/Pier One?) which was across the street, and drinks and dessert at Ryan’s (upstairs; currently B-Side Lounge).
I had always dreamed about having my own brick and mortar store and had been casually looking at retail space since 2017. Even though I didn’t really think it was a possibility, I had always been curious about the tiny space in the Ewa Wing of Ward Centre.
On the day after Christmas in 2019, I found out that the tiny space that I had my eye on for so many years was vacant! In mid-January 2020, I was meeting with the leasing office - the negotiation phase was quick. I signed the lease, obtained Commercial Liability Insurance and had the keys by January 31st. It felt serendipitous and meant to be. I had one week to clean, paint, build furniture and move in and on February 7, 2020 (a week before Valentine’s Day), Blue Bird Jewelry Boutique had its soft opening.
I had been adjusting and settling into my new routine of running my own boutique until 6 weeks later…
When COVID hit and Oahu had its first shut down. We all initially thought that the shut down would be for 2-3 weeks (who knew that it would actually be for 2 months!). In a daze, my husband and I packed up the boutique that I had just moved into. I remember shedding a few tears seeing my lovely space empty again, fighting feelings of sadness and anxiety.
Like many other businesses, I had to pivot to online sales to survive. I applied for reimbursement grants, networked with fellow business owners and prepared myself and the boutique with the necessary PPE and protocols to conduct business safely and responsibly when it was safe to reopen. I started out with private shopping appointments, slowly expanded to being open 3 days a week before finally settling into a 5 day a week schedule. Although my initial plan before COVID was to hire part-time staff, to keep overhead costs down, I’ve continued to run the business and work at the boutique by myself.
In the years since then, Blue Bird has enjoyed a slow and steady growth. However, because of changes in the economy - inflation, higher interest rates and the recession, 2023 has been challenging, especially for small businesses like mine. However during times like these, I try my very best to focus on the notion of gratitude. I’m grateful for the support from my friends and family. I’m especially grateful for my best friend and husband Gav, who has whole heartedly supported me and my dream throughout the years. Most of all though, I’m grateful for my customers - for helping to keep my boutique doors open and for allowing me the privilege of being in business for the past 10 years. I’m hopeful that the economy will improve and I look forward to what the second half of 2023 and the coming years will bring.
KV: What sets your business apart from others like it?
BBJH: There are many talented artists in the handmade jewelry industry in Hawaii - these are some of the things that I think set Blue Bird apart from everyone else:
Versatility: Although a number of our pieces appeal to women in their 20’s, because I design for myself and I’m 51 years old, the majority of our collection appeals to women in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Although I need to keep an eye on the trends, our jewelry is not trendy - our pieces are classic and timeless - adornments that women will be able to wear and enjoy for many years and seasons.
Blue Bird jewelry can easily be worn from day to evening - most of our pieces seamlessly transition from a day at work to an evening out - just by making slight changes to your outfit, hair and makeup, and other accessories such as your handbag and shoes.
Because our design aesthetic is delicate, you can layer multiple Blue Bird pieces together and/or pair them with other jewelry brands. Because our jewelry looks luxurious, you can even mix and layer your Blue Bird pieces with your fine jewelry and diamonds.
Quality/Workmanship: The gemstones that are featured in our designs are of exceptional quality. In addition, we are always delighted to be able to discover new gemstones with unique cuts and shapes that are not readily available or well-known on the market and share them with our customers. Each gemstone is painstakingly sorted, selected, matched (for color/size/shape) and neatly wire-wrapped. Before making it out on the boutique sales floor, each piece is quality checked by me for symmetry and strength.
Customer Service: Customer service begins the moment someone steps into the boutique, whether they purchase a piece or not.
I share that each piece is handmade by me, features semi-precious gemstones and also talk about the difference between gold-plated and gold-filled metal. I educate about how gold-filled jewelry is a wonderful alternative to solid gold jewelry - for a fraction of the cost, you can still get a high quality piece that lasts for many years if cared for and stored properly.
Great customer service means going above and beyond, even after a purchase is made and after someone leaves the boutique. Each purchase comes with Care Instructions that you can take home and refer to with tips on what to do and what not to do with your handmade jewelry to ensure that it lasts and stays shiny over time. A storage bag with an anti-tarnish strip is also included for this purpose. Earring backings (and 3 extra pairs of backings) are also provided free of charge so that you (hopefully) don’t lose one or both sides of your new earrings.
Our Loyalty Card program is true to its name and keeps customers coming back. It was also a small way to give back to my customers - a small reward and thank you for their patronage. Each purchase earns stamps in $50 increments. When the stamp card is full (after a $500 total spend), you get $50 off your next purchase. In the past 5 years that I’ve had the Loyalty Card program, over 300 cards have been redeemed, meaning that Blue Bird has given away $15,000 to customers in free jewelry!
I’m a One Woman Show: In contrast to “typical” retail boutiques, who buy and resell merchandise, I actually make all of the jewelry merchandise, by hand. In addition to being the only person who works at the boutique, I do all of the behind the scenes work related to the business. I do all of the administrative and accounting work - ordering supplies, paying bills, tracking of income and expenses, generating sales reports, paying GE Taxes (the only thing I do NOT do is do my own income taxes). I also take and edit all of my own jewelry photos and do all of the social media. I edit and maintain the Blue Bird website. I come up with the ideas, do all of the legwork, preparation and execution of my promotions and sales. I’ve done numerous collaborations over the years with other local small businesses with the hopes of sharing our customers and lifting each other up. This is all in addition to thinking up and creating new jewelry designs.
I hope you will visit me at Ward Centre to browse and shop at my cozy little boutique filled with pretty, sparkly things made by hand with lots of love, positive intention and joy.