Original interview: JUNE 6TH 2018
i first stumbled across stella simona on instagram. i was instantly drawn deep into her beautiful feed, full of minimal, warm, images with accents of gold against her dark skin. i didn't hesitate to follow her. later i realized those beautiful gold accents were part of her jewelry line, haati chai. heavily influenced by her grandmother, haati chai is a fine jeweler heirloom brand, designed to be passed down to generations.
after stella and i connected, she introduced me to her business partner ali, who founded amarilo. amarilo is an unassuming, high end, minimalist jewelry brand. it was then that i started thinking... so wait, these two super chic best friends founded respective jewelry brands and later made them sister brands? i needed to know their story. read on to hear what inspired them to join forces in a world where we are all destined to follow our own paths.
stella simona: was 23 when i started haati chai. prior to the brands, i finished college and went on to work in the industry in brand development and photography.
ali heiss: i was 22 when i started amarilo. i was finishing my degree in political science when i founded amarilo, and later partnering with stella for haati chai.
how did the two of you meet and when did the idea to become co-founders/ partners come to fruition?
ali and i met through a mutual friend and kept in touch due to common interests. we are serious foodies and instantly bonded over our love for food. at the beginning of our relationship, we’d take trips exploring all types of dishes, from chinese hot pot to italian food. these experiences together opened the opportunity to not only enjoy this common interest but also discuss and share our separate experiences as two young designers. we could exchange tips and tricks, down to venting about a complicated day with a vendor, or even set dates to source together. it was really refreshing being that both our boyfriends were - i’m sure - a little tired of hearing about every detail we were experiencing.
we eventually decided to do a capsule collection where we designed hybrid pieces between both the brands named “bandhu” which is the bengali word for “friend”. this project was really refreshing in terms of sharing the duties that previously we would have solely had to do ourselves and the companionship that came along with it. this collection also provided a glimpse into how well we worked together. in our third year as solo designers, we joined forces and started a partnership. we decided it was beneficial to co-own both brands and haven’t looked back since.
i know you stand behind both brands having a larger purpose and deep cultural influences, can you speak to that?
when we founded our jewelry brands we knew it was so much more than jewelry, it was this medium that allowed us to share our personal story. we started both brands to not only share our cultural influences but also shed light on topics that were important to us. this foundation is still a key part of our companies today. as a 100% women-owned and run company with a customer base that is largely women, we intentionally use our social media platforms as a way to empower women. currently we are also partnered with big life, a conservation organization protecting and sustaining east africa’s wildlife and wildlands.
it’s clear you both influence each other, but how do you respectively define your personal styles?
we see ourselves and the brands as sisters. sisters resemble and even influence each other but at the same time they have their personal identities. we’ve both grown a lot over the years and each of our personal journeys is reflected in our personal styles and within each of the brands.
do you have other people on your team, and how many?
we have an all woman team of 5 not including ourselves.
what thrills you the most and concerns you the most with growing your brand?
i personally love the rush of something new and the fact that possibilities are endless. the times where we experience rapid growth are ones i look forward to but with this excitement comes the fear of being unable to keep up and inevitably falling behind. this is a big concern we work hard to address when necessary.
what have been some of your best tools in getting both of your brands off the ground? are there any processes you have implemented that have been a game changers?
this is a very broad question as i think we have utilized so many elements to get to where we are. we have always made use of all available resources and strategized to organize them to continue to build the brands. at the root of it all, strategy has been key.
on a marketing standpoint, one really big tool in growing our business on a global basis has been social media. between instagram, pinterest, and facebook, we have grown our customer base and landed new retailers.
as we continue to grow, we constantly look at our internal operations to ensure we can scale properly. one big move for us was that we began working with a fulfillment center so they can begin shipping our orders.
i wouldn’t say that this is a tool, but it is very important to ask a lot of questions. especially in production, we were always questioning processes and learned how to simplify it down over the years. through simplification brought down costs, which permitted us to grow in different directions.
tell us what differentiates the haati chai girl from the amarilo one? are there defining inspirations behind each brand?
the haati chai woman lives her life indulging in her passions and self discovery -- through travels, philanthropy, and romance. her jewelry reflects the experiences she has had, and are markers of her life events.
the amarilo woman abides by a minimalist philosophy - removing the non-essential and making a conscious effort to focus on what really matters in life. like her lifestyle, she wears pieces that are classic, timeless, and minimalistic.
what is the most special piece of jewelry you own?
ss:jewelry for both of us is very intimate. many of our pieces are markers to life events we have experienced, whether it being a smaller event like a paycheck or a larger life event like the birth of my son. one of my favorite pieces will always be the anna coin pendant neckpiece, which is a piece i designed in memory of my grandmother anowara. the piece is a coin from india dating to 1935, which is the year she was born. the currency at that time was called annas which is my grandma’s nickname.
ah: i can’t choose just one. both brands are my babies, so i love wearing a piece from each brand. i love wearing the haati chai anna coin pendant with my amarilo lock pendant. they are both striking reflections of both stella and i; the coin pendant is imperfect with such beautiful meaning behind it, where the lock pendant is perfectly crafted with a deep mix of both asian and american culture. even though the styles are completely different, they compliment each other so beautifully, very much like the relationship that stella and i share.
what makes you feel most beautiful in your own skin?
ss: understanding that there is only one me and loving myself for everything i am makes me feel confident and beautiful in who i am.
ah: i am most beautiful in my own skin when i am confident in myself. i hope to be the role model i did not have for myself when i was younger and share this with young women who are looking up to me.
photos by aja hitomi