Auckland, New Zealand. Feb. 3, 2021. Ten-year-old Shahana Jewels is more than just another maker of pretty Tahitian pearl jewelry. Founder Shahana Kimiangatau debuted her business 10 years ago. She had always been encouraged by the strong women in her family to be financially independent, but that message became an even greater priority after her mom died of cancer at the young age of 42. The family had moved to New Zealand from Fiji, where she grew up, not long before her mom was diagnosed. At that point, Kimiangatau felt a sense of urgency to pursue her dream.
Jewelry was an obvious choice given that Kimiangatau’s Chinese, Italian, and Indian heritage instilled in her an affinity for it. Plus, women from the Pacific islands have a natural inclination to loving pearls.
“Pearls are like our diamonds,” she says, with myriad South Sea pearl farms in Fiji, the Cook Islands, New Zealand, and French Polynesia in mind.
And through a vacation property her family owned on the Cook Islands, she met a pearl farmer who gave her an invaluable education. Kimiangatau realized that pearls, particularly Tahitian pearls, could be her business. Also important? Lifting up as many other women as possible through employment that she hoped would pave the way to self-sufficiency.
“Many women in the islands are poor,” she says. “I wanted to help them move forward to support themselves and gain financial freedom. I wanted to give them choices.”
Her staff grew along with her business. Kimiangatau employs four women in New Zealand, 15 women in India, and others in South Africa, Malaysia, Vancouver, Canada, and even Buffalo, N.Y. One of Kimiangatau’s staffers in India managed to buy a flat with her earnings and help provide a meaningful income to her family—including sending her child to school.
But jobs at Shahana Jewels are just one part of paying it forward. Kimiangatau helps even more women through Kiva.org, which provides microloans to women in underserved communities. To date, she has helped fund 55 women in the South Pacific who started their own businesses. “Five percent of my monthly sales go to Kiva,” she says. She doesn’t allow recipients to repay the funds. “I just give them the money,” she says.
As for her jewelry, Kimiangatau’s pieces are made in Jaipur through CAD and the lost wax process. “Pieces are mostly made in CAD because I like that I can scale the design and see how costly it is to produce; this way I can stick to my sweet spot in pricing,” she explains.
Upon completion, jewels are shipped to New Zealand, where they’re set with Tahitian pearls. Her metals are recycled gold and silver sourced from Hoover & Strong and Stuller, and her pearls come from a farm in Rikitea, French Polynesia. The designs reflect Polynesian themes and celebrate the beauty of the pearls.
“All the jewelry relates to my clients’ dreams—to empower them and share their stories,” she says. “Women who buy from me are smart, confident, and hardworking and often forget to appreciate themselves. I love talking to my customers! Eighty percent of the time you reach out to Shahana Jewels, it’s me answering on the other end. My customers love that personal service; it’s authentic to my brand.”
And though her mother is always with her in spirit, Kimiangatau has made some moves to help other women avoid the cancer her mother succumbed to, which could have been detected sooner had the family lived in a bigger metropolitan area with more resources.
Four years ago, Kimiangatau started making donations to cancer research in the South Pacific. She began with jewelry to sell, with proceeds earmarked for a cancer charity, but the idea has evolved into providing practical items for women battling the disease. Last year, her team manufactured mastectomy bras, and this year she’ll donate wigs to survivors. “It’s hard to get things like these on the islands,” she says.
“When my mom got sick 15 years ago, doctors couldn’t diagnose her. Her nose kept bleeding, and the doctor just said it was the heat. But my mother grew up in the heat of Fiji. We knew something was wrong but couldn’t get a proper diagnosis until we moved to New Zealand. So I’m big on raising awareness. Lots of island women hide issues and live in fear of not wanting to stress their families. There’s no free healthcare on the islands. That’s why we try to share the stories of as many women as possible; how else will others know?”
Reach Kimiangatau at email@example.com.
Shahana Kimiangatau, founder of Shahana Jewels
An annual dinner that Shahana Kimiangatau, founder of Shahana Jewels, holds for her top customers. “This is only half of them,” she laughs. “Our tribe has grown so big. I love that everyone can put a face to a name at this dinner.”
Marama ring in gold fill with Tahitian pearls, $450 NZD; available online at Shahana Jewels
Moana hoop earrings in gold fill with Tahitian pearls, $680 NZD; available online at Shahana Jewels
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