Alia Farouk and Nisa Ashman, cousins turned business partners, share a bond through their love of jewellery. When they were living in the UK, they would often meet up over the weekend to explore things related to fashion, among others.
Earrings, in particular, have been their favourite accessory; both of them have multiple ear piercings and enjoy stacking studs and hoops simultaneously. “In London, the options were endless when it came to finding pieces that you could layer and stack — all of good quality and at an affordable price,” says Nisa.
After returning to Malaysia, finding such accessories that spoke to their personal style was hard. “It was either fine jewellery or fashion jewellery. Demi-fine was not really a thing here yet. So, we wanted to bridge the two by bringing in demi-fine jewellery and making luxury accessories accessible to everyone,” she adds.
Alia and Nisa started Olena Jewellery during the pandemic in 2020. Neither of them had a background in jewellery design — Alia majored in mathematics and corporate law and Nisa in chemistry. One of their major challenges in the early days was finding manufacturers to work with, as a lot of factories were shut due to the pandemic and not taking on new clients.
Like walking with a blindfold on, they had no idea whether the shortlisted manufacturers had all the requirements needed for their brand, such as having the right certifications and ethics. And with the movement restrictions in place, it was not possible to make in-person visits to see the jewellery-making process. After many moons of trying out various establishments, Olena Jewellery found the right ones that could realise its founders’ vision.
The duo made it a point to have their jewellery pieces fashioned in Thailand by specialist suppliers. “We are working with incredible manufacturers. Our jewellery pieces are very intricate. We really needed companies that could perform and provide the standard of jewellery we wanted. And it just so happens that the kind of craft and level of craftsmanship we were looking for are found in Thailand,” says Alia.
The responsibilities are fairly shared between the two, who are involved in the design process and business operations. While Alia handles marketing initiatives and partnerships, Nisa is responsible for the brand’s website and logistics.
Another reason for starting the label was because they were trying to shop more consciously. Alia says, “We were looking for high-quality goods even if it meant higher prices. We wanted to create a Malaysian jewellery brand that provides good quality and durable products.”
After going into the business, they realised it is easier to create hype around sustainability than actually practising it, especially in the jewellery industry. Having said that, sustainability is achieved at Olena Jewellery by producing in small batches and focusing on classic designs that can be worn for a long time and outlast current trends.
“We really aim to cut overproduction, so we order in small batches. We produce low quantities and then assess the response from our customers and listen to their [feedback] before we restock or make more. That is our policy moving forward. We want to produce what is needed in the market and not have excess products,” says Alia.
The cousins are currently working towards using recycled gold as the main precious metal for their pieces, but it is still in the testing stage.
Olena Jewellery’s style aesthetic is based on unique and classic designs. Among others, they have created patterns inspired by the ketupat; crescent and 14-point star on the Malaysian flag; safety pin; and padlock for their collections. All pieces are plated in gold vermeil — the best quality in the realm of gold-tone jewellery — combining 18-carat yellow gold with 925 sterling silver.
Nisa explains, “Our inspiration comes from a variety of things. We have ketupat, which we usually eat during Hari Raya, and we try to replicate motifs that we see on songket. As we come from maths and science backgrounds, we try to incorporate geometric shapes into the designs as well.”
The brand promotes layering and stacking jewellery as it offers versatility. This trend also allows wearers to mix and match the various pieces. “I think layering pieces together can sometimes make a bigger statement than wearing just one. You can play around with them, depending on your daily mood,” says Alia.
Nisa’s favourite pieces change all the time. She is currently wearing a square hoop, which fits nicely on her earlobe. With a unique pattern, it is minimal but fun enough to wear as an everyday accessory. Alia, meanwhile, finds herself putting on Olena’s mini huggies a lot. The tiny earrings are easy to wear and feel comfortable.
The label was first envisioned by Alia before she pitched the idea to Nisa. It is named after Alia’s mother Eleena, who is fondly referred to as Ola by family members. “I kind of merged Eleena and Ola. Our mothers have been the backbone of this business and we probably couldn’t have made it to launch without their never-ending support. Although it is named after my mum, it really is the celebration of both our mothers,” explains Alia.
This article first appeared on Jan 17, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.