By Aisha Hassan on August 4, 2022
Once upon a piercing
Alia Farouk and Nisa Ashman have more than 10 ear piercings each, and every one is reminiscent of a memory. “They each represent a significant time in our lives,” Alia says. “For example, my first Helix piercing was during my university exams, and my latest Rook piercing was after one of our Dia pop-ups,” she continues. (Alia is one of Dia Guild’s co-founders.) The commemorative — and therapeutic — nature of each piercing experience is one of the reasons why Alia and Nisa, her cousin, began experimenting with constellation piercings, which refers to building unique earring combinations on a single ear. Out of this passion, Olena Jewellery was born.
Olena is built on individuality and high-quality designs that let you express it, with a particular focus on pieces that can be worn together. “We created jewelry for those who use it as a form of self-expression, those who take pride in their personal styles and want to stack and layer their stories through their jewelry,” Nisa says. This leaning towards multiplicity is why Olena’s collections aren’t confined by set themes or motifs. Instead, the jewelry is created “from running ideas and concepts of what we love and what inspires us at a certain moment in time,” Nisa says. In a single collection you’ll have the Ketupat Stud, named after a traditional Malaysian dish, for instance, and the Olena Padlock, a distinctly modern piece that doubles as a pendant and hearkens to new beginnings.
“For many people, me included, individuality and self expression has not always been a celebrated part of who we are, especially as an adolescent trying to conform and fit in,” Alia says. “As I enter my late 20s, being able to fully express who I am, even through something as small as jewelry, is incredibly important.”
Standing the test of time
Thoughtfulness permeates every facet of the Olena Jewellery brand, all in the pursuit of creating timeless pieces that last. “Thinking about longevity begins at the concept creation and designing stage of the process…We will always ask ourselves how we can create a seasonless design that stands the test of time, rather than trends,” Nisa says. “By combining long-lasting durable materials with minimal aesthetics, we hope that each piece we create can be worn for years.” This is one of the reasons why Olena specializes in demi-fine jewelry, for instance, which refers to high-quality, premium jewelry that sits between the costume and fine jewelry brackets, and which typically uses techniques such as vermeil.
“Vermeil refers to the process of electroplating a precious metal like Gold or Rhodium over a base layer of Sterling Silver, and the layers of metal coating have to be at least 2.5 microns,” Alia says. “At Olena, we choose to coat our base metal with 18K Gold of 3 microns, which is about 5 times thicker than average Gold plating.” Olena also offers maintenance services for two years to its customers to encourage preserving, rather than discarding, one’s jewelry. “Lifetime wear is very important to us,” Alia says.
Beyond product design, Olena’s co-founders are also mindful about remaining ethical along their entire production chain. For instance, the brand only uses traceable metals to remain accountable to its environmental impact, and they work with a manufacturer in Thailand who is ISO certified and has gained recognition for their environmental management systems and social policies. “For example, all our factory water is recycled, treated, and used as irrigation systems for surrounding fields,” Alia says. “We are also working towards ensuring that all our products are made from recycled materials,” she continues. From creating the master jewelry molds to crafting the jewelry itself, every Olena piece is also made by hand.
Layers of experience
With such an arduous process — the digital designs can take up to three months, while production and sampling can take another three — Olena only produces or restocks bestsellers in small batches according to customer demand, which both minimizes resource usage and places their community first. “The feedback we get from our customers makes all the hard work worth it,” Alia says. “Knowing that our efforts are valued and our designs are appreciated is extremely rewarding,” she continues.
And their efforts will keep mounting, with the emergence of competitors and the constant challenge of figuring out how to market a product. “You can't simply create a product, hope that people will like it and that it will ‘sell,’’’ Nisa says. Both the cousins have found fulfilment in riding out these challenges together, and have learned crucial lessons in the process.
“Do not burn out! I think we have been conditioned to believe that the number of hours you put in is representative of the dedication you have to your business — it is not,” Alia says. “From experience, it is extremely critical to know where your work boundaries lie and to abide by those limitations. It will not only help with your productivity but the productivity of your business too.”
Armed with this acumen, the brand is ready to continue onward, with beautiful pieces and a focus on self-expression in-hand. It’s about layering designs, stacking experiences, and building Olena’s future.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aisha Hassan is a writer, journalist, and co-founder of Dia. Previously, Aisha worked for Quartz in New York and Harper’s Bazaar in Malaysia. Her fiction has been published in international literary magazines. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Language & Literature from the University of Oxford, and a master’s degree from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.