Ali Heiss of Amarilo & Stella Simona of Haati Chai | On Building a Jewelry Empire
Ali Heiss and Stella Simona are at the helm of an empire; these two ladies are co-founders of the PR Agency Showroom Joplin, but individually run their own wildly successful jewelry lines Amarilo and Haati Chai.
How they both managed to build highly-coveted jewelry brands with a cult following--that includes top fashion bloggers as well as A-listers like Beyoncé, Jhene Aiko, and Kylie Jenner--while running full-on PR brand strategies for other lines is to realize that these two know how to handle business with precision and undeniable finesse.
We sat down to talk to them about their journeys to this moment and what it takes to build a successful business, and discovered that to know them is to be in the midst of not only a formidable team, but two women who strike the balance between humility and strength while boldly creating and conquering the world before them.
Tell us how you both got your start in the jewelry world. Recount what that journey was like.
Stella: When I was younger, each year my grandma would go home to India and Bangladesh and of all the gifts she would bring back, I became extremely fond of the jewelry she gave me and developed a very particular and defined taste as a result. She eventually started to only bring me jewelry, and in due time, had me drawing sketches of exactly what I wanted and had the family’s private jeweler make my drawings come to life.
By the time I was 14, my jewelry collection and taste was pretty amazing (if I do say so myself). But as time passed, I forgot about the inner designer my grandma had made me get in touch with. So while I worked in different aspects of the industry throughout my early twenties, it wasn’t until I started my work in artist development as a photographer that I started considering jewelry again. I always believed that jewelry is an extension of your mood, your personality; it’s that one detail that can draw that out, especially for someone like a musician. One day, I happened to walk into a craft/jewelry store and I was overwhelmed with this desire to start designing. From then on, Haati Chai began.
"We are the yin and yang to each other. Our partnership is not only a strategic business move, but also a way to fill each others gaps. There are parts of the job that gives both of us highs, and we like to run with those ideas and utilize our strengths to further everyone involved."
Ali: As a child, I basically started making jewelry out of my mom’s gardening wire. From there, I cold-called and farmed all my neighbors to get them to buy my jewelry; looking back, that was probably rude, haha. Time flew by and when I was 18, I started picking up jewelry designing, but this time I took to the Internet and began selling them online. Once that was set up and running, I began teaching myself everything about jewelry basics--from carving, stone setting, finishing, sawing, filing, and casting. I think this moment was the most groundbreaking time in my life, because everything was so raw and fresh to me. I took these classic techniques and used them in an unconventional and modern way, and from that Amarilo was born. I haven’t looked back since.
When did you both come to the realization that this was becoming something bigger than you imagined?
S: Every little milestone I’ve always treated as if it’s grand. I remember the first few pieces I designed--I created them the same night I purchased the materials. I had a photography blog with a pretty big following at the time so I photographed my designs and shared them there. I sold out of everything the first night I designed anything. I remember thinking, “Okay, so I guess I’m not the only one who thinks this is cool.” Shortly after, I had been designing for about a month and a half when one of my stylist friends called me up to dress the judges on X Factor.
Haati Chai has taken great jumps in a very short period. Just that in itself gave me a sense that this would be something big.
A: I started designing in college and listing my jewelry for sale online to help fund my poor college-instant-ramen-fueled days. When I actually started bringing in more than my other two jobs, I decided to quit those jobs and do jewelry design full time while being a student. After graduating (with a degree that ended up not being useful) I reached a crossroads; to continue with design, or to go and get my MBA. After weighing my options, I decided to nurture jewelry and that is how I realized I wanted to further the business and make it bigger.
In your words, what kind of spirit does Amarilo and Haati Chai capture? Who wears your jewelry?
Though our lines are aesthetically different, we believe that they embody the same spirit—one that arms the wearer with the boldness and creativity to express the best version of themselves and allows them to escape the ordinary. Our most loyal fans understand that our jewelry is more than just an accessory, but an extension of who they are.
We are constantly surrounded by such strong, beautiful, and inspiring women in our field who simply exist on their own terms, and we think that our jewelry outfits those types of women—women who dare to be exactly who they are and don't apologize for it.
Together, you’ve created a PR empire called Showroom Joplin. Tell us more about the vision for this Showroom and how this partnership came about.
Our backgrounds and dedication to the story of each brand really furthered our personal brands. In the beginning when both brands were growing we each went to outside PR Agencies and Sales people to represent us as our time was always limited with everything we needed to do. Time and time again we learned that we grow ourselves the best.
Our largest dilemma was finding time to design, creative direct, and doing everything else in between since we were trying to fuel all aspects of the brand since we were business owners. After a few years of friendship and prior collaborations, Ali and I joined forces to create our own showroom with the purpose of growing our brands to their full capacity with forward thinking concepts and non-classic PR models.
“HAVE. A. BUSINESS. PLAN. This is the most fundamental part of business... Don’t overwhelm yourself with this. You don’t need to know everything to have a business plan, and they consistently change with the real world.”
Once we grew our staff and were confident in our model, we expanded our services to other brands. What separates us from most PR Agencies is we don’t just secure placements, but we’re very involved in measuring the traction and conversions so that the PR is executed to fit every brand’s business plan. I would say that we’re doing pretty well and are excited for what’s to come.
Was it the right move for the both of you to band together and start this new venture?
A thousand times YES! We are the yin and yang to each other, and we feel that partnership is not only a strategic business move, but also a way to fill each others gaps. There are parts of the job that gives both of us highs, and we like to run with those ideas and utilize our strengths to further everyone involved, be it our brands, our clients, or our personal lives.
Funny story: When Stella and I first met each other, we actually flirted with each other on social media. Stella approached me after to create a capsule collection together, and we realized that we were both inspired by each other and saw strengths in each other where we originally would have weaknesses. I think our defining moment was when we got down at our favorite restaurant, Badmaash. After I witnessed Stella eat (and her never ending stomach), it was love at first bite, haha.
What have been the biggest challenges of being your own boss? What are the biggest rewards?
The biggest challenges of being your own boss and running your own business is that you’re signing up for a lot, sometimes more than you originally planned for. Whether you were prepared for it or not, you have to wear a lot of hats to make the big picture really happen. It comes with a ton of ups and just as many downs. You can’t walk away from it. This is yours. But the biggest rewards make it all worth it.
They always say that you will never truly appreciate anything unless you’ve felt what it’s like to struggle and not have anything. We truly started from the bottom and wouldn’t change anything about our journey.
Name your proudest moment on this journey thus far.
This is a loaded question because we always enjoy the small moments, and we wholeheartedly believe that it’s the combination of all our small achievements that make up that PROUDEST moments in our journey. Pinpointing one moment is impossible, but looking back at our growth and timeline is an incredible journey, and really fills us with such happiness.
If you could go back in time to when you first began this entire process, what advice would you give yourself and to other women looking to start their own businesses?
HAVE. A. BUSINESS. PLAN. This is the most fundamental part of business, but it’s surprising how many designers or business owners don’t have this. Don’t overwhelm yourself with this, but you don’t need to know everything to have a business plan, and they consistently change in the real world.
What do you think the next five years will look like for you two?
We want to be bicoastal within five years. Although we work on the daily with the East coast, we really want to eat, breath, sleep all that is New York.
List your top three gems in Downtown Los Angeles.
1) Showroom Joplin (our showroom) - What’s better than being surrounded by the best brands all day long?
2) The Department of Water & Power Building - This is our secret gem. Magic hour is 9 at night when you need to clear your head.
3) Badmaash - Two words: Chicken Poutine.
What does MISSBISH mean to you?
Handling shit, supporting women, and looking effortless while doing it.
Photos by: Ja Tecson