Women in Business: Gadea of Kisiwa Designs
Kisiwa is a jewelry line designed by Gadea Pérez-Andújar in her home studio in honolulu, hawaii. Her creations are inspired by her travels and a love for clean minimalism and ancient jewelry. Gadea also co-owns Avela, a brand of ethically sourced textiles and accessories. After hearing this brief history, if you know anything about me, or YIREH you can understand my immediate fascination for this girl. She encompasses everything I love wrapped into one human. I had the honor of interviewing Gadea, and snapping some photos of her doing her thing- and of course she's wearing YIREH and one of her own signature earrings.
When did you start Kisiwa?
I have been making jewelry for as long as I can remember. Every summer as a kid, my mom would buy us beads and we’d make necklaces and bracelets with them. When I moved to Hawaii, I started making jewelry with metals such as silver and gold and started using natural finds, such as shells. It’s always been a hobby of mine until I realized that out of all the things I was doing, it’s what made me the happiest. So I guess, officially, Kisiwa started in 2016 and became a full-time gig in 2017.
What was the inspiration for the brand and what is the meaning behind the name?
The word Kisiwa means “island” in Swahili. When I lived and worked in Tanzania for a little bit in 2013 I tried to learn the language and I always liked that word. As a foreigner in this country, sometimes I feel like an island, and the creative process that I go through can be very isolating at times so the name is perfect! It reflects several aspects of my life and what surrounds me. It also happens that I get to live on a beautiful island too, so it all comes together very well under that name.
Your designs are so interesting and I've yet to see anything like your earrings. Where does your design inspiration come from and what would you say your aesthetic is?
I gather inspiration from ancient cultures, like the Aztecs or Incas from Central and South America, or like the Ndbele and the Ashanti from Africa. Their ethnic and colorful designs speak to me but another part of me is also very inspired by minimalism and clean design. My mother is a sculptor and thanks to her I have come to know the beautiful works of artists like Brancusi, Calder or Noguchi, which are very present in my design process.
I've been lucky enough to meet you in person and know you are quite the traveler. Where is your favorite place you've traveled to?
I have been extremely lucky to travel around the world. If I had to choose one favorite (this is a very hard question), I would say Mafia Island in Tanzania. When I was working in Tanzania, my best friend Ali came to visit me and we flew over to a tiny island in the Indian Ocean called Mafia so that we could swim with whale sharks. It’s hard to explain how much joy that trip brought to both of our lives.
What would you say traveling has taught you in life and in business?
Traveling has taught me to be open-minded and respectful. I believe it’s very important to travel and expand your horizons, see how other cultures live, what their values are. Usually you come back home and realize you don’t need as much stuff as you think you do, or that you’re taking your own life too seriously. It’s healthy to get out of your bubble/comfort zone every now and then. In terms of business, after encountering so many amazing artists (metal-smiths, weavers, painters, etc.) while traveling I have learned to value handmade crafts and I have become proud of using my hands to earn a living.
What have you found the biggest struggle to be with running a business?
The accounting aspect of it drives me crazy. Everything from pricing to taxes! When you first start it’s hard to value your own work and you sometimes let other people stipulate your worth. Being self-employed is hard because even though all I want to do is create things with my hands, I still have to design a website, arrange photo shoots, spend hours on social media, write emails to stores, package and ship orders, etc. You never really stop working, haha! But I wouldn’t trade it for a normal job, I actually love it! And even though I’m not good at all aspects of my business, I get to do exactly what I love every day!
Are you on a design schedule, or do you just create new things when they come to mind?
I’ve tried to do the whole ‘season’ thing but that’s just not how my brain works. I am always creating new designs (sometimes they come to me while I sleep!) and I want to share them with the world as soon as I bring them to life.
How do you balance life, work, Kisiwa, and self care? Do you have any rituals, routines, or things that keep you motivated and on track?
There’s a couple of things that keep me sane: yoga and the ocean. I try to exercise and do yoga 4 or 5 times a week since it calms my body and my mind. I also try to spend as much time as possible outside in nature, preferably underwater, where everything is quiet and wonderful (inner marine biology nerd coming out, haha).
What is one piece of advice you would like to pass on to other young women thinking of starting their own business?
I would tell them to think about what truly makes them happy, and if that’s the business they want to start, then go ahead! If you’re passionate about something, you’ll find a way to make it work and you’ll push through the hard times because you’ll know it’s what your meant to be doing.