From Craft to Career As a student at Washington and Lee, Noelani Love ’05 made jewelry for fun and extra income. Today, she has turned that hobby into a thriving business.
On the island of Oahu, some people refer to Noelani Love as “the jewelry girl.”
For Love, a 2005 graduate of Washington and Lee University, this casual nickname indicates that she had achieved two of her greatest goals in life: She has reconnected with her Hawaiian roots, and she turned her love of jewelry-making into a successful career.
“I’m always amazed that it’s still happening,” she said of her island-based business, Noelani Hawaii. “It was a passion project, and it just turned into my lifestyle.”
During her sophomore year of college, before holiday break and a winter semester in Costa Rica, Love decided to make some earrings as Christmas gifts for her friends. Like many young women her age, she had made friendship bracelets and beaded necklaces in elementary school, but these earrings were more sophisticated and stylish, made with metal wire and crystals in various colors.
Love, who double-majored in studio art and Spanish, found herself drawn to the artisan scene in Costa Rica. She learned more about making jewelry there, and returned to campus even more addicted to what was then a hobby — not to mention a good excuse to procrastinate.
“I started making tons of jewelry instead of doing my Spanish homework,” she said with a laugh. “I just really found comfort and enjoyment in sitting in my room and making jewelry. At that point, I had also deactivated from my sorority so I was less social, and I was drawing inward and finding my own creativity.”
As word spread about Love’s jewelry, she began to get custom orders from friends who wanted special pieces for cocktail parties and formal events. Before long, she was selling her creations in Elrod Commons and donating a percentage of the proceeds to raise money for a W&L community service trip to Nicaragua during February break.
“During my last two years at W&L, it became obvious that I was really enjoying [jewelry making] and really passionate about it,” she said, “and that my customers were very interested in it, and it was a lucrative business.”
Love’s father, John Garth ’75, advised her to take some classes in economics and get a business internship before making the leap and starting her own company. But she decided to take a chance, starting her jewelry business one month after graduation. “I was like, ‘Nope, I’m going to figure this out.’ So now it’s been 11½ years since I started my company, and it’s still going strong.”
Love was born and raised in North Carolina, but Hawaii always beckoned. She describes her father as a “Southern gentleman” who grew up in Georgia; her mother is Chinese, Hawaiian and English, so Love has dark hair, dark eyes, a golden complexion … and freckles. “Growing up in Charlotte was not always easy,” she said. “It wasn’t bad, but people asked a lot of questions. I wasn’t black and I wasn’t white. “
Every summer, Love’s mother took her and her two siblings to Hawaii to visit relatives on that side of the family. “It was heartbreaking when we’d have to come home to North Carolina,” she said. “I wanted to go to college in Hawaii, but my parents said no way. Which is a good thing, because I probably would not have graduated. I probably would have been totally distracted by the surf or boys.”
Instead, she says, the opportunities she found at Washington and Lee gave her jewelry business a kick start. Not long after she started the company, she had saved enough money to move to Hawaii and make a life there.
Today, Noelani Hawaii has seven employees. Love designs and makes a prototype of each new piece; the employees then make the jewelry in their studio. She sells the products on her website, noelanihawaii.com, and in boutiques in Hawaii, the mainland U.S., Japan, Indonesia and Ireland.
Love said her newer designs, like the jewelry she made at W&L, are “simple and classic and elegant,” but the quality of the materials she uses — and the intentions she puts into each piece — have evolved. All of the jewelry is made with crystals and gemstones that have healing properties, she said, and she believes strongly in those properties.
For example, a blue stone called kyanite is believed to encourage self-expression and communication, boost self-confidence and cut through ignorance and fear. Rose quartz is said to open the heart and enhance positive feelings. The company website features a guide to the gems’ qualities.
“A lot of the jewelry out there is pretty, but these are gifts from the earth,” she said. “They are grown in the earth, and they have their own healing powers, sort of like plants.”
Love said she certainly encounters skeptics, but that doesn’t bother her. “More people are curious about it and interested in it, and children are most curious. They are not as conditioned to believe things we have been told our whole lives. There’s an aspect of magic that children can more easily relate to.”
Love spends much of her free time with her own curious little person, her 8-year-old son, Aukai. She also teaches yoga and is beginning to lead women’s retreats in Bali and Hawaii. She learned to play the ukulele and has just released her first album, a collection of yoga mantras called “Lakshmi Lullabies.”
To current students who wonder if it is possible to turn a hobby into a career, Love suggested considering a quote by author Scott Stratten: “If you are your authentic self, there is no competition.”
“I would say if you have an idea, and you are passionate about it, and you love it, just go for it,” she said. “You are the only one who can be you. If you are putting that much love into something, the universe is going to respond.”