By Michael Tsai The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Maddie Lee, a freshman at La Pietra-Hawaii School for Girls, is the founder of "E Nani Hawaii", a personal jewelry brand which she initially marketed primarily on Instagram.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Hawaii's most buzz-worthy designer of jewelry and other accessories has proved preternaturally in tune with the tastes of modern teenagers and, prior to making her wares available via traditional bricks-and-mortar outlets, showed the kind of adeptness with social media marketing that makes modern retailers swoon.
So what if she's 14?
Maddie Lee, a freshman at La Pietra-Hawaii School for Girls, didn't set out to be an entrepreneur, but her early love of arts and crafts and her natural predisposition to staying on task and striving for perfection made the developments of the last year and a half almost inevitable.
"I started out with little clay figures, and crocheting and making charms and jewelry out of Shrinky-Dink," said Lee, who is also a skilled illustrator.
In time, Lee's interest in fashion guided her to jewelry design. Using materials readily at hand from her earlier craft explorations, Lee set about making bracelets, necklaces and earrings, each piece unique to her own artistic vision and impulse.
Lee's creations didn't escape the notice of her friends at school, and soon, in the spirit of homemade slime hawkers nationwide, she was an active player in the playground economy.
Lee considers her style "modern," with inspiration drawn from her island surroundings, both natural and urban. From early explorations with simple sea beads and thread, Lee has taught herself to work with a broad variety of more sophisticated and challenging materials like gold, sterling silver, African cowrie shells, Japanese sea beads and more.
"I'm very colorful," she said. "And I love working with different patterns, textures and shapes."
And while Lee is by nature meticulous and organized, she said her process of making jewelry is 99 percent an act of discovery.
"I like to physically take my supplies and work until I find something I like," she said.
Lee's process remains pure, even as the scope of her operations has greatly expanded.
Two years ago last month, with the support of her parents, Rob Lee and Andrea "Andy" Maya, Lee founded E Nani Hawaii, a personal jewelry brand which she initially marketed primarily on Instagram, drawing a surprising amount of interest beyond her previous core customers of family and friends.
Soon after, Lee began approaching local retailers that she felt catered to the same type of clientele that might enjoy her creations.
"(E Nani Hawaii) was the first professional thing I had attempted in my life, and I really wanted more from my business," she said. "I called multiple shops and buyers. I got a lot of declines, but my social media presence also helped me to display what it was that I did and helped me get some interest. Once I got one store, they referred me to others."
E Nani Hawaii products are now carried by Up & Riding, Honolulu Surf Room and Betty X Joe Boutique, retailing for anywhere between $20 and $120.
Lee said she regularly checks in with the stores to see what's selling and to find out what customers are saying. While she tries to remain creatively uninhibited, Lee says she also feels a responsibility to know what customers want and to deliver jewelry that reflects a high level of quality and professionalism.
Lee says the experience of running her own business has reinforced the value she places on organization. While nearly all of her earnings thus far have been reinvested into her business, she said her ultimate goal is to earn enough to begin making donations to local charities.
In addition to her crafting pursuits, Lee serves as president of her school's student council. She also paddles with Kumulokahi Elks Canoe Club and spends as much time as she can hanging out with friends, including many new ones she's met through her business.