Inside Sexy Jewelry Label Haati Chai's Sleek Downtown LA Boutique
Welcome to Mama Shops, an FM Journal series that highlights beautiful stores owned by mothers.
Photos: Ruby Nichols
I thought my body chain days were over until I discovered Haati Chai. Who knew they could be so damn classy and sexy at the same time? It turns out I’m not alone, because everyone from Beyonce to Kylie Jenner is a fan of Stella Simona’s ethnic-eclectic adornments that were born out of a desire to fill a void for heirloom jewelry in our modern times. The line includes elegant neck pieces, anklets, and other body jewelry that strike the perfect balance of East-meets-West, tribal and contemporary, and naughty and nice.
Stella recently opened a storefront with sister line, Amarilo, in bustling Downtown LA. We sat down to reminisce on how it all started and how she manages to juggle a jewelry empire with her 16-month-old in tow. The secret? Don’t do it alone.
Your grandmother, Annie, was apparently the genesis of Haati Chai way back when. You used to come up with a design and illustrate it for her to have made for you when she traveled back to Bangladesh and India. Do you recall what some of your earliest designs were?
Yes, I do recall all of my designs as each of them always take me back to a specific time. I was around 12 when I designed my first official pieces.
I had just discovered my love for antique silver through my nani Anowara, aka Annie. She taught me that jewelry is to bring the beauty of YOU out — to highlight the individual inside and out. Everything from the way a necklace sits on your clavicle, to its movement when you move, down to how it brings out a woman's essence – it is all extremely important. With my nani's help, I created a stunning choker and bangles. She brought back the choker, bangles, and an additional pair of matching earrings and rings later that summer when she returned to the States. I still love and wear my earlier designs; they were so elaborate.
How have your designs evolved?
Haati Chai is a marriage of my two worlds. Overall, the designs are a contemporary narration of my East-meets-West upbringing. Each piece is carefully designed with the intention that it will one day be passed down as an heirloom.
Social causes have always been an important part of your brand story. Are there particular ones that are near and dear to your heart?
Haati Chai translates to "elephant" and "tea" — these are two things I am obsessed with. If you come to my home or office space, you will see elephants and tea pots everywhere. I think I have a problem! I've always felt Haati Chai is not only a jewelry line, but it serves a bigger purpose. Throughout the years as we share different stories about elephants out of our love for them, our audience has taken to it. I often receive personal emails from fans who send me all things elephants — videos, articles, drawings, and even a customer who tatted an elephant and teapot on her arm!
When our business was comfortable enough to expand into philanthropy work, we knew it would be animal-based, and specifically for elephants. Locally we work with Burbank Animal Shelter and on a global basis, we have partnered with Big Life Foundation in Africa, where ten percent of proceeds from all of our animal-based neckpieces go towards protecting elephants. Our long-term goal is to open our very own sanctuary.
You and Ali Heiss of Amarilo decided to join forces a few years ago. How did that transpire? What do each of you bring to the partnership?
I love Ali. Years ago, she and I began our lines separately around the same time. We met through a mutual acquaintance and bonded as two designers who were lucky enough to have one another to encourage each other through the rocky times and indulge in an amazing victory meal as each brand achieved new milestones. Within a few months of knowing each other, we designed a capsule collection between the lines. It was through this experience that we learned how great of a fit we were together once we joined forces. The rest is history.
Amarilo and Haati Chai are sister lines. Amarilo is our minimalist line offering affordable classics for the modern day woman, while Haati Chai is our higher-priced luxury line, designed for a woman with an understated sense style who loves the idea of storytelling. Each piece is designed to play a symbolic role in the wearer’s life— everyday heirlooms to be passed down between generations, carrying on the stories of those it has touched.
Both of us design. Ali leads the creative direction for Amarilo designs, as it was originally her line and similarly I do the same with Haati Chai. Everything else is divided differently. Ali is very technical and intentional with the way she works. For both the lines she oversees our production team, finalizes sizing for designs, communicates with our showrooms on wholesale orders. She is very consistent and focused on the utmost perfection. Myself on the other hand- I love the concept of "imperfect perfect" — I oversee the visual branding for both the brands, lead our social media team, and everything else PR, marketing and e-commerce related.
What made you choose Downtown LA as home base for your business?
Downtown LA was a given. Everything is central for Ali and I being downtown, particularly our production houses. We also have fallen more and more in love with the city over the years and would never have considered a different location for our home, aside from New York City.
Being a full-time mom and running a jewelry empire sounds daunting. What do you do when you start to feel really overwhelmed? Any secret tips to help juggle it all?
I can't help but always want to stay busy. I have recently taken on gardening and painting and love the feeling of escape that I experience from doing both of these activities.
As far as a work schedule, I recommend always writing down tasks and creating calendars. As a mom, however, you cannot always stick to a schedule, as baby and family come first. I try to plan my schedule with enough space so that I can make room for when I may have to shift things around. Additionally, I have an awesome support system at home, as well as business partner and staff who are 100% understanding and capable of jumping in to fill in if I’m running late or can't make it to a meeting.
You're definitely always up to something. What can we look forward to next from you?
I am in the process of launching my blog focused on beauty and fashion, as well as our own Youtube Channel, "Ali + Stella". We wanted to document our lives and our growth along the way, as well as share our personal interests. This is so different and at times very awkward for us, but I’m enjoying it a lot as it's helping me discover myself more.
What do you most hope to pass onto your son?
I hope to pass to Noah the idea that he can do anything as long as he has a passion for it and to always embrace the world around him on good days as well as bad days.
Haati Chai is located at 177 W Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90015. By appointment only; email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "APPOINTMENT" to schedule your visit.
Ruby Nichols is a Fashion Mamas LA member, the founder of Almanac of Style, and mama to Dash.