At 28, Layla Kaisi, founder and creative director behind five-year old company Layla Kaisi Collection (LKC), has achieved a level of success many young entrepreneurs dream about. With a focus on ethical stones, storytelling through custom design, and marketing through Instagram, Kaisi has quickly expanded her sales world from beyond her design studio in Auckland, New Zealand.
Originally from Iraq, Kaisi spent her early childhood in Malaysia, moved to New Zealand at 6 years old, and currently resides in New Zealand’s capital city. LKC bills itself as a “design house challenging all notions of fine jewelry, showcasing designs never thought possible, and telling customer stories through bespoke creations” she said during a recent Forbes interview. With no financial backing or formal training, Layla Kaisi Collection grew from a humble start to designing pieces for global celebrities. Here’s how Kaisi built her business, one upcycled or conflict-free stone at a time.
How did you get into jewelry design?
My entry into the jewelry design world was very unconventional. Originally a creative person, I was involved in the Arts and Design field in high school, but upon entering university, I changed paths to study Biological Sciences and Psychology for my degree.
Upon graduation, I found myself completely starved of creativity and could not imagine a life spent writing reports. I handed my degree to my parents and declared ‘now I want to go do something I really love!’. I started the brand fresh out of university with little else but a few hundred dollars, creating the most minimalist designs. I focused on designing pieces that were simple yet had an aesthetic unseen anywhere else.
With no formal training, I built my experience from the ground up designing with no regard for creating standard layouts. When you are not confined by the rules, you are not afraid to break them.
Having started this way has allowed us to challenge traditional design and create an entire design movement. A whole ecosystem of wearers realized the simple fact that intentional, ultra-bespoke design is the only way they want to represent their identity and tell their stories.
What inspires your designs? Nature? Historical trends?
The biggest inspiration comes from our clients themselves; each bespoke design is essentially a physical manifestation of their unique narrative. As storytellers, we devote each detail to represent their story in precious metals and stones, cemented in design.
Nature also plays a big part noting both its ability to create both unrivaled structures, as well as its seemingly absolute disregard for standard organization with its organic forms. Small details like the way in which a droplet might hang off a leaf is inspiration in and of itself. On the other hand, cityscapes are also quite interesting, looking out daily towards the mixed texture of buildings from different eras coming together to make one field.
The stones themselves also stir inspiration. Our rare diamonds and precious stones almost demand a specific layout, and it is my job to play with the design until they feel both balanced and showcased.
How has social media helped propel your brand to a wider global audience in a way traditional sales channels like retail shops would not have?
Layla Kaisi Collection has a design studio located in the heart of the city where we service clients internationally. A space created to be a true oasis, where our clients can come and really slow down time with us, sharing their stories as we go through consultations with each of them. From the start, I never envisioned LKC to be a retail store. Our private studio was precisely designed to be nothing like a standard jewelry store, but instead feel like one is entering a dreamland. A space someone can be inspired by whilst bringing their narratives to life through bespoke design.
Gone are the days of endless rings inside counters, and sales staff that follow you around; we are strictly by appointment only, ensuring we only ever have one set of clients in at a time. This allows us to really give our time to each person and never rush or pressure the process.
Instagram has been the biggest driving force for our brand, allowing clients worldwide to discover us in ways that traditional retail could never replicate. The way in which we can connect with people on a personal and real level in their own time has meant we have been able to work with clients all over the world. From Australia, all the way to the United States, Middle East, and Asia; if you have a postal delivery service and an internet connection, we can design together.
We never wanted LKC to become another ‘local jeweler’ so we have never confined ourselves to the rules of traditional retail.
You’ve enjoyed amazing success at such a young age. What do you attribute that to?
Ever since I was young, I believed in the power of Doing. I would act first based on a gut instinct and follow through; good or bad. My journey with LKC has been much the same in that I felt I wanted to produce a fine jewelry brand that connected without intimidation, created without limits, and designed with no rules, so I did.
I rarely hesitate and I will push the boundaries in not only the designs, but the way I communicate the brand, and market the ideology. When I started so young with LKC, I had no fear of failure, and worked from very humble beginnings to the scale you see today. The unrivaled belief in self and the brand has meant we could build a vision so strong, others could not help but believe in it, too. So our community was born.
I love jewelry as much as the next woman (and person), but I sometimes worry about the origin of the stones. I was introduced to your company because of your ethical stone policy. Can you talk about how you source stones for your pieces?
At Layla Kaisi Collection our most important core value is to ensure our designs remain ethical, never allowing our brand to prioritize production + profits over human rights.
LKC works directly with a select number of small-scale artisanal miners and cutters within Australia, USA, Sri Lanka, and Madagascar; keeping the supply chain as direct and short as possible to ensure traceability.
I personally select our suppliers from the contacts at the Jewelers and Watchmakers Association of NZ, or via recommendation from the close knit jewelry industry we are part of in Australasia and the USA.
When new suppliers are onboarded we ensure to cross-check their work within our trusted supplier network to make sure we are only working with people who uphold the same values and quality as we do.
Not only that but each supplier we work with strictly operates under the Kimberley Process. This is an international initiative that ensures all diamonds entering New Zealand are certified from sources free of child-labor and conflict.
In addition to ethical sourcing, you also take an eco-friendly attitude towards upcycling vintage stones. Can you share your strategy?
We love sourcing high-quality antique diamonds: pieces hand cut over 100 years ago, plucked from antique and vintage jewelry pieces. These diamonds hold an air of prestige and beauty unsurpassed by many modern-day precious stones. We upcycle these pieces of history into new designs when requested by our clients, allowing us to reduce environmental impact and waste.
What else sets you, your business, and designs apart from the competition?
Layla Kaisi Collection is playful and experimental, yet wearable and classic. We create designs no one would have considered previously, using high-grade diamonds and precious stones. I specifically focus on pieces that will leave our clients saying, “I never thought a diamond like that existed” or “I have never seen a piece designed like this anywhere.”
We are constantly pushing the boundaries of what bespoke means. No longer is ‘bespoke’ an umbrella term that covers just selecting what size diamond you want; with us, it is about an intertwining of an entire narrative, unique to each client. Each piece is created from the ground up, every aspect is designed with our clients at the center of it all. No curve, accent, setting is meaningless.
We are also beginning to trail blaze ‘bespoke diamonds’, experimenting with expression, we have been cutting diamonds into completely unique organic forms such as letters of the alphabet and even diamonds cut into the shape of bunnies. No other brand is quite pushing the realm of fine jewelry creation like us.
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