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Kona jewelry designer launches new collection, shares inspiration

May 12, 2014 - 6:39am

“Believe.” That’s what New Jersey mother of two Laura McCarthy told herself as she underwent a bilateral mastectomy, radiation and chemotherapy while battling breast cancer — twice. Along with having a great family and tremendous support, this one-word mantra gave her the strength and positivity to keep going through whatever storms she faced.

This cancer survivor inspired her sister-in-law and part-time Kona resident Tricia McCarthy to create a luxury jewelry company called Nalukai, a Hawaiian word meaning a wise soul who has weathered life’s storms.

Tricia McCarthy, a former civil litigator who also used to work in nonprofit administration, said she thought a lot about the power of words, particularly how they can serve as a personal mantra or talisman for comfort, strength and inspiration. Such words can also serve as a daily reminder to stay open to possibilities, be mindful of your intentions and stand strong. Other words carry sentimental meaning.

McCarthy founded Nalukai to celebrate “the individuality we each possess, the storms weathered and the journeys taken.” Her goal is to give back and help others tell their story in a word.

Prior to starting the company, McCarthy spent about a year designing the pieces, writing a business plan, finding the right team of artisans to work with, working on packaging and creating a website. Six months were spent sketching out and finalizing the designs, built around more than a dozen affirmative words or phrases. The first word she tackled: believe.

“It’s scary deciding to start a business and exposing yourself, your ideas, but you have to trust yourself,” McCarthy said. “I also changed the definition of success and what it meant for me to be successful. At each stage, I made a commitment to do something, saw it through, and had faith.”

Wanting to “fuse the beauty of Hawaii and its language with the aloha spirit of love,” she typically incorporates words and phrases in English on one side of her pieces and their Hawaiian translations on the other. Featured words include love (aloha) and inspire (hooulu), as well as more weighted ones such as stand strong in the wind (ku makani) or move forward (i mua).

McCarthy was very mindful of her use of the Hawaiian language, only wanting “to give the dignity and respect it deserves.” For her, incorporating the language was a chance to include Hawaii, which has been “a beautiful, healing place” for her family and where she feels most inspired.

McCarthy splits her time between San Francisco and Hawaii Island. Before making Kona her second home, McCarthy fell in love with the Aloha State through vacations. As a child, McCarthy said Hawaii seemed like the only place where her hard-working, blue-collar parents could really relax. Her dad was a fireman who worked three jobs while her mom was a United Airlines ticket agent. As an adult, McCarthy and her husband knew they wanted to live on the Big Island after years of admiring its diversity of landscapes — “an assault of the senses.” They also enjoy the island’s rich heritage and history, as well as its strong sense of family and community. Many “magical” memories and fond relationships have been made here, she added.

When it came to creating her pieces in the finest sterling silver, McCarthy was determined to have them made in America and not outsourced. Through her research and connections, she discovered a studio in New York with a “mini United Nations” of talented artisans. They are the ones responsible for handcrafting all of Nalukai’s jewelry with “tremendous care, pride and passion.” McCarthy enthusiastically described how craftspeople meticulously and thoughtfully do their jobs, from setting gemstones with tweezers to painting the enamel.

Like the hands that make them, each piece varies and no two items are alike. The company allows customization to suit one’s own style, including engraving, adding gemstones and offering rose or yellow gold finishes. These artisanal items are designed for longevity and can be passed from one generation to the next. It’s a way to encourage the sharing of treasured and personal stories, McCarthy said.

Since Nalukai’s launch in 2012, McCarthy has offered various collections, with items ranging from $150 to $7,200. Her “Pretty in Pink” collection celebrated the strength, courage and spirit of breast cancer survivors while her “Equality” collection gave wearers the opportunity to make a statement that every person has equal rights regardless of their sexual orientation, gender or who they are as an individual.

Her latest collection, “Moms,” celebrates “all of the amazing traits that make a mother the cornerstone of the family.” It features finely handcrafted pendants, bracelets and earrings, which cost $185 to $495. For example, the Makana Lani charm bracelet honors the bond between mother and child with the Hawaiian sentiment “Ke aloha pauolu.”

Recognizing that not everyone can afford the luxury jewelry, McCarthy recently started Nsquared, a brand that “brings a piece of that same excellence to a wider audience at modest prices.” Embracing the “aloha-inspired lifestyle,” there’s apparel, hats, bags, yoga accessories and pewter jewelry. Prices range from $16.95 for a trucker hat to $56 for a yoga mat.

Fans seen wearing Nalukai creations regularly include actress Olivia Munn, supermodel Alessandra Ambrosio, actor Garrett Clayton, and recording artist Akon. McCarthy never imagined in her wildest dreams that her creations would be appealing to such famous admirers. While spotting celebrities in magazines, websites, on social media or in person sporting her pieces makes her heart rush, McCarthy said she gets just as excited and feels just as honored to see everyday people enjoying them.

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