Meet Himani Shah, the 26 year old founder of Innaya Jewelry, looking to make her mark in the industry with her distinctive and affordable jewellery designs.
Born to a family of diamantaires, Himani Shah, the Founder of Innaya Jewelry never thought she would end up in the industry herself. A push from her father, a diamantaire himself, to sign up for a GIA diamond course was love at first sight for Himani.
From pie-cut jewellery to fancy cocktail pieces and modest everyday wear designs, Himani speaks about her journey founding Innaya Jewelry, how her platform aims to empower women, and how her brand is going big.
How did you start your entrepreneurial journey?
Moving back to Hong Kong after graduation, I found myself in a phase where I wasn’t really sure of what I wanted to do. I aimlessly applied to a bunch of corporate companies, hoping I might find something I liked. Despite the interviews going well, I walked out of them feeling unhappy and unsatisfied. I looked around and imagined myself being bound to a monotonous routine in black and white formals and I was afraid that if I accepted a job there, I’d lose myself.
That’s when my father stepped in by suggesting I opt for a GIA diamond course and see how I felt about it. I did it and absolutely loved it! I’ve always been fascinated by diamonds but never really understood them, until then. I realised that this path would be the perfect opportunity for me to unleash my love for colours and creativity. I was excited to start loving what I do.
Three and a half years down the line, I can happily say that I love my job! I wake up everyday excited to go to work!
What inspired you to become a jewellery designer?
Nothing was set in stone for me and I was open to trying everything. The thought of becoming a jewellery designer never crossed my mind.
However, at the age of 15, interning at a real estate company, I had a realisation that I wouldn’t be able to work at a place where I would be bound by rules and regulations. “I knew at that point that I wanted to do something of my own, where I could lead and make decisions of my own.” she shared, “And even now whenever someone asks, I wouldn’t identify myself as a ‘jewellery designer’ per se, I like to say that I’m the founder and CEO of my own diamond jewellery brand, Innaya, because I’m not only a designer, but also an entrepreneur, leader, and a decision-maker too.”
Why did you choose this career path?
Because, it gave me wings to fly and make my own way. Designing gives me the power and ability to show people the gorgeous things that can be done with diamonds and jewellery. I always tell my clients, you dream it, we make it. Jewellery should be unique to you and I’d like to make that service available to buyers.
Another reason was that I wanted to make diamond jewellery more accessible to our generation. The retail store markups are pushing consumers away from diamonds and more towards fashion jewellery. I want to bring them back to diamonds!
How did you get your name out there in the beginning?
Fortunately, I started a business in an industry that I had familiarity with. My father has been in the business for more than 30 years now and has had his fair share of clients and contacts for me to start off with – which definitely was a booster. Other ways included: word of mouth and Instagram! Everywhere I’d go, I’d tell everyone about my startup. I’d call retailers to stock my product – sometimes it didn’t work but it’s part of the journey. My friends were also a huge help – whenever they saw an opportunity to bring Innaya up, they would.
These baby steps did exhaust themselves after a certain point. Eventually, I had to think bigger and that’s when I decided to launch Innaya’s e-Commerce platform. I had to take the making and designing of the website into my own hands as I didn’t have the budget to hire someone then. It took a whole 6 months to perfect the website, but once it launched it was a hit! My website reached jewellery consumers worldwide and orders just kept flowing in!
At last, I saved up enough to participate in my first local jewellery exhibition in 2020. With the limited budget, my mother and brother would come out there everyday to help me. The exhibition surpassed my expectations and I walked out of there with a huge smile. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to have found a loyal and growing customer base.
How would you describe your jewellery design style?
I don’t like to bound myself to designing a particular style of jewellery. I pretty much observe everything around me and take inspiration from there. Though I would say all of Innaya’s jewellery pieces follow a strict standard of perfection, consistency and high quality.
Is there a target audience you market your products to?
Design is like art – anyone can fall in love with it!
What obstacles have you faced in your career?
Tons! In the beginning it was almost like a domino, one problem after the other.
First and foremost was trust and credibility. I wasn’t welcomed into the industry with open arms, mainly because of my young age and gender. A young lady negotiating deals in a male-dominated industry was a task. I would be told that the deal terms would be negotiated with my father, which undermined my importance and confidence.
And, just as things were finally starting to look up for the business, Hong Kong was hit by a political wave and Covid-19. The business hit a dry spell, with no tourists and exhibitions in Hong Kong. I had to create an online presence to reach new audiences, but being established only for a couple of months, the biggest concerns were if my e-Commerce platform would be taken seriously and would customers trust it?
Secondly, the competition in this industry is cut-throat, especially with the established big names. To enter and succeed, I had to be selling something really special to differentiate Innaya from the others.
How did you deal with these obstacles?
My family and friends were the greatest pillars of strength who supported me through it all.
I made sure I created an identity that was different from my father or his business. I demanded respect and did not shy down when someone tried to make me look or feel smaller, because of my age or gender.
To create an online presence, I went out of my way to market my products. Despite being camera shy, I created TikTok content on Innaya’s Instagram, so people could put a face to the name.
I entered the Hong Kong jewellery market with pie-cut diamond jewellery, a relatively unheard of diamond cut; this gave my brand a unique product and identity. I gave utmost importance to sales services. I once had to make an urgent 7am delivery to a client, so I woke up at 6am and delivered it to their house personally.
What is your advice for those going through similar situations?
Firstly, be optimistic. The most important thing is to keep a positive outlook. As a startup, ten things go wrong before one goes right. You shouldn’t let those failures push you down, take them as learning experiences.
Secondly, self-confidence is key. It’s easy to doubt yourself because the progress is slow in the beginning and it feels like you’re doing nothing. But, if you take the time to set your foundation right, the growth will follow. Be confident in yourself and what you’re doing, because if you believe, then you’re halfway there.
How did the pandemic impact the luxury jewellery industry and your business?
Covid-19 hit the luxury business quite hard. It was disheartening, especially as I was just starting to find my ground. Clients prefer to physically see and try on the jewellery before their purchases, which wasn’t possible during the pandemic. There was a complete pause on international arrivals and local jewellery exhibitions as well, which was a big blow.
Did you have to make any changes to your business to combat these challenges?
During the first wave of the pandemic, Himani shared that she spent 2-3 months remodelling her website to cater to the pandemic-hit visitors. She launched an online product consultation and viewing to help her clients understand the product. There were detailed product specifications on the website, along with high quality photos and videos. She spent her time trying on every single product and photographing them so buyers would know how it would look when tried on.
Achieving a work-life balance, especially in Hong Kong, is something many struggle with. How do you do it?
Pre-launch of Innaya and after the launch, I used to work till 10/11pm everyday, either at the office or at home. I knew if I put in the hours then, I would get the results later on. But then, there comes a time when you have to make a choice, and it’s important that you recognise this and take the right step.
It’s all about setting boundaries. I’ve given out my personal phone number to my clients and receive product inquiries throughout the day and especially during the weekends. But recently, I’ve made a rule for myself to only respond on weekdays and up until 8pm. After that, it’s family time for me.
Why is a work-life balance important?
Healthy and positive mental health is everything. If we’re constantly maxing out, our efficiency levels are going to drop sooner or later. If I’m over-exhausted, I won’t be as motivated, I won’t be working at 100%, and I’ll be making the wrong decisions, which is not a position you want to be in when you’re the person in-charge.
What does a day in the life of Himani look like?
Everyday is different. Everyday is a new challenge or a new opportunity. I don’t have a fixed schedule or set of responsibilities. If my website is down, I’ll have to leave everything and fix that. If a client wants to come in, I’ve got to drop designing and attend to them. My roles change every hour but I love it, because I learn new things everyday.
What are your long-term career goals?
My long-term goal is to make a name for myself. I want to be recognised and respected as a female entrepreneur, and I want to use that to inspire and empower other women to break the walls and fly.
What’s next for Innaya Jewelry?
Expansion! I want to make Innaya Jewelry a household name in Hong Kong. It’s surely going to be a task, but I’m up for the challenge.
We are also slowly turning into a full-service shop for jewellery lovers, not limiting ourselves to Hong Kong but to overseas clients as well. Not only are we showcasing our unique designs, but we are open to accepting personalised customisation orders from clients.
Innaya started off small, but it’s going big.