Rhode Island Monthly: What made you want to create jewelry and accessories?
Olena Kagui: I became obsessed with earrings at a young age and started collecting them in middle school. I’m one of those people who likes everything to match, so I started collecting earrings to match different occasions. It was not easy to find, for example, sushi earrings to wear on a sushi date. So I bought miniature sushi pieces meant for dollhouses and turned them into earrings! I got so many compliments and requests wearing them, so I started making them for other people too. Having an earring store helps me channel my love for earrings, although having over 50,000 earrings in the house at once can be a bit crazy!
RIM: How and why did you start your own business?
OK: I have always loved DIY. In addition to making felt items, I’ve made dreamcatchers, jewelry, Cricut crafts, and all kinds of weird sculptures from upcycled items and discarded items found on the side of the road . Everyone always told me to start a store, but I didn’t think I had the drive to run a business. So, after several successful craft fairs, I bit the bullet and opened an Etsy shop and now an independent shop through Shopify. The first year, I sold maybe ten pairs. The second year, I sold 1,000. Last year, I sold almost 10,000 pairs of earrings, and it keeps growing! This year, I even created a national holiday and entered it in the national holiday archives. It is called National Silly Earring Day and is celebrated on April 13.
RIM: What are your sources of inspiration? How do you find your ideas?
OK: I draw my inspiration from the most unlikely places. When the pandemic started, I knew I had to have mask earrings. Once in the car, I saw a beautiful traffic cone and thought, “Oh no, I don’t have any traffic-themed earrings!” As a great traveler, I discover a large part of the world, and the more I explore, the more ideas I have. Plus, I like to follow local trends, so when The Queen’s Betcame out, I bought a bunch of chess pieces and turned them into earrings! Now that there are several popular Van Gogh exhibitions, I sell various famous painting earrings. Whenever a customer asks me about something I don’t have, I start thinking of ways to make it happen, even if it means making a mess of resin in my craft room again.
RIM: What does the manufacturing process of your products look like?
OK: Since I’m more of a fabricator than an artisan, most of my process involves drilling, attaching fisheye hooks, and testing the strength of the earrings. My husband Isaac helps me with the drilling. I like to say I’m the brain and he’s the muscle. We form the whole earring making team together! One of my favorite parts of creating a new earring is taking pictures to showcase them. I have an extensive collection of miniature furniture and colored paper to design beautiful setups. I love photographing my food-themed earrings in the miniature kitchen, but I’ll also venture out and take “in nature” photos. For example, I found a creepy spider web in the woods for an authentic spider earring photo shoot. I also went for food to get the perfect shot for my mushroom lists!
RIM: Do you have any personal favorites of your products?
OK: My favorite earrings change often, that’s how it all started! Right now I like to explore vineyards and breweries in my spare time, so I like to wear my wine or beer bottle earrings. There’s also a special place in my heart for my rubber ducky earrings. I even wore them in the bath once or twice. One of my flaws is that I assume everyone has the same thought process and interests. Of course, I’ve found that’s not always the case, but selling earrings has connected me with thousands of like-minded people. It also inspired me to start an earring subscription through Cratejoy called Monthly earrings craze. There are currently 35 subscribers, and it keeps growing every month!
RIM: You say you take your store on a trip. What’s in store for that?
OK: My husband and I are off on an 11-day road trip to Seattle, where we’ll catch a plane and fly to our new home in Hawaii. We have a nine year old dog, Smileys, who will be safer and happier on a short, direct flight. We hope to sponsor the entire trip with our store, so we pack nearly 1,000 pounds of pendants, hundreds of envelopes, and our label printer in our car. Since our car is electric, we will have to stop frequently to recharge, and we hope to spend that time filling orders. To make things more exciting for our customers, we hope to tell them about the road trip and send them stamps or other souvenirs of the state we are in at the time. We’ve also added several road trip and 50 states themed earrings to our collection! It will be a bit crazy to run the store from a car, but we are up for the challenge!
RIM: What part of Rhode Island are you from?
Okay: So I’m a Czech of Ukrainian origin and I’ve only been in Rhode Island for two years. I moved here because my husband, Isaac, is a native. It’s not just my husband; he is also my business partner and is very involved in our store, doing most of the manual labor. Also, since he has a photographic memory, he is responsible for organizing and finding all the ordered pendants.
Isaac was born in Providence and has lived throughout the state. However, he considers Block Island his first home. We still visit often as her father and younger sister live on the island. His late grandmother also lived there, in the beloved yellow house on Lakeside Drive. We loved living in Warwick, right next to Oakland Beach. However, in a crazy turn of events, we have decided to move to Maui, Hawaii for the foreseeable future. We are thrilled to be moving there with what we jokingly call our “earring empire”.
RIM: What awaits you on the horizon?
OK: I am constantly thinking of new ways to grow the business. Last year I started the monthly subscription, recorded a National Earring Day, had two commercials done for the store, and created what I believe to be the first Advent calendar for earrings. ears to the world. On top of that, I’ve sold over 11,000 pairs of earrings and got nearly 4,000 five-star reviews, which motivates me to do even more! I want to add more accessories, like bags, sunglasses, and maybe even dresses, to the store; I want people to buy entire matching outfits in one place. On the other hand, I want to do even more with just the earrings. I hope to have 1,000 unique ads by the end of the year and plan to sell them in a vending machine. I also buy a 3D printer to be able to create new designs and unique objects. I also hope to partner with physical stores to sell my “IRL” earrings as well as online. My friend Rosa is known for filling my brain with fantastic ideas, and the only thing stopping me from doing them all is time.