Next up, in the Big Island Small Business Feature series, I interviewed Kristine Kuwada, owner and designer of The Trove Hawai’i.
The Trove Hawai’i started out as a hobby, grew to become a flourishing jewelry business (originally under the name The Gypsy Trove), and is now on it’s way to becoming an art and community-focused storefront and studio. I first heard of The Trove Hawai’i on Instagram, and was incredibly impressed with Kristine’s (then, still a stranger to me) stunning photography, beautiful handmade pieces, and her ability to create a conversation with her audience.
We eventually got to know each other a bit online and as soon as I started this series, I knew she would be a fantastic fit.
So, let ‘ s get to it !
Tell me about your business!
Recently, I’ve been making handmade jewelry and I teach metal smithing classes. Everything that we produce has been handmade for free-spirited people. It started out as a hobby. I started metal smithing classes in college as an elective, and after I graduated I stayed on the mainland for a few years and I was so bored, so I kept making things. A friend of mine said that I should start selling it because I was spending so much money on it. So, it just started really small and I’ve been working out of my bedroom for a while, and now it’s finally growing out of that.
You have something big happening right now. Are you ready to share that?
I just signed a lease to open up a storefront and art studio, which will be a local handmade boutique that will also host art classes. I want to host a lot of classes for children and have it be a space where they can come in and play and do fun, creative things. It’s going to be located in Captain Cook.
It will be a good way to show our youth that following your passion is worthwhile and to allow them to have visible role-models. It will also enable me to further support our community. I plan to feature a variety of artists (mostly local) in a wide range of fields. I hope that one day some of the artists will serve as mentors and positive role-models to our youth. I believe that by supporting our handmade artists, we are not only supporting our local economy but also stimulating a positive environment for our younger generations to grow up in.
What inspires you when you’re creating a something?
It’s so cliché, but definitely living here and the natural beauty, and all the different people that come through. I want my pieces to not only reflect Hawaii but also my experiences on the mainland, which is why I think my pieces go beyond some of the common beachy elements. I like my pieces to reflect life experiences and I want it to match the person who is wearing it too.
A lot of times, it just needs to feel right. I want to make things that aren’t costume jewelry, but things that can actually be passed down. When people buy something from Hawaii it’s often imported from Indonesia or something, and that bothers me. So that’s why I want to open this space that will have all local, handmade pieces.
What do you feel is the hardest part about running a business in Hawaii?
I was reading your other interview with Erin from Da Big Island Burn, and I agree – you can’t find any resources in one place. It’s not even just events. But also standard business registration processes were really difficult for me. When I lived on the mainland it seemed like everything was more streamlined.
What’s your favorite part about running a business in Hawaii?
It’s a small community, and that allows you to have good customer relationships – and good customer relationships will take you far. As opposed to having to pull in strangers in with advertising. So, that’s probably my favorite thing. I actually know who is buying my stuff, and I see people wearing it around town and I love that.
I do The Village Stroll, and I had a woman come up to me and she said, “I bought something from you four years ago!” She remembered me from when I did my first craft fair, and she was still wearing it. I never expected that.
What do you think is your best marketing tool?
Right now definitely social media. I use Instagram a lot. I want to get into radio ads, because I’ve seen that be extremely profitable and useful in other businesses that I work in. So that’s something I want to tap into as soon as I have a storefront. Instagram is really good, but at the same time, I don’t want to rely on anything because they change it so much. It’s good for now.
One thing that really impressed me is that you’ve really nailed down the social part of social media. You ask your audience questions and really take the time to start a conversation with them, and then you actually implement the feedback you get. Is there a reason why you do that?
It’s a really good tool for me. When I ask questions, I get information. I ask questions, and I’m able to use that to my benefit. I use this account for business and personal, and it’s actually nice because even if I don’t ask a question, people tend to ask me something about a piece.
What kind of classes are you going to offer in your new space?
I specialize in the metal work, so there will definitely be that. But I’d like to have other crafts. I want different people to come in and teach. Fun paintings and other crafts. I want a bulletin board where everyone can post their craft fairs, and we can print out a schedule. I also want to have artists not only have their stuff there, but they can also come in and do meet and greets, and the kids can come and talk to them and grow up in that community of artists.
I want little elements of nature with succulents and fish tanks. I want to teach kids how to propagate them, and get their hands back in nature.
I really want to connect with the other small businesses around here. For example, if we do a succulent propagating class, I’d want to connect with a local nursery and get everything from there. And that way, I can tell people where we got things and to go support them.