Jannik Olander’s road to retail began in Goa, India, in 2009, when a shaman named Nialaya approached him in a crowded outdoor market. “At the time, I was doing a job I really didn’t want to be doing,” says Olander, whose background is in fashion retail. “He told me I was focusing too much on money and not on what I love.” A revealing three-hour conversation ensued, culminating in Nialaya gifting the Danish traveler with a tiny black diamond (which he carries in his pocket to this day). Days later, Olander made up his mind to start re-creating some of the Eastern-inspired beaded bracelets he’d picked up on his travels, replacing the mostly wood and glass beads with less ephemeral facsimiles made from gold, sterling silver, and gems including diamonds, hematite, and amethyst. Working on an Ikea table out of his garage in the Hollywood Hills, Olander gradually perfected his “luxury boho” baubles, naming the collection Nialaya in homage to the shaman. In December 2011, he opened the first Nialaya store on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles to complement an already robust e-commerce business. Now Olander is debuting iDesign, an online program that allows users to customize their own beaded bracelets, choosing from a heap of fine jewelry beads showcased on the brand’s website.
What was the impetus for developing iDesign?
People asked for it. There were always people wanting to swap out different balls and beads in [existing] pieces. And online we kept seeing drawings people had made of Nialaya jewelry where they would write in different gemstones where the beads would be, dreaming up their own bracelet.
Why offer the program only online?
Swapping out beads in the store was cool, but it takes a long time and requires lots of customer service. I could see how our customers really connect to Nialaya online. They take pictures of their jewelry and post them on their Facebook walls and their friends comment. Then they get a second piece, and they want something that’s special. If it’s a gift, they want to be able to say, “I customized this for you.” I thought, What if we could do this online? You can sit at home and read about the meanings of each gemstone and be your own designer.
Describe the iDesign user experience.
You actually pull gemstones onto a virtual bracelet frame, and there’s a little calculator that totals up the beads as you put them on. So you’re sitting and playing with pavé diamond balls. People love it. And since we have the store, we have great customer service. If anything happens to a piece of jewelry or an order, we are here to help.
Your collection uses fine jewelry materials to create casual, spiritually inspired looks. What type of customer does this style of jewelry attract?
Our first customers were from the music scene—hip-hop artists like Diddy, Busta Rhymes, and Lil Wayne. Busta Rhymes used to sit in my living room and play with my dog while we finished his pieces. Then Paris Hilton started wearing Nialaya, and so many other celebrities. Now the people who come into the store are a mix of high-end fashion customers, the old and young luxury hippies, and lots of Europeans—especially from the south of France, which is one of our biggest markets. We also get the 75-year-old sophisticated lady. So it’s a mix.
Why was it important to open a Nialaya store?
When we were working out of a garage, it was so much fun. But our merchandise is not cheap, and when you’re buying an expensive bracelet, you want to know where it comes from. By opening a store on Melrose Avenue, it’s PR for the brand. Just putting up the sign, we got attention. Also, it gave customers the opportunity to come by, see the whole collection, and feel the pieces in their hands. But I didn’t budget for high sales in the store at all. It’s advertising. Also, we had outgrown my garage. We were literally in my master bedroom making jewelry. It’s nice to have a private life again.
What’s next for Nialaya?
We are opening a store in SoHo in New York in 2013. We’re also working on a leather goods collection produced in Bali that will be out before Christmas. There will be iPad cases and small wallets that incorporate gems and small silver and gold skulls. It’s high-end, but it’s definitely a little different.