SO GOOD JEWELRY
There's no lack of variety at So Good Jewelry. From left, the crystal-studded Teddy bear is $29.99, the banana necklace is $19.99, teardrop necklace is $29.99, plastic cat on bead chain is $19.99, and Murano glass sea horse is $29.99. The strawberry necklace is $34.99
Gem of an idea
Walking into So Good Jewelry is like stepping into a gleaming treasure chest of shiny, pretty things
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You've heard of men undressing women with their eyes, but Alen Kaneshiro imagines the opposite.
"Whenever I see a woman who's not wearing jewelry, I think, oh, there's a certain necklace from our store that would look really good on her."
Just one year ago, Kaneshiro, a lawyer working as a public defender, could not have cared less about jewelry and certainly would not have known how to help a woman accessorize.
When his girlfriend returned to Hawaii from a trip to Los Angeles, "She brought back a bunch of jewelry and was telling me about it. At the time I sort of blew it off, 'Oh yeah, neat, whatever.' "
On a subsequent trip to San Francisco, the couple found the same jewelry store, So Good Jewelry, on Haight Street, and Kaneshiro was dazzled by the sight of wall-to-wall jewelry that sparkled or delighted with candy colors.
"I was impressed by the store and what they had," he said.
Kaneshiro and his roommate Christopher Otto, a certified financial planner, had long thought about opening a business, and Kaneshiro found himself still thinking about the jewelry when he returned home.
It wasn't long before the two friends were opening Hawaii's first So Good Jewelry store in the Waikiki Trade Center, and caring deeply about what women want.
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Alen Kaneshiro, left, and Christopher Otto, knew little about jewelry before plunging into the biz.
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There is no way to explore So Good Jewelry quickly. From the moment they enter, customers face a shiny, happy array of colors, shapes and materials -- semiprecious stones, plastics, crystals, wood, Murano glass, leather, sterling silver, fabric, and more.
The company's aim is to deliver fashion and costume jewelry, on trend, at affordable prices for those who want to look current without spending too much. If you can't afford a $1,000 diamond eternity necklace, for instance, maybe it's enough to have a piece that mimics the look with crystals, for about $35.
Pieces at So Good Jewelry start at $9.99, with the bulk in the $19.99 to $59.99 range, although some queenly Belle Epoque necklaces can command up to $500. There are pieces to suit every taste, whether one prefers the delicacy of small chains, the drama of mod geometric pieces, untamed ethnic or tribal looks, or a touch of professional polish. For the young at heart, there are colorful childlike plastic pieces bearing animal and floral shapes, at $19.99 to $29.99.
The concept appears to be working. In a few short years, the company started by Woi Choi in New York in 2001, has grown to include 16 stores from Hawaii to Miami.
Alen Kaneshiro and Christopher Otto opened the first So Good Jewelry store in the Waikiki Trade Center earlier this month, after conducting a whirlwind tour of the mainland boutiques to make sure they were making the right decision.
"Neither of us knew anything about jewelry, although I thought I would know a winner when I saw it," said Otto, who puts in 10-hour days at his "real" job as a certified financial planner, while also working at the store three nights a week.
The partners ended up visiting stores in seven cities in nine days, from San Diego to Boston.
"We had to see for ourselves what people were drawn to, the excitement they had when walking into the store. Does each have the same response?" Otto said. "It was up to me to develop a break-even analysis, determine how much money we needed to start, and help to get the loan, and it's finally happened!"
SO GOOD JEWELRY
So Good Jewelry has something for everyone, neatly arranged for easy browsing. It just takes time to see everything.
Even so, not having developed the intuition of a longtime trend junkie, he admitted a moment of fear when he unpacked the first boxes of jewelry and found chains bearing multicolored, rhinestone-studded strawberries and other fruits.
"There were plastic items, matching earrings and hairpins and I thought, 'What is this?' I thought we made a bad investment."
He didn't know that Kaneshiro had specifically ordered those playful, childlike pieces when he went for training in New York. Otto had stayed behind to oversee the store's construction.
"Before I studied political science and law I studied graphic arts, so visual design is not foreign to me," Kaneshiro said. "When I saw the strawberries I really liked them, and I thought the Japanese would really like them, and now they're some of the top sellers."
TO AVOID jinxing the operation, the two roommates decided to make separate living arrangements.
"Working in finance, I'd heard all the horror stories about good friends becoming enemies after becoming business partners," Otto said. "We didn't want that to happen to us, and so far, we haven't gotten into any fights."
The two alternate working evenings and weekend hours, and neither seems burdened by the long hours that come with working two jobs.
"Both of us are workaholics by nature," said Kaneshiro, whose girlfriend introduced him to the store's concept, one he initially dismissed as a girly thing. Although they had discussed the idea of her running the business, her career in the travel industry took precedence, and he said, "We knew it was risky. It would take a large financial investment and if it didn't work, I didn't want it to wipe both of us out."
As for whether the two owners imagine a day when they can leave their other jobs, Kaneshiro says no. "I know Chris really loves his job, and I never want to quit by day job. I love what I do. I work as a public defender and it's a tough profession but I love helping people who need it."
Apparently, that's true whether they need to stay out of jail or need to match an outfit with necklace and earrings.
"It's really funny, but when we started planning this business I started noticing how a lot of women dress up, and the thought that goes into the process, and I notice it all the time.
"Now I look at it through different eyes. There are so many things for women to worry about: makeup, accessories, shoes, but they're good at it. So good," Kaneshiro said.
"For me, I have nice clothes but I'm resistant to jewelry. The next step is the manicure and I just don't want to go down that road, although I'm not against men wearing jewelry. We're close to the nightclubs and men come in all the time before they go to the clubs. They'll buy huge cubic zirconia studs and put it in their ears."
GEORGE LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
The multi-tiered drop necklace, at top, is $34.99 and the more demure double-chain crystal butterfly necklace is $29.99.
GEORGE LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
A $19.99 plastic barrette, playful mod bangles at $8.99 apiece and plastic pig earrings at $19.99. The pigs are popular at the Waikiki store.
So Good Jewelry is in the Waikiki Trade Center, 2255 Kuhio Ave. Suite S7. Call 926-9588.