Meet the Mother-Daughter Design Team Behind Hawai‘i Jewelry Label Paradisus
As we celebrate mothers this month, it’s the perfect time to spotlight two of our favorite mom-preneurs, Linda Ueda and Akemi Ueda Jensen of Paradisus.
On Linda (left): ‘Ōhi’a Lehua sterling silver earrings, $175, ‘Ōhi’a Lehua sterling silver cuff, $600, Kalo 925 silver pin-pendant, $310, pearl necklace, designer’s own. On Akemi: Sonny Ching Collection Kamehameha ‘Ahu‘ula 14K gold vermeil earrings, $180, chain necklace and rings, designer’s own. Location: Bishop Museum, Nā Ulu Kaiwi‘ula Native Hawaiian Garden.
photo: aaron k. yoshino
The duo first began collaborating as a way to keep close while on different coasts, only to have their side project blossom. Fifteen years on, they’re still creating beautiful, timeless pieces inspired by Hawai‘i’s flora, ocean life and culture.
We chat with the pair about their partnership, the perks and pitfalls of working with family, and how they’re branching out to explore the wilder side of design.
Heliconia sterling silver earrings, $125.
PHOTOS: COURTESY OF PARADISUS
What are your professional backgrounds?
Akemi Ueda Jensen: My background is in biology and drug and medical device development.
Linda Ueda: I graduated from Syracuse University’s art school with a degree in design. I’m retired now, but interior design was my main profession.
How did Paradisus get its start?
AUJ: We started thinking about creating jewelry pieces together using a factory in Indonesia because my mom was already traveling there for interior design projects.
LU: I was looking at all the silver workshops there and got introduced to the one that we use now. The artist does the Indonesian repoussé style, where metal is shaped from the reverse side by hammering, and that really lends to the organic look of Paradisus. We made a few pieces and approached two stores, Riches Kāhala and Nohea Gallery, and they were very excited. So, we started to do production work. Akemi was still working at her FDA job at the time.
AUJ: That started to grow and take more time. So, I decided it would be fun to work for myself with my mom and I bailed on the science.
Monstera 925 silver cuff, $600.
How does your partnership work with Akemi in Hawai‘i and Linda in California?
AUJ: We’ve always worked remotely—we scan and send pictures, talk on the phone, text and email. The initial concept can come from either one of us. We’ll both suggest, OK, let’s do this plant next. She’ll do the initial mock-up drawing, we’ll tweak it together and then she’ll do the final drawing. But when it’s the digital drawing, then I take it over.
LU: I’m good with the pencil! Akemi does all the QuickBooks and that kind of stuff.
AUJ: Our office is in Hawai‘i, so I have all the inventory and do all the fulfillment.
Where do you find inspiration?
AUJ: We’ll walk through a garden or when we travel we’ll absorb the different looks of the area.
LU: Then we’ll take an initial idea and search out its origins. If it’s kapa, we’ll go to the Bishop Museum. We have and look at a lot of local books, so we’ll scan them for images and ideas, and read up on the history and meaning.
AUJ: We started with mostly flora designs, but then we started to expand and partner up on collaborations. So, working with people like [kumu hula] Sonny Ching and [freediver/spearfisher] Kimi Werner added new inspiration. With Sonny, it’s traditional Hawaiian elements with a contemporary feel and with Kimi, it’s the ocean and other aspects of nature.
Kimi Swimmy Uhu sterling silver cuff, $237.50
What qualities do you admire most about each other in a work capacity?
LU: I’m always impressed at how Akemi has such an easy time speaking to people. When talking to our vendors, she’s always firm but really nice. That’s something I try to hand over to her.
AUJ: My mom is good at looking at design from different angles and adding input in ways that you wouldn’t typically see. Her sense of design and style always add to each piece.
Can you tell us about Paradisus’ newest styles?
LU: We’re doing some new heliconia and torch ginger cuff bracelets in silver.
AUJ: We’re revisiting some of the plants. A lot of times what happens is we’ll pick a plant and do an iteration of it. Sometimes we like it and sometimes it goes back to the drawing board. It’s taken us years to revisit these and now we’re taking a second pass at them.
What are the most challenging things about being in business with family?
LU: Sometimes you want things done immediately and when I had employees they did what I said. (Laughs) Akemi’s pretty independent, but I guess I allowed her to be that way, so it’s not easy to turn off.
AUJ: Do I bug you?
LU: Do I nag? (Both laugh)
AUJ: She still nags like a mother. I guess boundaries, right, because you don’t have many with your mom or your daughter.
Along with repoussé pieces in sterling silver, Paradisus now also creates styles in gold vermeil. Kimi Swimmy Naupaka vermeil earrings, $60.
And the most rewarding?
AUJ: It’s a business partnership that has total trust. There’s no one you trust more than your family or your mom.
LU: She is my daughter first so I look out for her.
AUJ: And there’s things that we do that you could never do [otherwise]—I text you at 2 a.m.
LU: She says, I forgot to tell you this but I need this tomorrow.
AUJ: And disagreements don’t last very long.
LU: It’s every mother’s desire to do something with their children. People always say, wow, you’re so lucky you can work with your daughter. And it’s true, I do feel really lucky. Maybe not every day (laughs) but most of the time.
In 2016, you launched a second label, Keep Wild Co.—what was the impetus for that?
Bring It Pink Waves and Modern Hawai‘i utensil kits, $48 each.
LU: When working with Kimi, she wanted to go beyond just creating jewelry. So, we put together Keep Wild Co. and did some leather bags, journals, mug holders and household things like cutting boards and serving platters.
AUJ: It spoke to creating quality goods that last a lifetime or giving material a new life through upcycling. That’s what Keep Wild Co. is focused on, sustainability.
In partnership with Kimi, we collect the vinyl banners after surf contests and create products out of them. Our main product is a utensil kit. Hawaiian Airlines had a ton of banners sitting in a closet, so we collected them all and made pouches for them. The same with Vans. Even the Polynesian Voyaging Society—we got their old sails and made kits. Then, they gave us Hōkūle‘a sails that went around the world and we did a special collection of higher-end pouches for them.