Wearable Art Goes Tribal

Sonya Monique
Owner, Sonya Monique Hawaii

Please tell us about your business. I create limited-edition, one-of-a-kind wearable works of art. I design more than just jewelry, such as belts and other adornments. The style of my work is ethnic-tribal.

Why did you start your business? I started making jewelry because I was sick. I had a tumor on my neck and I wanted something to cover my neck, so I created a wooden choker.

How did you start this business? I loved adornments before I started making them or before I even knew I had a talent for them. When I was a child, my dream always was to be a fashion designer. But, of course, life happens and you go get a real job because that’s what most of us are taught. I got away from that completely because the illness woke me up. When I made that first piece, all these ideas started pouring in. People were so amazed by that piece because it was so powerful and different that I started making more pieces and selling them. I didn’t know how to make jewelry, so everything I make is a result of trial and error. I’ve been making and selling pieces professionally since 2010.

What are some materials you use in your work? I often use recycled leather that comes from used clothing like jackets and pants. I recently started making kukui nut shell earrings from pieces of the nut I find around the island. I also use 14K gold-filled or sterling silver wire as well as other metals, such as brass. I like to use natural materials and use very asymmetrical, imperfect materials. For example, most people would see a broken kukui nut and not even give it a second thought. I want to show people that just because something is supposedly broken, it can still be rehabilitated and turned into something beautiful.

Where can people find your pieces? I sell my adornments at The Market at Common Ground in Kilauea, Havaiki Oceanic and Tribal Art in Hanalei and Island Hemp and Cotton in Kapaa.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your business? Making people feel good. A lot of my stuff is very bold, and so when people wear it, they get a lot of attention and compliments. I know that’s important for women. I also put labels and messages on all my jewelry, like, ‘You are Divine,’ and so it’s not just about the jewelry, it’s a lot more. The jewelry just happens to be the vehicle.

What are your future aspirations? I’m just going with the flow. I don’t want to make plans, only because what I could conceive would be limited in comparison to what’s really ahead for me.

What makes you get up every day and go to work? It’s definitely something bigger than me that makes me get up and do this. I’m passionate about what I do, and the ideas are very relentless in my head, and I feel like it’s my duty to bring them into fruition.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your business? Balancing the administrative part of the business with the creative. In a perfect world, I would love to just design, but I’m a one-woman operation at this point and have to manage all aspects of the business.

Do you have a business motto or philosophy? Listen to your intuition. I make a lot of business decisions that way. If something feels good, I usually move toward it, and if it doesn’t, I move away from it.

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? This is it.