"WEAR THE OCEAN"
Leilani Shells’ founder, Jenny Melia, speaks to our editor-in-chief about provoking change towards sustainability, creating her coral-planting jewellery brand and empowering women to ‘wear the ocean’
Jenny Melia spent her entire childhood in balance with nature at Hawaiian Islands abundant of sea treasures. She remembers days when she swam with tropical fish and picked shells from the coast, getting attached to the magical world beneath the ocean waves. From corals to shark teeth washed ashore, the Hawaiian beaches were a paradise where humans and nature coexisted in harmony. Unfortunately, this idyll did not last.
At the age of seven Jenny’s family moved away from Hawaii only to return to the islands when she had turned twelve. Going home was a dream come true. Jenny had been looking forward to putting her snorkel back on and head to the beach where she could pick up shells from the silky sands of the ocean floor. Yet, the reality of Hawaii had changed drastically. There was no more colour on the reef, no sea creatures swimming peacefully. Human-induced issues had reached the shore. Pollution was prevailing. Plastic was floating in the water. The reef was dying.
Devastated over her hurting homeland, Jenny knew she had to provoke change. Yet, one kid couldn’t do much alone. She had to inspire others – find a way to influence coral restoration. It was from that urge to save the ocean that Leilani Shells was born allowing women all over the globe to take part in marine preservation.
Read our exclusive interview with the woman behind the magical jewellery brand that encourages women to ‘wear the ocean’. In conversation with Aleksandra, NOMADSofORIGIN’s editor-in-chief, Jenny shares her ideology on sustainability, coral planting practices and holiday hotspots. Jenny’s partners, Josy and Fiona, speak up on empowering women, nature’s tranquility and their favourite Leilani Shells pieces.
‘‘Leilani Shells started out as one girl’s dream to preserve the paradise under the waves. Today, I can say, that Leilani Shells empowers women across the globe to reconnect with their inner goddess, reminding them of the strength and vitality of nature.’’
Jenny Melia, CEO and Designer of Leilani Shells for NOMADSofORIGIN Magazine
NOMADSofORIGIN: Jenny, your brand is found upon ocean preservation as you personally witnessed corals dying across Hawaiian islands during your childhood. How do you think people who live far from the coast can form a strong connection with the ocean and remain encouraged to preserve it?
Jenny: This is simple but also tricky. When the ocean dies, we are all affected. The ocean produces 70% of the oxygen we breathe, 97% of the earth's water supply is contained by the ocean, and 30% of CO2 emissions are absorbed by the ocean.
The truth is that what you do on land will impact what is happening offshore. Even small mistakes on waste disposal will have a massive impact on your & everyone's health. For example, chemicals, such as pesticides, can cause humans hormonal problems, nervous system damage, or kidney damage. But there are many more reasons… to name all of them would probably take me a few weeks or so… (laughs)
People who live close to the cost are already aware of this issue but only a small amount of them take action. For all of us, it is time to inspire more people around the world to save the ocean… This means it's upon us, to get this important message to the people that don't think they are affected or don't know about what is happening to our oceans.
This is why we started Leilani Shells. It's a way to take a step in the right direction. But… alone we can't change the world… we need everyone to work together and protect our precious ocean to provide a brighter future.
NOMADSofORIGIN: What is it about Hawaii that inspires your designs the most?
Jenny: Hawaii vibrates differently. It's different from anything I have ever experienced. Different from all places on earth that I have ever visited. When you walk through the island, explore its beauty and magical nature, you feel connected – connected to the spirits of the island, to the spirits of the ocean, the sky & the earth. In one word. Hawaii is unique.
This is exactly what I incorporate into all our designs. None of the jewellery has ever been seen before. They enhance the rare connection to our earth which comes naturally with the wearing of each unique piece made by Leilani Shells. The owner of our pieces radiates an inner glow only found in that same existential magic that connects the earth to the moon to the stars to the ocean.
By wearing Leilani Shells, you are one with nature. Our vision is to reconnect notions of beauty to internal visions of self-love and the natural fibers of our existence. Thus, increasing our connection to our natural environments and the ocean, just like the Hawaiian Islands.
NOMADSofORIGIN: Josy, what do you love most about the brand, and which is your favourite Leilani Shells jewellery?
Josy: I just love the fact that Leilani Shells is guided by the value of connections. Connecting minds to the magic of the ocean, pleasure to self-love, and women as guardians of the natural world.
It's hard to pick a favourite piece but I just adore the Worship Me ring in gold… Its blue topaz gem shines like the ocean and was handmade by our designer in a long process of carefully carving every single detail. A perfect statement for sustainability.
NOMADSofORIGIN: Jenny, what is your favourite thing to do in Hawaii that our readers should try when visiting?
Jenny: My favourite place on Hawaii is the Big Island. You should definitely visit the glowing lava that comes from our Vulcano and feel how powerful our earth is. It makes you feel small & realise how much more important our environment is. More amazing places to visit are all the beaches, black sand, white sand & even green sand!
You should also try the hike on Kauai's Napali Coast. It's literally the most magical hike you will ever do. You will feel a deep connection with your environment and I always say: "Feel the heartbeat of your surrounding". Moreover, the view you will have is just breathtaking.
NOMADSofORIGIN: What about a favourite place in Bali that should be on travellers' radar?
Jenny: Bali, a must are the southern beaches such as Balangan Beach, which is great for surfing, Uluwatu beach, and Nyang Nyang beach. Here you can enjoy the sun on white-sand beaches, swim a little, and discover many different shell colours. More northern, there are a lot of unique waterfalls where you can go cliff jumping and swim in the holy waters of Bali. My favourite is the Suwat Waterfall, where you can take a little bamboo boat into the waterfall. Also, it is still a secret to all tourists, so you will most likely find it empty.
NOMADSofORIGIN: Fiona, why do you think self-love is of the essence to women and how do you think Leilani Shells succeeds in inspiring that feeling among the lovers of the brand?
Fiona: Leilani Shells’ mission is to create high-quality, empowering jewellery for women as well as raising awareness for the health of our oceans. We are on a mission to reconnect women with nature by asking them to 'wear the ocean'. Each unique piece of paradise empowers its owner to embrace their inner goddess, bridging the space between the fast-paced, hectic temperament of modern life with the tranquility of nature.
Leilani Shells makes women feel beautiful on the inside and radiate beauty on the outside. That's what I love most about the concept and why self-love plays such an important role.
NOMADSofORIGIN: You plant a coral with every Leilani Shells purchase. Can you tell us a bit more about this initiative and in what other ways do you think travellers can help save the oceans?
Jenny: Great question, we are now officially working together with Blue Corner Conservation in Nusa Penida. Together we can ensure that saving the ocean becomes actually cool, trendy and people want to be part of it.
We realised that a lot of ocean organisations fail to reach younger people that are consumed by many unsustainable brands & unethical offers. But these people are the ones that will be the saviours. They are our future… By working closely together with Blue Corner we can ensure that in addition to the ocean-saving organisation we also reach a younger audience.
In my opinion, there are many simple things you can do to protect the ocean TODAY. First, stop using single used plastics if you haven't done so yet… Instead make sure you get a reusable water bottle & use reusable shopping bags. Support organisations that work to protect the ocean, that way you can help to protect the ocean immediately. You can additionally ask to be a volunteer or give financial support. Moreover, go and educate yourself. All life on this planet is connected to our ocean. I promise you, the more you will learn about this issue the more you will want to help, and you will be playing an important role in restoring earth’s balance.
Now, you can create change in your community & start to inspire. This means, speak up when someone is harming the ocean. It could be that a restaurant has a threatened species, you see someone throwing trash on the beach or you can just start to tell your friends about the importance of the ocean and what we can do to preserve it. Trust me, little steps are the start of the evolution, and you can be part of it.
‘‘My favourite place on Hawaii is the Big Island. You should definitely visit the glowing lava that comes from our Vulcano and feel how powerful our earth is.
It makes you feel small & realise how much more important our environment is.’’
Jenny Melia, CEO and Designer of Leilani Shells for NOMADSofORIGIN Magazine
NOMADSofORIGIN: Can you tell us a bit more about how purchasing Leilani Shells jewellery helps local families in Bali?
Jeny: First, we take great pride in saying that we create all our pieces ethically and choose to work with local families only. One way we work with them is in our jewellery production. We teach them all the skills on how to create high-quality fine jewellery, give them long-term opportunities to grow into our family, and making sure their kids can get the best education.
NOMADSofORIGIN: Leilani Shells Jewellery was founded in 1997. The urge to preserve dying corals inspired the business and first, but could you tell us about how the element of ocean preservation and the challenges you faced have changed over the years?
Jenny: As a little girl, I spent every morning walking on the beach or exploring the coral reefs of Hawaii. My adventures led me to discover the beauty of the underwater world; collecting shells, corals, and shark teeth, from which I made jewellery. Little did I know that the first 'piece of paradise' in the form of a purple shell necklace that I gave to my mom would mark the start of an incredible journey...
A few years later, I returned to Hawaii, only to find that the reef which I had grown to love, had died. So, I took it upon myself to wake the world up and raise awareness for the threats our oceans are facing. My passion for the ocean quickly turned into a life mission. At this point, I realised that more people think like me and we can be a community & work towards the same goal.
Today, with every purchase, Leilani Shells funds the planting of one coral in Nusa Penida. So, Leilani Shells started out as one girl's dream to preserve the paradise under the waves. Today, I can say, that Leilani Shells empowers women across the globe to reconnect with their inner goddess, reminding them of the strength and vitality of nature. Wearing Leilani Shells crowns you as a guardian to your very own unique piece of paradise, entrusting the wearer with the power to inspire others and be an element of change.
NOMADSofORIGIN: Your ambassador program inspires sustainability and encourages travelling. Can you tell us a bit more about the program?
Jenny: Our program is extremely unique. We are looking for girls that love the ocean, are caring & feel like they have the power to be part of creating a more sustainable world. And we are proud to be the first brand that fully sponsors our Ohana members.
All of this is unusual to get from any brand, especially if you don't have any followers or community yet. I have been an influencer for years now and have experienced the worst brand partnerships. The sad truth is, that most brands will use you for their benefit. They don't care about you and don't support. They give you free products made in China, supporting child labour, with the worst quality and then use you to promote them…
And… if you have ever engaged with a brand like this, just know it's not your fault! They use sweet talk to cover up what they actually do. I have personally experienced all this & been there. For us, this is a no-go. Because, once you make it into our family, you will not only get the typical one-time interaction.
You will get long-term support, education about the ocean, get access to how to grow your Instagram sustainably (a powerful course solely created for the girls we work with), earn a full-time income, live your dream, travel, and lastly save the ocean and inspire. So, if you are hearing this right now & feel like you are someone who loves the ocean & jewellery, please apply on our website and we can see if we are a good match.
NOMADSofORIGIN: Jenny, Fiona and Josy thank you very much for this interview! Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Fiona: Just remember, each of us matters, has a role to play, and makes a difference. Each one of us must take responsibility for our own lives and show love and respect to all living beings.
Jenny: Totally, I believe the biggest adventure you can take is living the life of your dreams! Don't let anyone stop you or discourage you from living the life you deserve. Life in a healed & balanced world… You only have one and I want to encourage you to take the first steps to be better, have the courage, and change the world to sustainable development.
Josy: I agree, look after the land and the land will look after you! Everything is connected.
Shop the ocean inspired products online
See below the ones we love and follow the brand on social media.
NOMADSofORIGIN x Leilani Shells
This interview appears in NOMADSofORIGIN Magazine print #04 The Escapism Issue