Life by design

danika-cooper-jewellery-danika-tumua-1aFor thousands of years, men and women, initially royalty and nobility, have adorned themselves with jewellery. Over the centuries its appeal has seldom waned and, today, jewellery of every style and design has admirers worldwide, no more so than one Auckland couple whose passion has evolved into business.

When Danika Cooper and Tumua Tuifao started making beaded bracelets for friends and family and posting their creations on Facebook two years ago, they couldn’t keep up with demand.

Everybody loved them, most people wanted one and, when praise kept rolling in, they realised they just might be nurturing a business idea.

It was perfect timing too because the pair was starting to question their life. They were doing what many of us do – commuting to the city five days a week. And, while Danika’s job working for a Pacific tourism board and showing travel agents around the Pacific doesn’t sound like a grind, she and Tumua, wished they could do their own thing.

“We had lost the passion for what we were doing, along with the idea that you ‘work to live’ not ‘live to work’. But, it’s not easy to up and quit a job which pays the bills, well, not without winning lotto,” Danika says with a laugh.

She remembers being attracted to jewellery as a child, and admiring her grandmother’s precious gemstones – every time she visited the Islands she came home with black pearls!

When the couple’s humble beaded bracelets became a catalyst for much more, the pair decided to bring together their passions for the Pacific and Polynesia and their much-loved Black Tahitian Pearls with a desire to start their own business.

Necessity played a part in the new venture too. Tumua has big hands. His fingers are five sizes larger than the average man’s ring size and his wrists measure 20cm. He struggles to find jewellery which fits in mainstream jewellery stores; custom-made pieces are often too expensive. Solution: make it yourself.

Thus, it was time for Danika to unleash her love for sparkly things, develop her design skills and start making jewellery. She enrolled in a recreational course in Creative Jewellery Making at the Peter Minturn Goldsmith School in Auckland, to master the fundamentals.

“I was hooked immediately,” she says. “The first week I made a plain silver band and the following week, a double-sided pendant. Then Tumua came to classes and was thrilled to discover a natural flair for design.”

After completing the course the pair got serious, renting workbenches and equipment to start producing their own designs, inspired by Pacific and Polynesian cultures and, of course, showcasing black pearls.

Then it was time for bravery: Danika left her job to set up Danika Cooper Jewellery. However, Tumua has continued his daily commute while the business consolidates but relishes making jewellery in his precious downtime.

They both make their designs in 18, 14 and 10 carat gold, as well as 14 carat gold fill which is more robust than gold plating. They work with silver and platinum too, in fact, any precious metals and gemstones clients request.

Asked why Tahitian pearls are their favoured jewel, they agree: “We love their uniqueness, that every pearl is different which complements our handcrafted style. We also work closely with pearl farmers in French Polynesia to ensure a steady supply of quality, yet affordable gems.”

In a recent new direction, they’ve started including Pacific Island tattoo motifs in their jewellery designs for engagement rings, wedding bands and bracelets. They’re also looking at embedding clients’ existing tattoo symbols into personalised jewellery pieces.

As well as selling from its online store, the company utilises the space at the Pacific Business Hub in Manukau; there the couple showcase work, have access to shared work-spaces and can rent desk or office space.

They are both members of the Samoan Business Network, and work closely with the team at WE Accounting and Business Mentoring, an ATEED programme.

Currently their jewellery is stocked at the SSAB Sei Oriana Gift Store, a Pacific Islands gift shop in Mangere and the Plantation House Gift Store in Apia, Samoa. They are also in discussions with other potential stockists in New Zealand, Australia and Pacific Islands.

For a couple who have combined love and livelihood to stay true to the passions which drive them, it’s natural to wonder about their own wedding jewellery designs.

“Tumua proposed to me in Paris, and we bought my engagement ring in an antique store in London. We’re still not married though – it’s very much business first at the moment,” Danika says.

Meanwhile, this talented couple is soaking up design inspiration from any and everywhere – “our business vision is simple: to provide clients with unique, beautiful, affordable jewellery.”

For those with a dream to one day start their own business, Danika and Tumua’s message is clear, “If you have a passion for something, follow it, and tell your story boldly.”

By Jes Magill