Jewelry designer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Kristen Amanda Justine Alexis is the founder of KAJA Creations, a luxury jewelry brand born out of Alexis’ love for Trinidad and Tobago’s flora and fauna and her passion for empowering women. KAJA is an acronym of Alexis’ full name; a nod to both the personal and entrepreneurial journey the brand has taken her on.
“Not many people know this but that’s why it’s so important for me to show up unapologetically and authentically myself in business,” Alexis says of what her brand represents, and the namesake behind it.
She began making jewelry in 2014 with a string of beads and artisan wire. It was a year later, through what she describes as a series of fortunate events, she found her love for precious metals through an apprenticeship at a local jewelry company.
It was after this apprenticeship she decided to design her first ever Sterling Silver Collection, launched in November 2016. The collection went viral across online platforms. “I knew then that I had found it; my true purpose and calling,” she says.
A born and raised island girl, Alexis always had a passion for creativity and nature. She recalls receiving candle making sets and puff paints as Christmas gifts in her childhood in lieu of the more popular Barbie dolls.
She shares that she has always had an affinity for the colours of blue and green, so it comes as no surprise that her favourite things are blue skies, vast oceans, emerald green mountains, and beautiful leaves. It’s these things that she searches for and inspires her creations.
“Our La Première Collection was inspired by my desire to take the precious and delicate parts of nature that I absolutely adored and give them immortal beauty,” she says of her motivation to create pieces of jewelry. “I know nothing lasts forever … but if we could keep a part of the ocean with us or make a leaf that will wither in time into a timeless and elegant piece, then why shouldn’t we?”
She also wants women to experience the wonder and awe of the islands in minimalist designs. “Each piece of our collection is made using the patterns, dimensions, and structure of our island’s abundant flora and fauna.”
On September 3, Alexis hosted a networking event for women entrepreneurs titled “Cocktails With KAJA”, inviting international and local business coaches and successful entrepreneurs to share with a room of 50 small business owners. The event consisted of brunch, jewelry making, and success talks, among other activities.
“The women who attended walked away with so much valuable and practical advice – I was so overwhelmed and overjoyed at the positive response that my team and I have decided to host another in December 2017.”
KAJA has also given her the opportunity to give back to wider society. Her philanthropy and social awareness were fostered by her mother, who always made it clear “that we have one hand to give and one to receive”.
In 2015 – backed by years of feeding and engaging the homeless – Alexis founded a non-profit organisation called The Kenneth Wong Chong Foundation, an NGO that provides practical solutions to homelessness and the accompanying social issues associated with homelessness in TT. She has committed ten per cent of KAJA’s profits to the foundation as a financial partner.
“My passion for empowering women to love themselves came to me from all different directions; I think it was a cumulative response in my psyche when I took several Gender Studies classes in UWI or perhaps it was when I realised that beauty was undefinable by any standards, maybe it was struggling with my weight and being tired of trying to fit into someone else’s view of what the ideal body should look like,” says Alexis of her own personal struggles and triumphs that has pushed her to be a champion for women.
In fact, it’s this passion to empower women that led to KAJA’s facilitation of a collaboration of Caribbean women entrepreneurs and artists in June of this year to commemorate World Environmental Day (June 5).
The entrepreneurs and artists came together “with the purpose of spreading the message of Natural Beauty in order to empower women to feel beautiful in their own skin”. The Natural Beauty collaboration took place in the form of a photo shoot and short videos featuring designs by Meiling and Nikita Hyatali, in collaboration with The Sweet Beet.
“The project focused on three aspects of natural beauty,” says Alexis, “Natural hair and skin, happiness, and healthy living. Focusing on connecting people to nature, we really believe that if women can connect to the beauty of nature and can observe it without judgment then we can also connect to that part of ourselves that is innately beautiful.”
In this vein of women’s empowerment, KAJA Creations has also launched a success platform for women entrepreneurs called THE GIRL BOSS EMPIRE, a series of online courses created by Alexis based on the expertise she has gathered through consultations with international business coaches and her own personal entrepreneurial successes and failures. The EMPIRE’s first online course, From Hobbyist to Business – Marketing 101 was launched in September and spaces have already been filled.
“The course is for small business owners and startup companies geared towards helping you reach your ideal clientele and scale your profits using affirmations, healthy self-talk, and practical business strategies,” she expands on the topics the course covers, adding that the class will be launched again in January 2018.
While KAJA is inspired by the natural beauty of flora and fauna, Alexis acknowledges that “natural beauty” isn’t an exclusive ideology: “It doesn’t mean that women don’t wear makeup or that we don’t tease our hair. For me, it’s all about authenticity,” she elaborates. “Are you being true to who you really are?”
She believes natural beauty represents self-acceptance of innate beauty – even the parts that may not be pretty. “This is what natural beauty means for KAJA; being fully you as a woman and not a drop less.”
Describing herself as spiritual, she says it is at the core of her being to connect with the natural world around her and the people in it. This reverence for nature first came from her study of Buddhism and the tenet of universal oneness with all things.
“The way I understand or interpret this is that there is a reflection of myself in all things, in all people, in all animals. I think if women understood that the same higher power that created the moon, the stars, and the galaxy also created their body, we would question our magnificence and beauty a lot less.”
She thinks one of the steps to accepting such inner natural beauty is the appreciation for what lays outside our very doorsteps. “We have to unplug from our corporate work lives, from social media accounts, out televisions and take a stroll down Chaguaramas early in the morning,” she says of appreciating the inspiration on our islands.
“We’re too caught up trying to hustle our way to the top, too busy trying to maintain certain social and economic statuses, too busy focusing on what other people think about us to notice that natural beauty is all around and inner peace is always accessible.”