LONDON — In 2017, Jia-Jia Zhu, a buyer at Bergdorf Goodman, quit her job to follow her intuition and move to Bali, Indonesia, for a year.
During her sabbatical away, she found new means of joy through meditation, yoga and crystals.
“I wanted to live in a more open heart space, less mind heavy and just following my heart and joy,” Zhu said on a Zoom call with a blue galaxy as her video background.
“I would meditate two hours a day and do three yoga practices a day, which led to eventually becoming a yoga teacher,” she added.
Zhu has now taken that holistic approach to her jewelry business, Jia Jia, which she set up in 2020 during the pandemic in New York City and has since moved to Connecticut to raise her family.
“The timing was right. We were launching in an era where there were a lot of unknowns for people and they wanted to connect with the products they bought,” Zhu said.
“So much of fashion, design and art is all through intuition,” she said, pointing out that she was subconsciously practicing it through her 9-to-5 where she would support designers and help build businesses.
In Bali, she had a vision that told her that she needed to work with healing crystals in some way. Zhu, who had spent nearly three years in contemporary women’s ready-to-wear and jewelry buying, knew that the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show fair was coming up and booked herself a flight to Tucson, Arizona.
“I knew that was a place where I could learn more about crystals and meet industry people. I just went without knowing anyone really,” she said.
At the showcase, she met a miner who handed her some crystals from Arkansas.
“I had a psychic that was my spirit guide back in 2016 who helped guide me out of my corporate career. She had gone digging for crystals with her children and she sent me crystals, which were not on my radar then and I found out later that she had dug them from Arkansas too,” Zhu added.
She took the crystals to the Jewelry District in Los Angeles, where she turned away many jewelers who wanted to work with her because they wanted to use glue on the crystals when attaching it to the gold chains.
All of the jewelry from Jai Jai is hand engraved to not disrupt the properties of the crystals. Pricing for the jewelry starts from $200 for the gemstones and $500 for crystals and goes up to $12,000.
The crystals that Zhu uses are as old as 300 million years and are only pulled out of the vein rather than aggressively mined. The crystals are then left in their raw shape and cleansed with water, with the exception of a few homeware pieces that are shaped.
Jia Jia’s big break came from Net-a-porter’s Vanguard mentorship program, where the brand was handpicked by then-global buying director Elizabeth von der Goltz, a former colleague of Zhu’s at Bergdorf Goodman.
Jia Jia was exclusive to Net-a-porter for one year and is now carried by Matchesfashion, ModeSens, Farfetch, Browns, Saks and Moda Operandi. The brand will be producing exclusive capsules for Net-a-porter and Moda Operandi.
Within the first week of launching the business, Zhu sold out of all her pieces. She enlisted the help of her fiancé, Greg Vallario, a former proptech business owner. Now the business is hiring for a wholesale account executive and a direct-to-consumer manager.
The wholesale side of the business is expanding. “This holiday season, our wholesale business doubled in digits,” Zhu said.
Another profitable part of the business is custom orders that start at $5,000 and go up to $15,000.
Zhu said 70 percent of her customers from Net-a-porter are part of the e-tailer’s EIP (Extremely Important Person) program, where they spend more than $12,000 every 12 months.
During the inception of Jia Jia, Zhu was working as a merchant at Rag & Bone and freelanced as a yoga teacher at Sky Ting, plus held private classes for corporate companies that her friends worked at.
“I was just taking any gig that I wanted because as a yoga teacher it’s more karmic. I wasn’t really making any money doing it, it was just something that I really loved in the offering,” Zhu said.
Even though she is back in the States, Bali is not far from her mind. She plans to take her family there for the first time in the coming months for business and pleasure. She plans to shoot new campaign imagery in Bali and is relaunching the brand’s website next month.