Nishi Pearls is a jewellery brand based in Montreal, QC. What started in the 1800’s by Francis Papazian has followed through in a real time legacy. Four generations later, Alique and Arka Akkelian are continuing the family heritage with a brand never seen before in their family tree. From Armenian descent, Alique and Arka joined forces to create Nishi Pearls, a luxury brand that caters to the outmost elegance and quality pearls accessible on the market. Putting sustainability at the forefront of everything they do, their products are unique, edgy and timeless. Building a luxury brand requires tasteful aesthetics and design that appeal to a refined clientele. They have outdone themselves, with a success formula that speaks for itself. Here’s how Nishi Pearls comes to life.
Tell us about your background, how did you get into the industry?
I was born and raised in Montreal and attended Armenian, French and English school up until college. I eventually graduated from John Molson with a major in International Business and a minor in Marketing. My love for travelling grew after I completed a summer internship in New York and in Paris during the summers of 2009 and 2010 and I decided to apply for a semester abroad in 2011 where I had the privilege of completing one semester at Science Po Paris. When I returned from Paris in 2012, I joined the family business, Canadian Gem. At the time, I was working in any department that needed me. With time, patience and experience my role at the company evolved. I took over the product development and design department. Eventually, my brother Arka and I decided to launch our own brand, Nishi Pearls, which would focus on direct-to-consumer online sales in contrast to the wholesale business we were focused on at the time.
Did you always know you would end up owning your own business?
In a family business, it’s generally assumed that the next generation will take over. However, Arka and I never felt a sense of entitlement towards the company. We always thought of it as something owned by our family that we had the privilege to be part of. Over the years, this evolved. We realized that as proud as we were of our father and uncle for the company they built, we wanted to evolve past it and create something of our own. Having the expertise and know how of the generation before us mixed with our passion, education and understanding of the market made for a great combination for success.
Do you consider yourself the designer or more of an entrepreneur behind the brand?
It depends on the day 😉. There are days where difficult decisions need to be made and its necessary to be the entrepreneur that’s leading the company and there are others where I need to focus on design and our customers. It also makes it a lot easier when you work with an amazing team. I couldn’t do it without our Brand Coordinator, Gasya, who steps up when needed so that I am able to focus on design.
Tell us about the sustainability part of your brand.
The world is our oyster, and we take care of our world! We’re a pearl brand, so it’s important for us to only use real pearls, in contrast to many fast fashion brands who use plastic and glass and advertise them as ‘pearls’. Unlike those materials, real pearls are sustainable – they grow in oysters who can only live in a healthy ecosystem. So as a brand, our attention to detail starts from literally before the pearl is even born. We make sure that our partners ensure the well-being of each oyster and the marine ecosystem they grow in – from the oxygen and mineral levels of the water to the way oysters are treated. All these make us a proud sustainable brand.
Tell me about your path that led you to launch Nishi Pearls?
My brother and I grew up in the industry. I was adding butterflies to earrings and ticketing products during my summers since I was 14 years old. I officially joined the family business in 2012, we were one of the leading wholesale pearl brands in North America. Even then, people were shocked to hear I was in the pearl industry because I never wore them; the designs were timeless but they never spoke to me. When we launched Nishi Pearls, I started designing pieces that I would wear, aiming to reinvent pearl jewelry and overcoming the ‘old and outdated’ stigma attached to this gem! All made sense since we already had 40 years of craftsmanship experience and all the connections that would let us have fair prices as an online brand.
What is your mission, core values, brand culture?
We want to reinvent the pearl, to be worthy of your everyday, valuable moments. Our mission is to create approachable, luxury jewelry featuring real pearls and ethical materials designed for women who value quality, versatility, and creativity, all while supporting meaningful initiatives that deliver lasting results, I recommend checking out Nishi Cares!
Our values are to provide excellence through skilled artistry and craftsmanship; promise fair prices for premium quality designs; and demonstrate forward-thinking sustainable and ethical practices. As a brand, we’re ‘keeping it real’; whether it being our materials, or our public image. We see perfection in imperfections, you’ll notice that all our photoshoots are in natural lighting and have minimal touch up. Same as our products; pearls come from nature, so each pearl is one of a kind which makes every piece unique to you! There is no uniformity and I think this is a big part of our brand culture; celebrating differences and seeing beauty in everything.
What inspires you to come out with new products?
Our customers. I love seeing their reactions to our new designs. The pearl industry has evolved so much. There was a time where people didn’t see the use of having more than one classic pearl strand. It was common to gift a classic strand or studs to a bride or as a graduation gift as pearls were stigmatized as a keepsake heirloom piece of jewelry. In the past 5 years this has drastically changed. You now see pearls all over the high fashion runways. All the major design houses use them on clothes, handbags, and shoes. It has made its way into all retail stores which tailor to the mass market. As such, we need to keep evolving. It’s no longer about the classics, its about adding the finishing touches to an evolving style.
What is a brand you would like to collaborate with in the future?
Ah so many! I would love to collab with fellow Canadian brands who try to elevate versatility and the individuality of their clients, to name a few; Aritzia, Ssense, L’intervalle, Bonlook, Rudsak! We’ve also collaborated with companies outside of the fashion world like Hotel Griffintown and Restaurant Melisse, and we’re open to any opportunities as they only add value.
What inspires you to keep growing?
Our customers. I love seeing them fall in love with pearls the same way I did. The amazing feedback we get makes me want to reach a wider audience.
I also love seeing our pieces styled in out-of-the-ordinary ways; like the time when I saw our Climber Ring and Multi Bracelet paired with combat boots; or our Azalea hoop went beyond gender norms worn by fashion editor & stylist Giorgio Andrea Branduardi. These prove to me that we’re getting closer to our goal of reinventing the pearl and overcoming its outdated stigma.
Daphne Opened Ring @NishiPearls
What does success represent to you?
Nothing gives me greater joy than knowing that people purchase and wear our jewelry. Knowing that they invest in Nishi Pearls is one of the most validating parts of the job, especially when it’s public figures. It’s an honor to be picked out of all the options they have; like when Julie du Page wore our designs on Salut Bonjour or when Melora Hardin rocked our Pearl Path ear cuff on the TV show The Bold Type.
I feel the sense of success as we slowly build a community around our brand on Instagram too. I love personally interacting with our followers – we exchange ideas, style tips, feedback,… the other day Kim Bruneau sent me photos of her wearing her new pieces so we can use them on our page, just out of the blue. Moments like this also remind me that success is not just about climbing a ladder but being able to support each other.
I’d say giving back is a huge part of succeeding, we do this through our initiative Nishi Cares which is a platform where we partner up with various organizations to create limited edition pieces whose net proceeds all go towards a cause.
Photo Credit – @CathCooper
What inspires you to think bigger? Where do you see the company in 5-10 years?
Women are constantly changing their style. I personally feel like I go through so many different phases and I’m constantly reinventing my style. We have taken the most classic of gems and redefined it so that people don’t have to choose between elegance, edge and every day. The endless possibilities inspire me to go bigger and keep creating jewelry that can support every wardrobe change. Nishi Pearls is slowly becoming the go to brand for genuine pearls, and I see this expanding not just globally but across industries through collaborations in the future! Stay tuned 😉
How do you stay grounded?
Family. Both my parents immigrated to Canada when they were young. They built everything they have from the ground up and provided us with a life of privilege but taught us to remain humble. You can have all the success in the world and it’ll amount to nothing if you aren’t surrounded properly. My friends and family have always been what has kept me grounded.
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