Born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and educated in the United Kingdom, Sharifah Bahiyah Jamalullail was first introduced to the world of forms and colours at a young age at school where she made her very first pair of silver chandelier earrings. Her passion for jewellery and all things shiny and beautiful grew ever since. What has transpired is her jewellery line, ‘ONjA’ (pronounced ‘Own-Neeya’) using a combination of both her parents’ names, “Own” and “Nja”. Inspired by Asia's beautiful surroundings, the pieces carry vivid colours that instill the richness and biologically diverse Asian tropical landscape.
The debut collection sees fashion jewellery pieces in a variety of shapes and sizes, reflecting nature's beauty in eye-catching finger covering rings, oversized earrings, necklaces and bracelets in gold-plated sterling silver. Not limiting myself to only fashion jewellery, she is also working on a range of fine jewellery pieces using gold and semi-precious stones.
Greatest inspirations or influences?
- In terms of philanthropists, there a couple of women that I look up to. I admire Zainab Salbi founder of Women for Women International, a grassroots humanitarian and development organisation helping women survivors of wars rebuild their lives;
- Queen Rania Abdullah of Jordan for promoting education in her country as well as her commitment to reconcile people of different faiths and cultures; and also, Oprah Winfrey who's an avid supporter of women, children and education.
- In design terms, I love how Elsa Schiaparelli was outrageous and eccentric with her Surrealist fashion designs - her famous lobster dress and shoe hat.
- In contrast though, I also love the works of Chanel for her classic and timeless pieces - her tweed suits and little black dresses. Although their styles are completely different, they've influenced women around the world and have shaped fashion as we know it today.
Who is the girl you have in mind when you are designing your collections?
- The person I have in mind is a girl that is not afraid to stand out of the crowd with our jewellery pieces. Whether she's discovering the mystiques of Asia's hidden gems or wandering between old and new chic European cities, the ONjA woman can carry off any style as the jewellery works well as statement pieces for day or night and make classic additions to any modern wardrobe.
- She's an individual, seductive, quietly confident and works hard in everything she feels passionately for.
Tell us about the Onja jewellery company mission and your involvement in helping women? I've always made a commitment to help the under-priviledged with women and children in particular and it came naturally to merge the two when I decided to start my jewellery line.
Women make up half of the world's population and yet represent a staggering 70% of the world's poor where they experience hunger, forced into sex slavery, experience torture, mutilation, honour killings and displacement amongst many others. We want to help women in particular because when we empower women, families are healthier, more children go to school, agricultural productivity improves and incomes increase. A study has been done that when men control the household purse strings in poor countries, income is spent on alcohol, cigarettes and other items which are not necessary. When women hold assets or gain incomes however, family money is more likely to be spent on nutrition, medicine, housing and consequently children are healthier.
Having found KIVA, I am totally fascinated of its mission using the tools of the information age to reach people worldwide, bridge gaps, facilitate economic development and change lives. What attracted me to KIVA was that they make it more personal and meaningful to know about the person you are helping - their family backgrounds, the types of businesses they are in and what the loans will be used for. I love the idea that in this model, it's not about giving money to people, it's not about subsidising poverty, rather, it's about giving a helping hand to people who do want to work to build their lives and increase their prosperity in a lasting manner.
Then UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan (2006) said, "It is impossible to realise our goals while discriminating half the human race. As study after study has taught us, there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women".
With this commitment towards women, I've made it a mandate to contribute USD25 for each piece of jewellery sold to KIVA, a non-profit organisation that shares the same vision. The women that have received funds are featured on the website www.onjajewellery.com as an inspiration to others out there.
Favorite websites, blogs, publications?
- websites - KIVA, TripAdvisor, TED
- blogs - bryanboy, the sartorialist, the selby, Sea of Shoes
- publications - vogue, mashable, InStyle, Harpers Bazaar, W
Anything else youd like to share with our audience?
I'd like to invite your audience to our blog http://onjajewellery.com where we cover current issues ranging from women & children, fashion, music and the arts. It's meant to have a balance of lifestyle fun as well as update our readers on serious issues on the struggles women of today are facing. Write in to us and tell us your feedback, we'd love to hear from you!