Standing on the edge of a drop in Edmonton, Canada in 1994, Kathy Kamei looked down at the expansive drop below. Sensing her hesitation, her bungee jumping guide patted her back: “Go ahead,” he said dramatically. “You’ll never live your dreams if you don’t conquer your fears.”
Kathy did indeed step off the world and experience the free falling exhilaration of a bungee jump. But the empowering words of her guide still reverberated in her ears.
As a single mom living in Edmonton, with two very young girls and a challenging childhood well behind her, Kathy had put herself through school to obtain a merchandising and design degree, and was embarking on a glamorous career hosting a local talk show.
But something didn’t feel right. “My life looked like someone else’s idea of success,” she recalls. “It wasn’t my dream I was living.”
Several weeks later, with a bit of savings tucked in her pocket, she boarded a plane for Bali, Indonesia, clutching her daughters’ tiny hands and a travel book sporting greenery and friendly faces from a far off land. Her bungee jumping guide has suggested the island as a must-experience destination. But never having left Alberta in her entire life, her knees knocked together as the plane took off. “I was scared to death,” she recalls.
From the moment she arrived, in small human steps, each breathtakingly beautiful and eye opening, Kathy began to absorb the culture of the Balinese people who embraced her vulnerable family with genuine dignity and human grace. “It was a real case of surrender,” Kathy remembers. “Overnight, I went from being a talk show host to riding a moped around an island with one child in front of me and another tied to me with a sarong clutching me from behind.”
Living on very little, Kathy supported her children working in a manufacturing plant where she learned the language of her new country, and her pace slowed down as it aligned with the Balinese lifestyle, fostering a deeper trust in her sense of self. She eventually began working alongside designers and artists creating artisan crafts and textiles, and observing masters of ancient Balinese metalworking.
Nine years later, when Kathy decided to leave the island and move to the US, she also longed to share her transformative experience with other women.
Kathy Kamei Designs was born out of Kathy’s desire to create jewelry that was as powerful and real as the journey she had taken herself: a line of jewelry that celebrates and inspires women.
From her home studio in Northern California, Kathy collaborates with an artisan manufacturer in Bali to create a line of hand-crafted Balinese silver and gold jewelry, invoking the ancient folk art armadillo pattern.
“For me, jewelry is art. What we wear should empower us and give more meaning to our lives and passions,” says Kathy who now has three strong daughters, Alexa, Sydney and Kenzi.
And her clientele agree wholeheartedly. “There is nothing more beautiful than having a piece of jewelry sold by Kathy Kamei to a customer,” says Heidi Sabelhaus, whose shop in San Francisco, “Heidi Says,” offers Kathy’s pieces. “We do a holiday trunk show every year, and we always have a line out the door of women waiting to buy Kathy’s pieces and visit with her,” she goes on. “There’s something magical about Kathy, and women always walk away feeling good about themselves.”
From pendants which encourage us to trust our deepest selves, to earrings which remind us to be a beacon of light to others, each piece celebrates and dignifies our relationship with ourselves. “If I can create a piece of jewelry that supports a woman to follow her dreams, that is my intention,” says Kathy. And although her jewelry has been worn by such icons as Katie Couric, Pink, Paris Hilton and Oprah Winfrey, the highlight for Kathy has always been, for “every woman who wears my pieces to become their own radiant icon.”
In many ways conventional success has never been the primary goal for Kathy, who holds a masters degree from the Intuition School of Medicine. At every step of her journey, Kathy funds those in need, and regularly supports not only women, with revenue going toward breast cancer, Adopt-a-family and the Elizabeth House, but has also developed a deep passion for animals, and together with her husband Jon Araghi, has become actively involved in preserving the dignity and sanctity of vulnerable creatures great and small.
“There’s something about Kathy that comes across as one-hundred-percent genuine. She’s a very gentle-hearted kindred spirit that just wants to give back. And it’s all from the heart, and that to me has as much value as anything you can say about anyone,” says Rob Brandford, Director David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where Kathy is a regular ambassador and for whom she created a special elephant pendant to support endangered elephants.
“When I started my business I didn’t want it to be just another trend,” says Kathy, who spends most of her time, when she isn’t working, in the saddle of her treasured Lusitano, Sereno. Kathy feels truly blessed to be living a life that is ripe with passion and positive intentions. “I want to create jewelry where every time you put it on, you can feel the essence of the energy behind it.” And if you’ve ever met Kathy Kamei, you know that the essence is a force to be reckoned with.
Learn more about Kathy Kamei and her designs at kathykamei.com or meet Kathy in person at the 2015 Enterprising Women of the Year Awards celebration and conference March 29–31. Visit Enterprising Women for more information or to register.