The Inspiring Backstory of Angela Li, CEO of Azura Jewelry
I constantly ask myself: “What would I do if I were not afraid? If I know I couldn’t fail?”
I had the pleasure to interview Angela Li, the founder of Azura Jewelry. Angela grew up in China and moved to the US in 2011 to pursue her MBA at Georgetown University. After business school, she moved to New York and started her career in Finance. After 5 years of working on Wall Street in private equity and wealth management, she took a leap of faith and has established a new jewelry brand in New York City. Azura Jewelry is a purpose-driven company that offers sophisticated and unique design to make women look and feel their best. Inspired by a diverse set of personal stories, the designs of Azura’s pieces also encourage women to step out of their mundane and create positive change in their lives.
Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I grew up in China with a family that faced political persecution at the hands of the Chinese Communist government. I experienced firsthand the terror of the notorious Cultural Revolution. My grandfather faced imprisonment as one of the top nationalist officers, and my grandmother, the daughter of the Chinese ambassador to Japan, was left emotionally paralyzed and humiliated after she was forced to shave her long hair in public. My parents were tortured and eventually exiled. As a child, I was taught to keep my head down, be still, and fit in. To do so was to save my life.
In college, I focused on going to work for a prestigious company someday so that I could provide for my family. Given how meek and insecure I was, I struggled to find my footing in a world seemingly full of confident and accomplished people.
As students, we were required to interview for jobs in our junior year. The night before my first interview, I received a gift from my mother: a pair of earrings with six tiny, black spinel stones enclosed around a white topaz gemstone. The earrings reminded me of tiny flowers and made me feel special. They also ignited a spark in me for a love of jewelry, especially those with a story, and although I did not know it at the time, this was the beginning of Azura Jewelry.
Today, Azura Jewelry offers women a chance to begin a new story, and just like my story of those tiny little flower earrings, we hope to inspire every woman to bloom.
Yitzi: Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on?
The most interesting project I am currently working on called “Begin Your Story with Azura”, where I connect with strong women around the world to share their stories and collaborate with them to create one-of-a-kind jewelry designs that symbolize their journey. Some stories are painful to the heart but can turn into joy and purpose if we adjust the lens a bit. By telling their story behind each creation, we can pass on the message of empowerment to connect and inspire more women.
Yitzi: Which person or which company do you most admire and why?
I was blessed to meet the founder of Pencils of Promise, Adam Braun, to hear him talk about how he started his company. While he was traveling in India, he met a young boy begging on the street. When he asked him what he would want if he could have anything in the world, the boy’s answer was simply, “a pencil”. This powerful story made me realize that a small contribution we make to this world can mean so much to someone else. Just as Denzel Washington said: “At the end of the day, it’s not about what you have or even what you’ve accomplished. It’s about what you’ve done with those accomplishments. It’s about who you’ve lifted up, who you’ve made better. It about what you’ve given back.”
Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
When I first launched Azura Jewelry, I didn’t want it to be just another jewelry brand. I wanted it to be a purpose-driven business with a good cause. Every aspect of Azura Jewelry revolves around our core value to help women look and feel their best, to embrace their stories, milestones, and wisdoms. Our designs are inspired by life wisdom from personal stories. We keep our prices affordable so that we can reach and inspire more women. We utilize ethically-sourced sterling silver and natural precious stones that contains healing energy. We back our products with a twenty-year quality guarantee and excel in details to create long-lasting pieces that accompany our customers through their journeys. We donate 5% of our profits to charity partners who help marginalized and disadvantaged women to gain education and confidence, and eventually to create sustainable changes for themselves.
Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.
1. Embrace Change
Progress is impossible without change. Especially in this ever-evolving world, we need to constantly test to see what works and what doesn’t. At the beginning of launching Azura Jewelry, I had to make adjustments about 100 times before meeting our goal. Be flexible and adaptable. Try, experiment, fail, reflect, change, and try again.
2. Be fearless
I constantly ask myself: “What would I do if I were not afraid? If I know I couldn’t fail?” It helps me evaluate my intention behind each action — is it out of fear? Or does it come from passion and love? The answers always give me the clarity and have me focus on the bigger picture.
3. Stay true to yourself
Authenticity is to stand up for what you truly believe in. When we follow our dreams, our joys, and our passions, there is a “settling” of the Soul. The inner voice always has our best interest in mind. Have the self-respect and confidence to live life on your terms. If something doesn’t feel right, change it.
4. Don’t compare yourself to others
Jewelry is a saturated market and fashion business is cutthroat. It is easy to fall in the trap by continuously checking in to see what others in this space are doing, and mimic what you think is “working”. However, keeping your eyes on other people’s journeys only pulls you from your authentic zone. You and your business are special, and not a replica of anyone else. It is important to zone out all the external noise and instead zone in to your internal voice to produce.
5. Step out of your comfort zone
Most people stay close to the ground, where it’s safe. If they fall, it won’t hurt that badly. But when you choose to fly high, the fall may hurt. However, growth, strength, and wisdom always lie on the other side of the comfort zone. Don’t let the fear of falling keep you from flying. Only when you leap off the ledge of familiarity do you start to find out who you truly are and what makes you most come alive.
Yitzi: I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview and be in touch with some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, or I might be able to introduce you.
Definitely Oprah Winfrey!! Her strength of sharing her early struggles of self-worth, sexual abuse, and teenage abortion is one of the reasons that I decided to tell the story about Azura Jewelry, and also to start the project, “Begin Your Story with Azura Jewelry”. By sharing our struggles, our failures, and our losses, we are able to bypass the superficial differences (e.g. skin color, education, religion, etc.) on the surface and to bond on a deeper level of humanity that we all share — we all want to love and be loved, we all aspire to live a more fulfilled life. The project, in some way, is a legacy of Oprah Winfrey — we transform laughter and tears into a tangible and beautiful piece of jewelry, carrying what we have learned, and empowering our customers to begin a new story.