Rose Wong ties her hair gently in a messy bun at the top of her head, then gets to work. Sorting through a pile of charms she selects a holographic grey Tahitian pearl and a plastic pineapple charm the color of sand. Focused, she crosses her legs properly beneath her seat as she skillfully wields a power drill to create holes in each of the charms. After feeding the charms onto a piece of wire and welding them together, a beach-inspired bangle is born.
At 20-years-old, Rose Wong is the founder of two jewelry companies, Kolohe Ocean Gems and Rose Gold Gems. She’s also a full-time student at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and the president of the Hawai‘i Student Entrepreneurs Club. Recently Wong helped found Haumana Soul, a student collective shop located at ‘Ohana Hale Marketplace. She and five other girl bosses joined forces to create a store that sells various handmade products, including adorable custom-made baby clothes, Earth-friendly organic clothing, sweet smelling handmade soaps and gorgeous dainty jewelry pieces. Wong’s first business, Kolohe Ocean Gems, features jewelry pieces inspired by the beach, while Rose Gold Gems offers luxurious high-end fashion jewelry.
Despite her young age, Wong has put years of effort into growing her businesses. Her path hasn’t always been a smooth one.
“My parents divorced when I was in fifth grade,” said Wong. Her father remarried, moving Wong and her six siblings into a three-bedroom living space with their new stepmother and five new step-siblings. While Wong was still adjusting to her growing family – she was now one of 12 children – her mother was diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenia. She can occasionally be persuaded to stay with Wong and her brothers, but she otherwise insists on living on the streets.
“It’s harder than watching a child,” said Wong, on caring for her mother. “She knows [we are her children] but sometimes she doesn’t want to talk to us.”
In the eighth grade, Wong moved in with her friend Kiana for two years. By 14, Wong had entered the workforce, starting off in the fast food industry. A variety of jobs followed, and Wong realized she did not find job satisfaction working for someone else. “I wasn’t getting paid much. I wanted to work for myself, and work on my own time,” she said.
Wong’s entreprenurial spirit blossomed while she was working as a jewelry sales associate at a Kahala Mall boutique and noticed delicate jewelry pieces displayed in various showcases were being sold for a whopping $60 each. At 16-years-old, Wong suddenly took it upon herself to create her very own jewelry pieces and make more money than her minimum wage job had offered. She recalls walking into Ben Franklin Crafts with exactly $50 to her name and coming out with the tools and supplies that would lead to a successful future.
“I think the first thing I ever sold was a necklace,” said Wong. Her first few customers were peers from her high school, Kaiser High School.
Raina Wong isn’t surprised by her sister’s success. “[Rose] knows what she wants and she’s gonna make sure she gets it,” she said.
Wong wants more for her siblings, too, and is determined to inspire them to go to college and find success in life. Wong is the first child of them all to attend college, others decided to go straight into the workforce or join the military.
In her free time, Wong helps other students create businesses and become successful individuals.
“Rose does a lot of things for Hawai‘i Student Entrepreneurs. It’s all voluntary but she’ll work her hardest towards any task because she enjoys her business club,” said Maile Cordrey, employee of Kolohe Ocean Gems and member of Haumana Soul.
Looking into the future, Wong plans to create an additional business that focuses on retail analysis solutions. With her interest in business and learning the best ways to create success within a business itself, she wants to help business owners grow in this fast-paced digital world.
“I want to make a name for myself,” she said.