We had the good fortune of connecting with Amber Souza and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Amber, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
Growing up, I loved all things art. A huge romantic, I was enraptured by any craft of expression. In 3rd grade, I was reciting sonnets by Pablo Neruda. In middle school, I learned guitar and alto saxaphone on top of years of classical piano. In high school, Senator Jill Tokuda hung one of my stippling projects from art class in her office. I prided myself in my creativity and free spirit and was so set on pursuing an artistic career.
In 2014, my life shifted. A series of events took place that robbed me of my supportive community, my sense of place, and the foundation upon which I had built my life. I fell into a deep depression and no longer enjoyed beauty. In fact, it hurt. I distanced myself from all forms of art and redirected my energy to science and mathematics. Quantum mechanics didn’t require me to feel things so deeply, a derivative didn’t bring up old hurts. All of my actions reflected my pain.
The years passed and I completed my Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry. I felt unsure and disconnected, so I continued in school without a real plan. Over these years, I made new friends, found some hobbies, and pulled myself out of depression, but it wasn’t until 2020 when I picked up a pair of plyers and made my first necklace that I truly felt like I could reclaim my artistic expression.
Kuahiwi Designs is my creativity reclaimed. For years, I thought I would have been a Chemist or a policy analyst. I thought I could fill the void in my chest if I had a career that made enough money. But I took a risk to turn down a job that was lined up after my MPH so that I could pursue Kuahiwi Designs. Less than a year later, I’m here as a full-time artist and business owner. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, and the journey is only really beginning. I owe it all to my support system and my community, because with their love and encouragement, I have found myself again.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Everyday that I wake up, I feel proud and excited to be exactly where I am. It was a privilege to be able to make the decisions I made. I had enough disposable income from my job at the time to be able to invest in some gold wire and freshwater pearls, and it took even more of my income to be able to restock supplies and get to a point where I could quit my job. Not everyone has this opportunity, so I’m very aware of how lucky I am to be able to wake up and create art during the day and have enough time to spend with my family when I’m done. I’m exactly where I want to be, and I’m excited to continue this journey.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
If we weren’t in the middle of covid, I would bring my best friend to the Papahana Kuaola loʻi (taro patch) in the back of Kāneʻohe during the day so they could see how beautiful Hawaiʻi really is. Then during the night, I would take them to Scarlet Night Club and order them an AMF. We would take a break from the club to enjoy the local bands in the Chinatown bars, and sing karaoke at Smith’s Union. We’d end the night by ubering to Playbar Waikīkī and dancing on the light-up floors.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My mom is my best friend. She’s brilliant, hilarious, fierce, and wild. Nothing can tame her, and that fiery personality of hers is what taught me to be strong and driven. She deserves everything that is good, and I work hard on this business because I want to give it to her.
My grandparents are the people who introduced me to art. My grandpa showed me the E-chord on the ukulele, and my grandma taught me how to draw a cat. I grew up so lucky to have the love of not just my mother, but of my grandma and grandpa every day, and this business allows me to have free time to play Hanafuda with my grandma after spending a couple hours learning her famous Kobumaki recipe.
I named my business Kuahiwi Designs to honor my fiancé Isaia, whose middle name contains the word “Kuahiwi”. I’ve known Isaia for years before we started dating, but I never knew what he did as a job. As I got to know him better, I learned the unconventional way he lives. He started a number of successful businesses as a digital marketer, an eCommerce seller, a brand developer, and a strategic planner, and was never afraid to take a risk. I admired him and only wished that I could create something so successful that it would replace my job. With Isaia’s knowledge, encouragement, support, and love, I found the courage to start Kuahiwi Designs.
I have so many other people to thank – my in-laws for comforting me as I cried about my old job and encouraging me to take this risk; the rest of my family for being proud of me no matter what decisions I made; my friends for digging me out of the deep ditch of depression; and my community of customers who have grown to be my friends.