Steven Izen’s ’13 journey to become the founder and CEO of Lokai began with a simple message, one which propelled him to be named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Retail and Ecommerce.
“Lokahi” in Hawaiian means “unity and to blend opposites.” Adhering to this mantra, Izen’s company aimed to promote balance in people’s lives. Its first product was a bracelet made of black and white beads.
The white beads contain water from Mount Everest, while the black beads are made of mud from the Dead Sea — the highest and lowest points on Earth, respectively. Izen said he was inspired by the word to endow his company’s name with greater meaning.
“When you’re happy and successful, you can be humbled because there’s always a lower point,” Izen said of the beads’ symbolic meaning. “And when you’re sad and down, you have to remember to stay hopeful because there’s always a higher point. It’s a mental reminder to stay balanced.”
Izen said he also aims to lead a philanthropic company. Ten percent of Lokai’s profits are donated to charity and, according to the company’s website, seven million dollars have already been gifted to charities around the world.
“Giving back was always a core belief that my parents ingrained into me,” Izen said.
The founder first conceived of Lokai during his years as an undergraduate at Cornell. On vacation between his freshman and sophomore years, he said he received the news that his grandfather had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Struggling with personal difficulties, Izen decided to create a product that could help people who were also suffering.
“I thought about the highs and lows of life and thought I could turn it into a brand or a product that people could wear every day,” he said.
During his next three years at Cornell, Izen said he worked alone on his company, which launched in June 2013, soon after his graduation.
In 2014 and 2015, just a year after Lokai was founded, the company began to take off, according to Izen. What began as a college project soon turned into a successful business.
“I always believed that Lokai could be extremely successful and become a really large brand,” he said. “I just didn’t expect how fast it would grow.”
Izen said customers often share stories of the impact that his products have made on their lives.
“That’s why I started Lokai,” he said. “What I get really excited about are the people that I get to touch and make a difference in their lives.”
Lokai is not the first company that Izen founded. In high school, Izen started a small woodworking company in high school, where he made custom wood pens and sold them around Boston.
“Being an entrepreneur has always been in my blood,” he said.
However, Izen said his education at Cornell was integral in the development of his company. Izen expressed gratitude for his extracurricular activities, including the track team and the Psi Upsilon fraternity, for making his experience so memorable.
“Being challenged and pushed at Cornell has really helped me build myself and my knowledge of how to start a company and I’m thankful for that.”
Addressing the future of Lokai, Izen said he is optimistic and plans to expand the brand by making more products that align with the message of his company.
“I hope [my customers] will be able to see a new age of products, live more sustainably, and be better for the world,” he said.