Island Living in NYC: Meet Tracy Dungo Founder of Kalaki Riot

Tracy Dungo never dreamed that her middle school AIM screen name and also her Hawaiian name, Kalaki [kah-lah-kee], would one day come to life as an island inspired jewelry brand using reclaimed metals and crafting each piece by hand. Dungo, despite her exotic looks, hails from local Short Hills and when she’s not traveling the world snapping up FOMO worthy photos she can be found at her new pop-up shop on trendy Elizabeth Street in Nolita called Nude House. The store offers locally made products such as tea from Big T NYC, custom fragrances from Nomaterra, natural lipsticks in vibrant colors by Finding Ferdinand along with curated products that are all “nude” or stripped of the superfluous, ornamental or artificial.

1. You are the founder and creator of Kalaki Riot and Kalaki Creative, what spurred you to branch beyond jewelry design to helping others with their creative needs?

Good branding is king. It doesn’t matter what your product or service is, branding your message effectively is what builds communities and loyal consumers. Soon after starting Kalaki Riot, I started getting inquiries about my web design, photography, etc. I think already having my own brand made me know what kinds of things were important to other budding entrepreneurs and it sort of went from there.

2. Congratulations on opening up your pop-up shop Nude House! Can you tell me a bit about the journey of taking your vision from an idea to a tangible store? How did you find the other women to collaborate with you?

My business partners and I met six months ago through one of the girls who knew all of us either through mutual friends or past pop-up shops.  All of our companies are primarily e-commerce shops so we had zero experience building a brick & mortar presence (let alone launching a whole store in less than five months). Everything about this space seemed foreign to us in the beginning. But having similar mindsets and work ethic combined with our individual skill sets enabled us to create a whole new business model from scratch that worked for our vision. After a lot of late nights, 4-hour long meetings, collaborations, and brainstorm sessions, it’s still surreal to see our vision come to life on Elizabeth Street.

3. Before the Kalaki brands you were working at People Magazine, how were you able to balance building a brand and working such a demanding job?

Your day is what you make of it. For me, People Magazine was my job but Kalaki Riot was how I remained fulfilled. I would get up early, stay up late, and work on weekends to build my brand. Just because the work didn’t fall between the hours of 9am and 5pm doesn’t mean it couldn’t be done. You find and make time for the things that make you happy.

4. Do you have any advice to entrepreneurs who are thinking of quitting their corporate job to pursue their side hustle?

Starting a business is always risky. Personally, I can be risk averse so staying at my full-time job while I was figuring out my brand in the beginning (what worked, what didn’t work) was the only way I would do it. But it’s also a good way to measure if you love your idea enough — if you’re able to stretch yourself and make some sacrifices to get it off the ground in the beginning while balancing a full-time job, then you might have something.

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