By Catherine Toth Fox
Photo: Odeelo Dayondon
Running any small business in Hawai‘i isn’t easy.
But add to that the manufacturing costs, transportation expenses, overhead, materials, labor and the price for creativity in the fashion industry, and you can understand why being a designer in the Islands can be challenging.
We asked five local designers who are part of the HONOLULU Fashion Week Marketplace (Nov. 20 to 22 at the Hawai‘i Convention Center) what are the keys to their success in this competitive and creative field.
Dexter Doi, Haʻikū Valley, co-owner of Ecolicious
“Everything has to be shipped to Hawai‘i. To get quantity of blanks to work with, we have to buy in bulk and have them shipping in. As for anything that is cut and sewn, getting good sewers that will take smaller jobs is a challenge. We all do the art designing and, other than a local silk screener, we try to do all the embellishing ourselves. Recently, we have tried digital printing of our original artwork, which has to be done off-shore. These new pieces will be debuted at HONOLULU Fashion Week.”
Brooke Hauguel, Kīhei, Maui, owner of Peace of Paradise
“One of the biggest challenges is not having the ability to buy fabric in person, unless I travel to the Mainland. One of my favorite hobbies is going fabric-shopping and being able to touch and see them in person. I have to order most of my fabric online and sometimes I don’t get exactly what I was expecting.”
Marylea Conrad, Ko Olina, owner of [ki•ele]
“The advice I’d give to aspiring designers is to gain as much experience in the area of fashion you’re most interested in. Starting from no experience is admirable, but experience gets you ahead. Experience makes you more employable.”
Jana Higa, Nu‘uanu, owner of Blue Bird Jewelry Hawai‘i
“The high level of competition in the handmade jewelry industry is definitely one of our biggest challenges. Five to 10 years ago, there were only a handful of local jewelry designers in Hawai‘i. Nowadays, when you attend local events or craft fairs, almost every other booth is selling jewelry. I think the D.I.Y. movement and YouTube tutorial videos have significantly contributed to the recent growth in the number of local jewelry designers … The key, I think, is to not get stuck in that state of mind and to not let comparison be the thing that drives or motivates you. What I have found to be most reassuring is that, in my experience, at most of the events that we participate in, everyone’s collection is a little bit different. There is a market for everyone and there seems to be enough business to go around.”
Amerjit Ghag, Nu‘uanu, owner of CHAI Studio
“The design side is easy. The business side is challenging … HONOLULU Fashion Week is a wonderful opportunity for designers to show their creativity and for the public to realize all the talent that is right here.”
HONOLULU Fashion Week Marketplace, 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21,11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22, at the Hawai‘i Convention Center, free