Sewing Up Happy Clients
Tell us about your business. I’ve been established for 36 years as The Aloha Shirt Lady. I do aloha shirts and, in addition, I do all different kinds of specialties. I sew for weddings, for entire bridal parties – from a bride’s wedding gown to a groom’s aloha shirt and for everyone else in the party. I sew for hula halau, and I love doing alterations and uniforms.
Some uniforms I’ve done include those for Garden Island Security, Hyatt concierges, Kilohana train conductors and the Hawaii Porter Service workers at airports in Lihue, Maui, Hilo, Kona and on Oahu. I also make aloha shirts for our mayor.
One recent specialty I’ve taken on is making aloha shirts using rice bags. I was visiting a friend’s antique store and saw a rice bag hanging there, and I had the idea to do a shirt based on that. I made one, hung it in my window and sold it the same day. I started advertising to get rice bags. They’re not as available as they once were, so my supply is dwindling. I have some left from the old Yoneji Store where I used to shop 36 years ago, and I am donating one of the Yoneji shirts I made to Kaua’i Museum. Each rice bag shirt is oneof-a-kind and they’re going fast!
When did you begin sewing? When I was 11 years old, I was doing alterations for the people in my neighborhood. I’ve always sewed and always had my little sewing rooms. My first store after I moved here 36 years ago was in Kapa’a, across from First Hawaiian Bank. I found an old house for $75-a-month rent, slapped a coat of paint on it and it was wonderful.
From there I moved shop to Niumalu, got a contract from Duke’s at the Marriott Resort and Spa, started doing trade shows on Oahu and that led to having 17 accounts throughout the state. It was fabulous. I’m in Hanapepe now and I love my shop.
What sets your business apart? Specialty aloha shirts and fabrics I select, quality, price – they’re made here in Hanapepe, right here in this building. I get here first thing in the morning. I’m the only one here.
The town is so sleepy. I drive up every morning with my coffee and newspaper and walk in and say good morning, Hanapepe.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your business? I guess when somebody comes in with a project that I haven’t done before. The last thing I did that was kind of odd was a guy who wanted a shirt with Velcro, but wanted me to make it look as if it was a normal buttoned shirt. He said, “Sometimes I get so hot, I like rip ’em off!” I did it. He was happy as a clam at high tide. That, to me, is a successful customer. And there’s a kid in town who wants to be a professional stilt walker. Friday night is Art Night in Hanapepe, and he walks around on his stilts. I made him an outfit with long red pants and a red vest. It’s so cute – he’s so into this.
What do you find rewarding about your business? Happy repeat customers spreading the word. One of my repeat customers said I’m Hanapepe’s best little secret. I’ve done alterations or sewing for pretty much everyone on this block. I give senior-citizen discounts.
How do you measure success? Paying my bills on time. The power of money is that it brings financial freedom. I come in and set goals – what I’m going to have done by what time. There are days when I knock out four dozen shirts. Am I afraid of success? I say absolutely not. Bring it on!
How do you participate in the community? I do a ton of donations to nonprofits in a variety of ways. I am a server at the Thanksgiving dinner at the Salvation Army and I love doing that.
What’s a fun fact about your shop? I got one of my first sewing machines, a Juki Overlock, from Bunny Gaines, who had a store in Coconut Marketplace – some people may remember her. I got it 36 years ago. I also have a Singer sewing machine made in 1937. A lot of things have been written about me mentioning that machine and people have come in just to see it.
What’s new for you? I’m branching into a new web-site not up yet. It will be thealohashirtlady.com, and I expect it to happen shortly. Also, I have a wall of photos of people who have ordered and purchased from me, and I want to expand it and also have a naming contest for it. I call it the resume wall, for lack of a better term. Anyone can phone me with a suggestion at 335-5797 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.