We are super excited about our latest collaboration with another local business founded by badass women. I have been a fan of Aloha Collection bags for the last few years and was super stoked when they agreed to partner with us. I had the chance to catch up with the two founders—Rachael Soares + Heather Aiu to share stories of what it's like to launch your own brand.
I love the fact that you guys are two women running your own business. My experience is that business is a rocky road with ups and downs - what was the biggest "oh shit" moment you guys had running the business?
HA: I think the biggest “oh shit” moment we’ve had was when we realized we started a real business with real customers and real deadlines. We started this as a fun side project and it quickly turned into our full-time jobs!
RS: That moment was when we were at our first trade show. We had some samples. We didn’t really know what we were doing. We talked to people walking by our booth. We were having fun with the new experience. And then I watched Heather close a deal with our soon to be Japanese distributor for our first order of… 5000 bags. I just watched. We barely had a website, barely had samples, barely knew anything. Next thing I knew, I was on a plane to China with Heather to make sure we had a real factory.
What were you guys doing before ALOHA? Why did you start the business? Do you have a background in business or are you winging it (like me)?
HA: I was a private mortgage banker for 10 years. One day rates went up and I realized how volatile my industry was so I decided to get a back-up plan. I called my old roomie Rachael (who always had a ton of ideas) to see what her 10 top ideas were. She pitched me her “bikini bag” idea and we quickly realized it could be so much more…so we ran with it :)
RS: I was working as a private flight attendant. Before that, I was a flight attendant for United Airlines. I was always up to something from bringing back bikinis and Havaianas from Brazil, sarongs from Bali, to making my own wetsuits. I think traveling so much opened my eyes to what you need when you are on the road, and to what you can find in other countries that aren’t available at home. I had a million business ideas. I just needed a “business” partner to keep me focused on one idea.
You guys have super consistent branding and that is really hard to come by. I see everyone changing their look and feel every 72 hours but you guys have a good handle on your brand. What is your secret for staying on track while everyone else goes in different directions?
RS: That’s funny you say that. Putting together a brand book is on my to-do list. We basically follow our tag lines...
- TRAVEL IS OUR INSPIRATION, THE BEACH IS OUR HOME
- TRAVEL LIGHT WITH US
- Welcome to the OHANA
We don’t take ourselves too seriously, we try to keep things light, we are inclusive not exclusive. We are always on the go / active, so we try to capture movement (in photos) whenever we can. We are influenced by Hawaii, hence bright colors. And by travel.
Where do you guys look for inspiration? Blogs, books, podcasts, movies? What motivates you? Any recommendations for our readers?
HA: My original inspo was Elon Musk. I watched the Risk Takers episode about him and called Rachael to start a business with me the very next day. I know we are not building electric cars or solar farms but I do believe that everyone needs an ALOHA bag! Now days, I am constantly inspired by our travels and by the community we live in. We are surrounded by entrepreneurs (like you) that are amazing examples of what is possible. Travel is our inspiration, the beach is our home :)
RS: TRAVEL. There is so much beauty in this world. And I’ve met so many people along the way. Everyone has a story, and I’ve learned anything is possible. As far as what motivates me, I love brainstorming ideas and putting them in action. I just asked Heather (as she is multitasking), and she said efficiency. Haha.
For me ALOHA = travel. If you were given an unlimited travel budget where would you be going for a week, 2 weeks, a month?
RS: Unlimited travel budget? The moon.
I don’t think we think of budget. If we want to go somewhere, we figure out a way to make it happen, and go. When I was 24, that meant getting a job with United Airlines.
We just got back from Cabo which we were there for a week, and I leave for Oahu on Sunday for a week. Those are two of my favorite places. We are going to Italy, Greece, Spain and France for the month of June. We were in China and Australia last month.
I think I’m extremely fortunate because I flew on United for free for years, and literally would show up at the airport and choose a destination off of the departures board and go. Now, I am able to maintain that lifestyle because we started ALOHA Collection with the intention to have the freedom to travel and work from anywhere.
Everyone keeps telling me that I need to grow fast..I need to be in stores...Amazon this..Amazon that and I find it hard to ignore the noise and keep doing what I know works for me and my followers. It is really easy to get wrapped up in that Fast Company 2.0 stuff. How about you guys - where do you see the business going in the next year to 5 years? Any plans to change things or just keep on doing what you are doing?
HA: We are trying to stay “grassroots” as long as we can. I think for us growing quickly is inevitable (because everyone needs an ALOHA bag) but I can definitely say we are taking things one day at a time and enjoying the ride.
RS: Whatever everyone else is doing, it might be smart to do the opposite. You don’t need to do anything. (I’m not a “business” person, so don’t take anything I say too seriously). We are taking things day by day, and happy that people like and use our product. It is a dream come true!
Let’s say you were recommending some ALOHA stuff for me to get 1) my best friend 2) my mom and 3) my boss for their birthday. Other than the new Betty Collab which is (obviously) the top of the list (hee hee) what ALOHA products would you recommend for our readers. Hint to anyone reading this: if you need a gift for any woman, ALOHA bags fit every budget and every situation. At least that is my take. Seriously. What do you guys recommend?
RS: Best friend- small + mid Coco Palm in her favorite color (classic ALOHA); Mom- Coco Palm or pineapple RVS tote and matching pouch (moms love totes); Boss- small Mermaid or sand Coco Palm pouch (more sophisticated print.
HA: I can’t stress it enough…everyone needs an ALOHA bag. Actually, probably more than one :)
Tell me about the annoying day to day. What does your day running ALOHA look like? It is Ok if it is not all glamour and photoshoots. I am right there with you in my bathrobe working on accounting at 5AM. I get it.
HA: It honestly depends on the day! Sometimes I AM in my bathrobe working on accounting at 5am but I get to look at the glassy morning ocean while drinking coffee. If we are traveling I might be reconciling expenses in a café in Italy or on a conference call in a taxi in China. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of establishing this “work from anywhere” lifestyle and at the end of the day this is my dream job!
RS: Heather and I make fun of each other all the time about our day to day. She asks me, “ So what did you do all day? Push some flowers around?” I think she walks in every time I am cutting palm fronds for a flat lay, or working on graphics where we are moving flowers around on the screen. So, I basically move flowers and stripes around all day, and pick colors. And plan photoshoots, what’s coming out next, and communicate with our factory for samples.
Heather and I both have our hands in production which can be a full time job in itself, trying to figure out how many bags to order, which bags we think will sell better, tracking when our shipments are coming in, and where they are, or what needs to be done in order to receive our shipment. In the end, it’s all fun.
I am super stoked that you partnered with Betty Designs. I am not looking for you to blow sunshine up my backside but you guys can partner with anyone pretty much. Why did you pick Betty?
HA: You are on one of the local entrepreneurs we mentioned earlier that inspires us. We love what you’ve created and we’re SO excited that we get to partner with YOU!
RS: I remember when we first started I saw all of your packages at the post office to be shipped with your logo on them, and I thought “Betty” figured it out. That’s before I met you and knew your name! I actually can’t believe that we are working together now and that our collaboration bags will be shipped out in those mailers I saw years ago. As Heather said, you were one of the local entrepreneurs that inspired us!
We get crazy customer service things happen all the time. For example, we get bikinis returned that are wet and smell like chlorine but the customer says they never wore them. We get bibs suffering from road rash but people claim manufacturer defects like we don’t know they fell on their bike. You sell, splash proof pouches. You must get some crazy customer service questions? What was your most insane customer service issue/request/hassle/headache you encountered?
HA: I think we’ve been lucky in this area. On the rare occasion that we do have a manufacturer defect we replace the item or issue a refund.
RS: One of my first jobs was at Nordstrom which taught me to appreciate and value all of our customers. We rarely get returns, so no crazy stories yet. Maybe we will stay out of the apparel business ;)