Businesses blossom through friendship
By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer
'Growing up in Hawai'i is our secret weapon. We were always surrounded by color and beauty, and that has helped us to see and even to think differently," said Gina Hall, on behalf of her hui of close friends, each of whom is launching a career in fashion, locally and on the Mainland.
Though none of them expressed an interest in fashion as a career when they were friends in high school or as canoe paddling partners, they are now making career changes.
And as each young woman opens doors into an insider's industry, she takes her friends along with her, supporting, encouraging and sharing all she can in true Hawaiian hui style.
Lacey J, the latest look in tees
The first to make the career change was Gina Hall.
Hall, who grew up in Kane'ohe, is the owner of Lacey J, a Los Angeles-based T-shirt company that has achieved phenomenal success during its first two years in business. (Less than that its second anniversary is in July.)
The shirts, a favorite of actress Cameron Diaz, are flying out the doors of stores such as Bergdorf Goodman and Bloomingdale's in New York, Fred Segal in Los
Angeles and Selfridge's in London. Locally, they are sold at Body & Soul, Rafael and Shasa Empo-rium.
Lacey J has been featured in Cosmopolitan and US Weekly magazines. Kelly Clarkson wore a Lacey J on her CD cover, and the shirts will appear in Tyra Banks' new television show, "Supermodel."
Hall has no formal fashion background.
On the streets of L.A., "Denim was transitioning into evening wear," she observed, "but there wasn't anything to wear on top."
With a bare-bones knowledge of sewing, Hall stitched up 20 styles, garment-dyed (a method that prevents shrinkage), hand-deconstructed (the hip style that looks like the seams are unfinished, as though it was cut by hand), silk screened the label (to avoid the pokey fabric labels that stick up all the time) and headed to the L.A. market, where retail buyers seek new lines for their stores.
She sold to every retailer she targeted. She had a big hit on her hands.
Hall produces a new group of styles, colors or embellishments every month. Her knits are made by the same manufacturer used by hot L.A. designer James Pearse. She shares a sales representative with Juicy Couture.
She has 60 employees, including two pattern makers from the best design schools. Prices for Lacey Js range from $50 to $140. Her volume? A cool 15,000 to 20,000 T-shirts a month.
Her friend Brooke Berrington said the shirts "are so cool because they're feminine, but there's a certain toughness to them. And from the first time you wear them, they are soft and warm and yummy, like the favorite T-shirt you've worn for years and years."
When Hall wore the jewelry in L.A., retail buyers wanted to purchase the pieces right off her neck, ears and wrists. So Hall insisted that Thayer start her own line.
With help from Hall, Thayer got a prime spot at the L.A. market in January. She received orders from every retailer on her wish list: Fred Segal and Planet Blue in L.A., Sweetie in Seattle and Rafael in Honolulu.
She also caught the attention of Kate Growney, a local girl who is a contributing editor for Lucky magazine in New York. Thayer will be a featured designer in the column "Two to Look For" in Lucky's April issue.
Inspired by the beauty of the Islands, Thayer creates organic, asymmetrical shapes with silver, shells, leather and gemstones.
She enjoys hand-pounding silver, keeping the look a little rough and unfinished.
She calls her line Hinu, which means polished or lustrous. She is just introducing dog tags and charms that speak to the consumer passion for personalized talismans.
The look is bohemian yet contemporary, edgy yet delicate, and feminine. Hinu jewelry and Lacey J T-shirts are a perfect match. Not surprising, as Hall and Thayer are often mistaken for sisters.
In fact, the two said that everyone in L.A. thinks they are sisters, an idea they have done nothing to discourage.
Friend Meleana Blaich described Hinu: "It combines elegance with natural materials. It's dainty and dressy, yet it seems to go with everything I wear for day or evening. She has a great eye for mixing materials."
How far does Thayer plan to go with Hinu?
"I'll take it as far as it takes me, and when it spits me out, I'll walk away."
That's a different philosophy than Hall's, who said she hasn't had a day off in six months.
Hall remembers the early days of Lacey J: "When I was in Jennifer's position and did everything for my line by myself, I would fall asleep with my scissors in my hands."
What kept her going?
"The first time I saw a woman on the street in L.A. wearing a Lacey J shirt, I was hooked. I was so excited I ran up to her and said 'That's my shirt! That's my shirt!' She looked at me like I'd lost my mind and said, 'No, it's my shirt.'
I was so proud to tell her I had designed it."
Coming on strong
When Thayer went to the L.A. market, she wore a little retro halter dress with a '60s vibe designed by her friend and fellow canoe paddler, Meleana Blaich of Kaimuki.
A designer from the hip clothing company Ruth spotted the dress and asked Thayer to put him in touch with Blaich.
Ruth bought the pattern for Blaich's dress, offering Blaich $1,000 worth of merchandise as a trade.
Now Blaich, who recently graduated from Boston College with a degree in human development, has been bitten by the fashion bug. She's taking classes at the Sewing Center while putting together a portfolio to enclose with her applications to the nation's top fashion design schools.
We're predicting she's one to watch.
Meanwhile, Brooke Berrington, who has known Thayer since seventh-grade home room at Punahou, has known Blaich since she was born, and introduced Lacey J to Body & Soul, has quit her day job ("I'm just not cut out for the 9-to-5 routine") and is looking to apply her marketing and public relations skills to the fashion industry.
She plans to start with her friends.
"They have genuine talent," she said. "I am proud to share it with the world."
A quick look at trio of fashion-forward friends
Company Name: Lacey J
Residence: Los Angeles
Grad: Kalaheo High School, class of '94; attended Foothill College and studied liberal arts.
Previous business experience: Flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines, makeup artist with MAC Cosmetics, free-lance makeup artist in Honolulu and New York.
Notable quote: "Fashion was always my passion. I just didn't know I could ever make a living at it."
Grad: Punahou School, class of '91; bachelor's from UH-Manoa. Completing a master's at UH-Manoa in Pacific island studies.
Previous business experience: MAC Cosmetics in Honolulu and New York, key makeup artist for MTV and Arista, doing makeup for Sarah McLachlan, Aretha Franklin and Lauryn Hill.
Notable quote: "I would never have been able to do this jewelry line without my network of friends here in Hawai'i giving me the support and encouragement to go to bigger markets on the Mainland. "
Residence: Saint Louis Heights
Grad: Punahou School, class of '91; BA from UCLA with a double major in Japanese and design
Previous business experience: Founded the keiki program for the Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hawaii, marketing/public relations for Crazy Shirts, Body & Soul and Marc Resorts.
Notable quote: "There's a hunger out there for things that are not cookie-cutter. People want to creatively express themselves through fashion."