Tell us about yourselves, are you both originally from Hawaii?
Anna: I was born and raised in the super remote town of Hana, Maui. I had an amazing childhood of adventures exploring waterfalls, beaches, and the jungle. The encouragement of my small-town community shaped who I am today and continues to give me the support needed to build my business.
Kelley: I have lived on the beautiful island of Maui for many years but spent my childhood growing up in the southeast, mainly Georgia and the mountains of North Carolina, but I didn’t stop there.
Before Hawaii, I spent many years exploring different regions of the United States living an active lifestyle and always holding a level of consciousness about the environment and my community. Looking back I feel I have lived many lives; I am always in the search to learn new skills and challenge myself to grow spiritually, mentally and physically.
When people ask me how I arrived in Hawaii or why I moved to Hawaii, I always tell them Hawaii picked me. After spending several months in Costa Rica, I put a snorkel mask on for the first time and opened myself up to a whole new world. It was the most beautiful experience of my life. From that day forward I knew I wanted to live in a beach community but wasn’t sure where. Several years later I had many signs and dreams about moving to Maui, a place where I knew no one and had never been before. So I listened and purchased a one-way ticket and never looked back; a decision that broke my Mom’s heart but she is my biggest supporter and always encourages me to follow my bliss!! After all, life is too short not too right?
What inspired you to create Manakai Swimwear?
Kelley: This is a longer story but necessary for me to tell because Manakai Swimwear manifested in the most magical way!
Four years ago I was hired as the General Manager for another swimwear company and learned many skill sets in regards to running a small business. I like to call it my training wheels into the world of business. It turns out I excelled in the swimwear/retail realm; opening up new stores, expanding the online sales, doubling the yearly revenues, finding new production teams in foreign countries, and creating a social media presence. I found myself designing swimwear for the first time in my life. It was rewarding for me to take a small company with one flagship store, operating out of their home, and turn it into a company having three store fronts, a successful online store, and an organized warehouse within a year and a half.
There were several missing key factors during my employment. The branding and exploitation of the female body that is used…not just for that company but also across the board, for the most part, did not resonate with me as a woman. There is a lot more to a female or a young girl than her chest or her backside. After being in the fashion realm, I wanted to dive in deep and learn all the ins and outs, quickly learning that fashion was one of the top pollutants on Earth. It was a tough pill to swallow, but I soon learned about amazing companies turning repurposed plastics into beautiful stretch fabrics. This practice was when I first had the vision of creating something special of my very own.
Soon after I had that vision, the company teamed up with an investor, and I am sure you know what happen to me, I was the first to be laid off. The owner of the company walked around the warehouse singing: “Today is the day! Today is the day," over and over again until she sat me down to let me go. There were lots of emotions that day, but I held my head high and trusted that my path in the swimwear industry was just actually beginning. I said to myself, “Today is the day I trust in myself as a woman,” “Today is the day that I trust myself as a leader,” “Today is the day I become an entrepreneur.” “ TODAY IS THE DAY!”
From the moment I walked out of the meeting after being laid off I was inspired to create my brand that represented integrity on all levels. The very next day I wrote out a list of key components that would outline my company; use recycled fabric, set up production in the USA, support family businesses, ethical and sustainable practices. Create branding that inspires women to be self-assured, empowered and has free will to express themselves while honoring their body, and to bring awareness to ocean conservation. I focused all my energy on building a new path for myself and the Universe provided. All my past life experiences and the will to carve my path inspired me to stand up and work for myself. Six months later I owned my swimwear company called Manakai Swimwear. I know first hand that to build something great you need a Tribe. Anna came to me interested in creating a partnership, and we have been a SOLID TRIBE since day one. We are both passionate about the ocean, women empowerment, and of course creating exotic eco-conscious swimwear.
Anna: The past couple of years in my life were spent traveling the world in a mini-quest of self-exploration and adventure. I always found myself returning to Maui but did not want to go back to the company that I had worked at for nine years. While their vision of ocean conservation and creating awareness aligns with mine, they have lost a bit of the Maui family vibe that I find incredibly precious. While working in Washington state for a wonderful family-run business, the opportunity of creating a partnership with Kelley presented itself. Although it was extremely tough to make that phone call to my boss and tell him that I was leaving early and moving back home (I think it took me about a week to make that call), it was the opportunity that I had subconsciously been waiting for for the past several years. To build a company with the mission of ocean conservation, women empowerment, and to delve into the fashion industry while creating something that others emulate; well, it was just perfect.
Tell us about your new ECO collection and how does the collection relates to high fashion, low impact.
Anna: The incredible thing is that the resources are there for all companies to operate in a way that has a low impact on the environment. While Manakai Swimwear’s new Eco Collection is made of repurposed plastics, there is absolutely no compromise in quality. There is no need to create new "virgin" polyester when we can take what is already out there and turn it into beautiful swimwear designs. Set side-by-side with another luxury, and exotic swimwear designs our collection is not only high fashion but also has a positive environmental impact.
Kelley: The swimwear industry is booming, and there are several amazing eco-swimwear brands but not many high-end luxe swimwear brands that are sustainable or ethical. We put great thought into our designs such as strappy, side details and raw antique brass embellishments. Anna and I want to show the world you can create beautiful exotic designs while being sustainable and ethical with NO compromise.
We know about your online store, do you have a flagship store and where is it located? If you don’t, do you plan on doing opening one?
Anna: We currently feature our swimwear on our web shop, www.manakaiswimwear.com, as well as a few carefully selected boutiques around the world. For the first several years of operation, we will continue to build lasting relationships with online boutiques and retailers who are interested in wholesaling a brand that has integrity. As far as opening our brick and mortar, we will see, we do have a section of our business plan dedicated to that possibility. Join our Manakai Tribe mailing list and you will be the first to know.
Briefly explain the creation of your fabrics and colors (dyeing process) of the swimwear?
Anna: Well our fabric is made of re-purposed plastic in a two-fold battle against ocean pollution. Plastics such as carpet fluff and packaging are collected from factories before they make their way into landfills; stopping them from getting into the oceans. Fishing line, cargo nets, and other plastic debris are also collected. These plastics are sorted, broken down, filaments created, and then these filaments are woven into Lycra. When choosing our dyeing and printing companies we ensured they were certified and focused on water conservation and eliminating harmful substances from being put into the environment.
Your swimsuits are beautiful, and they do not compromise sophistication or style. Do you sell only bikinis, or do you have other collection of styles? Also, do you have swimsuits for curvy girls?
Kelley: This year we are introducing a one piece that I believe will be a hit. Our styles do work for curvy women, and we made sure of that because both Anna and I are on the curvy side. Some curvy women are more apt to cover up and hide behind larger styles being ashamed of their body. Living in Hawaii women tend to wear cheekier swimwear, and our designs provide a nice middle ground as far as coverage goes. Part of our branding is to encourage women to feel divine in their skin and to look inward for a genuine essence of beauty, which I believe, comes in the form of grace. Too often women are on the search for beauty on the outside, and we encourage women to go within and work on loving themselves unconditionally.
We do have plans on expanding our styles and introducing more products, but that is all in divine timing.
Are there many ocean-conservative, hi-fashion with low-impact sustainable swimwear entrepreneurs like you? If they are, who are your favorites? Are you planning on expanding this model, for example, eco-friendly beachwear accessories?
Anna: The great thing is that there are a few swimwear brands that are moving toward a sustainable model, and that is the goal. Not to hold the niche, but to encourage everyone to sacrifice a little bit of their bottom line, and do what is right for the environment, as well as the many hands that craft each garment. We will certainly expand our line when the time comes, but as Manakai Swimwear continues to grow Kelley and I ensure that each step in the process is taken with the intention and focus on quality and sustainability. We put a lot of thought and time behind each piece and do not want to be a part of the fast-fashion industry; while trending items are a great way to make money, we have a different model that we adhere to of providing timeless and sophisticated products to our customers.
Kelley: Like mentioned before there are not too many hi-fashion with low impact sustainable swimwear entrepreneurs. There are more athletic eco swimwear lines than high-end luxe swimwear. One high-end sustainable brand that I believe is doing a great job is Vitamin A (https://vitaminaswim.com/shop/) based out of California.
We will create more eco-friendly beachwear accessories, but everyone will have to stay tuned. We already provide several sustainable products including hats made from organic cotton and recycled plastic, reusable stainless steel water bottles to eliminate plastics, and reusable tote bags.
We see that your business model is about ocean conservation, hi-fashion with low-impact, and sustainable living. How do you move this ‘business style’ into your ‘personal style’, i.e. fashion, food, health, wellness, with a mindfulness of sustainability and eco-science? Is this a challenge?
Anna: As far as business and personal lifestyle I find that one does not beget the other, they are intertwined. I grew up in a very mindful household, actually quite a “hippy” lifestyle. The hunter-gatherer and sharing of resources system have been and continues to be very prevalent in my life. Fashion-wise, I've read there is that #30wears, I'm more of a #100+wears kind of person. I spend a lot of time being active outside which lends itself to a general well-being of the entire body. It is certainly a challenge to be 100% sustainable, especially when many organizations around us are not yet set up with sustainability in the forefront of their business plan. Every little thing from recycling to shopping in the bulk food section to choosing to eat at "Ocean Friendly Restaurants" creates a significant impact over time. It is the little things that make a difference, and every once in a while you can do the big thing such as create a business focused on sustainability.
Kelley: My business model is based on my lifestyle, I am authentic in every way, making it easy to stay true to my vision. I have an understanding that I as a consumer, have power. In all realms be it food, fashion, and art, there is more love in a product that comes from local artisans. You can feel it. Everything in my house comes from a person that I have a connection to and I feel that every time I look at that piece. Knowing where my food comes from and who grows it also provides me with great satisfaction.
Your dedication to environmental science is inspirational if a philanthropist gave you $1 billion to do whatever that reflects your ideology of oceanic conservation and eco-sustainability, what would you do?
Anna: Well that would be simply amazing! I have a dream of creating a trash collection program based on Maui focusing on the Hawaiian coastlines as well as delving into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. All of this trash would then be broken down and re-purposed not only into swimwear but other innovative items such as building materials. I would also focus a lot of energy on creating awareness of environmental issues through positive reinforcement. I find that there is certainly shock value in showing tragedies such as birds skeletons filled with plastics and turtles entangled in fishing line, but those can be overwhelming. Sharing inspirational stories manifested through actions that are reachable such as beach cleanups and re-purposing will have a far larger impact. Those are just two of the programs I would love to spearhead; with $1 billion the possibilities are numerous.
Kelley: If I were gifted $1 billion dollars I would team up with other innovative individuals who dedicate their life to protecting the ocean. There are so many inspirational people doing amazing work around the world but have limited resources, and I would be honored to stand behind their visions to create a more sustainable world. The ocean's survival depends on the human survival, and I am certain most people don't have access that knowledge. We are all in this together, and if I had the resources, I would not think twice about sharing the love.
Of course, every girl likes to look and smell pretty; so please list your “go to” organic hair, face and body products.
Anna: I am not beholden to any specific product, but I do purchase Made on Maui products whenever possible, and the shorter the ingredient list the better!
Kelley: Yes, smelling pretty is a must and the only products I can stand behind 100% are made locally right here on Maui. I know the people who create these products, and I know every ingredient. Coconut Information has the best organic coconut oil in the world! Ryan Burden has created a product that leaves my skin feeling lush and smells amazing. I have curly hair and use the oil for deep conditioning once a month. From head to toe, I indulge in his 100% organic never heated, never pressed raw coconut oil.