19 May, 2013

Who has been your Mount Everest person?

Meet Patty. 
She is my Mount Everest-equivalent person. She influenced and challenged me. She trusted my instincts and my choices. She encouraged me, and ultimately instilled in me- a confidence that might never have manifested itself otherwise. If I had never met her, "I" as you know me would not exist. Because of her, my quirky, fashionable self exists today. Twenty five-ish years ago we met.  She was, highly educated and self taught in almost every facet of business... polished and cultured.  I was not.  But despite all our differences, we hit it off and she hired me to work in her amazing, world famous store!
I was always the horse-crazy daughter of surfer parents, who had moved to the island a decade earlier to surf and ride horses for a living. Years before making my living on horseback and in the hotel entertainment industry,  I sold surf wax, surfboards, wet suits, flip flops,  bikinis and  beaded peasant dresses to other surf hippies, from our family owned, coconut-scented,  rainbow-spectrum boutique. Later other surf shops followed...  My Dad was a globally celebrated surf superstar; meaning any and all local shops were willing to put me to work. 

I had been raised in the pro-surf/skate retail world, but that was a far cry from the unique upscale fashions and merchandise in Patty's high roller-packed store- which famously catered to Kauai's celebrity-clientele.  Yes, Harrison Ford to Julia Roberts, and dozens of equally famous movie stars visited the store for private shopping experiences.  Many a  rock star, international model, pro-athlete and VIP often dropped into the store (still do!).  Patty worked tirelessly to create an atmosphere like no other.  She has always been the hardest working woman I've ever met.  With a work ethic that matched or exceeded my own, her example has influenced me to my core.  

Fast forward... A couple years later, after a devastating hurricane hit the island.  
The financial going got really, really, really tough.  The lush scenic beauty of the garden island was blown to mostly compost.  The storm damaged everything.  Hotels and homes were either leveled or nearly so, and construction was the only viable business that the island would see for the next year or two. Upscale retail became irrelevant.  Cute home decor, basics, and affordable, extremely wearable fashions were what we needed. Realizing that tourists dollars were going to be scarce for many months, possibly years; reinventing the retail concept was a necessity.  Patty and I  put our heads together and created a plan to source sustainable merchandise and bridge the gap between upscale and affordable.  Finances were going to be very limited, but the objective was to protect the highly cultivated image and the future image of her historical boutique marketplace and the island institution that was/is Kong Lung Trading Co. established in 1892... No pressure there, huh?!  We needed money, we had little to invest in the concept, and it needed to be successful....

Thank God for blessing our collaboration! Thanks to Patty's incredible business acumen and my street-smarts, our combined styles, talents and resources... we found a way to maximize our life experiences into a cohesive and locally-relevant fashion concept.  We were able to generate a sustainable income by combining vintage upscale and very wearable pre-owned fashions. We found success even when others were condemning our strategy, deeming it beneath the reputation of Kong Lung's historically upscale aesthetic.  Saving the store from financial ruin was more important than snobbery. Patty did what needed to be done, even when her reputation was being dragged through the storm debris. Although we were from opposite worlds, we had connected like sisters trying to save the family farm, and to this day both of us remain grateful for one another. What began as a job became a sweat equity partnership, and that partnership resulted in - Best Friends Forever! 

So when I'm at market purchasing fashions for Hop Sing, I draw inspiration from my past experiences... the surfer girl at heart, and the cultured business-savvy woman (lovingly known as Auntie Patty in our family), who helped cultivate my taste for the finer things in life.  Although I may have dirtied her up a bit... I'll never forget how much fun we had digging through the darkest basements in downtown Honolulu, to the finest walk-in closets on the island- seeking vintage treasures. Both of us thoroughly hooked on the thrill of the find.  And yes, she loved it! Our lives forever bonded by pulling together during difficult times, and being true friends no matter what life had thrown our way.
I love the yin and the yang of our story, and the yin and yang of our styles - the practical with the extravagant... After all, we are influenced by what we surround ourselves with... and I have been fortunate to be surrounded by Patty's wisdom, strength and beauty.

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