7 years after Lola Miller began designing island-inspired dresses in Hilo for her local hula group at church, the humble line known as Simply Sisters has transformed into a prominent fixture in the Hawai’i fashion scene. Drawing inspiration from friends and family as well as the endless inspiration of her tropical surroundings, designer Lola Miller shares her insights on how Simply Sisters has grown from an annual fashion booth at Merrie Monarch to a beloved fashion brand with a must-stop brick and mortar in Hilo town.
First of all, mahalo nui for sharing your story with us, we are so excited to feature you on Pikake Pursuit! We are so thrilled to feature you as Simply Sisters was one of our favorite finds of Merrie Monarch 2014-we will never forget the first time we met you there! We immediately connected with you and couldnʻt wait to support your new business, so it is heartwarming for us to see how much you have grown! For those who may be new to Simply Sisters, how would you describe the design aesthetic of Simply Sisters from the prints to the clothing styles?
We have a modern take on aloha wear. We would like to think we are trendy, fashionable aloha wear and contemporary in style and influence.
How has Simply Sisters evolved over the years?
We have evolved by providing more styles and sizes to accommodate all ages from keiki to adults, both men and women—we have sizes up to 3X today! We travel to do pop-up events in Honolulu, Kauai, and Maui quite often and our collections can also be found at Parker Ranch Waimea and Grand Naniloa Hotel in Hilo. One of the most exciting updates is the recent opening of our boutique in Hilo, Hawai'i, Simply Sisters Boutique (961 Kilauea Ave.), which includes fun and affordable accessories as well as our clothing collection.
What were some of the greatest challenges you overcame in your first years of business?
Our biggest challenge has been trying to maintain the balance between work and play. Building a business is very challenging. We are constantly trying to find a way to separate our business from our personal time. Another biggest challenge is finding manufacturers to work with. There are many companies that offer great assistance, but if you find the right one that you have great rapport with, that helps tremendously.
What have been some of your most thrilling milestones you have achieved?
One of our most thrilling milestones has been finally opening our boutique in Hilo. We have been doing craft fairs and pop-up events since 2011, so it was such an amazing experience to open our shop during the Merrie Monarch Festival this year. There is nothing like having the freedom to design your own shop, to meet new customers each week that come from all over the country and to just have the satisfaction of using the shop to promote other brands. Our mission is to also use the business to help our community raise funds for charitable functions whenever possible.
As a designer and business owner you are incredibly supportive of others in the industry. How would you describe the values of the local fashion community in Hawaiʻi?
The local fashion community is extremely supportive of each other, as we all know firsthand how difficult it is to be in the fashion business. We are all different in regards to our aesthetics and collections, however, we are all ‘ohana in this business of fashion and that is just part of showing the aloha spirit. We have a lot of respect for other designers, brands and are always there to support if needed. Simply Sisters welcomes anyone interested in having a pop-up shop at our boutique, we love to show our support to other local businesses!
What inspires you to create your designs?
My inspiration comes from the beauty of the Big Island—I am inspired by the beautiful tropicals all around me. I try to stay creative by always looking for new and refreshing things to bring to customers whether it is a haku bar at the boutique or new bags I discovered at a trade show. We stay inspired by getting customers excited with new and fun ideas.
Simply Sisters has become a fixture in the Merrie Monarch craft fairs in Hilo. What do you look forward to most about that festive time of year in Hilo?
Merrie Monarch is the biggest hula festival in the world, and it’s grown so much since we started doing craft fairs in 2011. Today we get excited about the new designers coming in to showcase their collections. We love the fashion shows, concerts and live music, not to mention the beautiful hula that is showcased at the stadium. There is such a wonderful, beautiful energy in Hilo during that week and we are so blessed to be a part of it.
Congratulations on the recent opening of your brick and mortar store in Hilo! What has it been like owning a store and having a home to share your designs?
It has been so much work but so amazing! We love our little vintage looking shop and are still pinching ourselves that we actually have a shop. I enjoy bringing fresh flowers on Saturdays and bringing in new apparel and accessories from local vendors as often as I can. The shop is also used for charitable projects within our community. It is a place to give local vendors a place to host pop-up shops and to support other businesses.
How do you envision Simply Sisters evolving and what are some of your goals for 2019?
Simply Sisters is constantly evolving because we are always learning. For 2019, we are excited to showcase new designs and styles as well as bring fun new accessories to the shop. I’m interested in opening a bigger shop in the future! I would love to have a bigger shop where we can enjoy fellowship in workshops and community projects. I am always looking for ways this business can bless others. We are a family of aloha!
What are 3 things you have learned as a business owner?
I have learned that having a positive social media platform is the most powerful way of connecting with people. I have learned that you have to really love what you do to make anything work. As long as you’ve got passion, faith and are willing to work hard, you can do anything you want in this life. I have also learned that the secret to growth is helping others grow. It is not what you have accomplished but what you can do to bless others.
What are your top 3 Pikake Picks, ie local businesses, restaurants or activities you highly recommend in Hilo?
Oh dang…only 3?! Everything in Hilo is amazing! My top 3 favorite local businesses would be Hana Hou Hilo, Kapohokine Adventures Shop and Aloha Grown Shop. I love them because they support local vendors in Hilo. For my favorite Hilo restaurants I love Hula Hula’s at the Grand Naniloa Hotel. You can’t beat the atmosphere right there on the bay and the food is excellent.
My second would be Ruebens Mexican Restaurant for our favorite comfort food and margaritas. Number 3 would be Chapter 27, which has theeeeee best appetizers, and 4 for the best breakfast place is Paul’s Café… can’t beat the breakfast waffles and jazz music! Lets go when you come! For activities, I enjoy riding bikes and kayaking on Banyan Drive provided by Kapohokine Adventures. I also enjoy making lei with Hakus by Bunny who does workshops in Hilo or workshops like macramé making, sip and paints etc at Circle of Life Studio.
What is you favorite post-hula meal and where can we find it?
Post hula meal is Reubens Mexican or Noris. You will always see the ladies there. Haha!
What is your go-to shave ice order?
In Hilo, it’s “ice shave” at Wilson’s By The Bay. It’s the cutest vintage ice shave shop that has been in Hilo forever!
Lastly, where can we follow Simply Sisters and purchase some of your beautiful designs?
You can find us at Simply Sisters Boutique (Saturdays 10-2 or by appt.), Parker Ranch Store, Kapohokine Adventures and the Grand Naniloa Hotel.