Mana Wahine: Women Who Inspire Us
As young women who are passionate about our home in Hawai'i, we are constantly inspired by those dedicated, like-minded ladies who are making a difference in the local community. We often hear the term "mana wahine" used to describe empowered, independent, brilliant role models for the next generation to aspire to. Our MANA WĀHINE series focuses on highlighting these fierce females leaving a lasting impact on our beautiful Hawai'i. For our first feature we are honored to present Ashley Takitani Leahey, a proud Maui girl whose efforts to preserve and elevate Wailuku Town is making a profound statement.
Mahalo nui for sharing your story with us, Ashley. we are so excited to feature you and the work you are doing in Maui! Let’s set some groundwork for our followers and give them a bit of insight into your story. Tell us about your background growing up on Maui.
Ashley: I love Maui! Raised here, I can’t imagine growing up anywhere else. From hiking and surfing to soccer at Big Beach, picnics in Iao Valley, I was a pretty happy kid! Raised in a fun neighborhood with a bunch of kids my age, we rollerbladed or rode bike on a daily basis and put on magic shows for all of our neighbors. I graduated from Baldwin High School then attended Loyola Marymount University. During college, I studied in London for a semester and travelled throughout Europe – Germany, Italy, France, the list goes on. I loved every second of it! After college, stayed in California for year after doing a bit more travelling. I spent a few months in Asia (Philippines, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Macau…again, a long list!) then spent some time in India before Maui called me back for good.
You have become an invaluable fixture in Wailuku Town through Maui Thing as well as helping to support and promote Wailuku related events. How did you get involved with Maui Thing and how has it led you to your role within the community today?
Ashley: I got lucky with Maui Thing! I started as an intern with Sae Design during the summer between the 8th grade and freshman year. The job stuck throughout the years, eventually turning into a full-time position as an adult. Maui Thing started through Sae Design – it was Sae’s dream to start a little t-shirt company, so we did it! We launched it during the Summer of 2007, while I was home from college! Photoshoots, brand new designs and a fashion show at our launch party – this was my dream job and I was so excited about it!
How long have you been a part of Maui Thing and what do you love about the local brand and its customers?
Ashley: I’ve been a part of Maui Thing from Day 1! We started it in 2007 selling shirts online and in our office. From there, we opened a store in Wailuku in 2008 and are happy to still be there! Maui Thing holds a special place in my heart – I cherish the memories we’ve created the past ten years, I appreciate the different types of customers that we meet when they walk into our store, I love that we were built by friends, family and our community…I could go on forever…
You are a proud Maui girl, what do you feel makes Wailuku Town in particular so special?
Ashley: Simply put, Wailuku is home. It’s a small, local town with a huge heart. Visitors and residents alike can feel that.
How has Wailuku changed over the years?
Ashley: There have been so many exciting changes over the years! From the start of Wailuku First Friday to new small businesses and restaurants filling the town – its ever changing. As an adult on Maui, I’m thankful for our small town and stoked that it’s becoming an attraction to young, local families. It’s the perfect gathering place in town – where you run into old friends and make new ones.
What have been some of your favorite Wailuku moments or events?
Ashley: This is an easy one! Maui Thing’s 5-year anniversary with the Green! We put so much time, effort and planning into the sponsors, fashion show, marketing a “secret band,” etc. that I can’t even explain the feeling I had looking around and seeing the Green playing on Market Street, my friends on our runway and so many happy faces dancing in our otherwise, sleepy town! The energy around this event was indescribable. We brought the town to life and I couldn’t have been happier. The videos really tell the story…
What are your favorite Wailuku spots and what are your go-to orders?
Ashley: Wailuku Coffee Co. – a cold brew or a vanilla mac nut coffee
808 on Main – Mediterranean Nachos and a Pinot Grigio
Uptown is my favorite for a snack (sushi or musubi) and a Yerba Mate (it’s a hippie energy drink;)
We recently saw you doing yoga with Dr. Oz on his trip to Maui, how cool was that experience?
Ashley: So cool! Great guy, super down to Earth! He is a true example of healthy living - the man has more energy than anyone I’ve ever met! While he was here, he filmed from sunrise to sunset and had events, shows, meetings in between. All this energy is real – fueled by fruits, veggies, natural foods and green tea.
You have an exciting new job venture with Blue Zones that is directly related to Wailuku. What is the Blue Zones Hawaii Project?
Ashley: The Blue Zones Project is a well-being improvement initiative with a goal of making healthy choices easier in your environment. It is inspired by research done globally on “Blue Zones,” or the places in the world with the highest concentrations of centenarians (people who live to be 100 years or older). They found these areas to have nine common traits, what we call the Power 9. This is what the overall project is based on. (for more info on the Power 9: Hawaii.bluezonesproject.com) Brought to Hawai‘i by HMSA, it’s a community-wide effort to make permanent changes in areas that we work, live and play.
When I was introduced to the Blue Zones Project a couple years ago, I immediately knew we needed this on Maui. It was a great opportunity for us! I loved the idea of NOT dieting or buying a gym membership, but instead inspiring permanent change within your community and surroundings while focusing on a holistic approach to health – not just diet and exercise. Little did I know then that I’d eventually be working with the project in Hawai‘i as the Statewide Engagement Lead (fancy name for statewide marketing ;)
Was health a big part of your upbringing growing up?
Ashley: I didn’t know it as a child, but it definitely was! My mom made us salads with every dinner and fruits with every breakfast. I appreciate that my brother and I grew up eating #plantslant because its normal to us as adults. We eat a bunch of fruits and veggies and love it because it’s what we’ve done all our lives. We’ve also always been active – from sports, surfing to yardwork, we’ve grown up being active all the time!
What does it mean to you to live an authentic, healthy life?
Life is all about balance. One of my favorite things about Blue Zones Project is that it is truly a holistic approach to well-being. Usually people hear the word “health” and immediately think physical health. In Blue Zones Project, “heath” includes living a purposeful life, taking time to downshift and unplug, moving naturally like walking or gardening, etc. To me, this is what real health means – living a balanced life.
What are some Maui hot spots that one should not miss?
Ashley: One of my favorite things to do is hike up to the cross, right above Iao Valley. A quick, steep hike close to home, it’s a great workout with an amazing view! It’s a fun hike that my husband, dog and I love doing! And definitely do not miss Haleakala! Some think it’s touristy, but it’s a tourist destination because its jaw-dropping gorgeous and a “must-see.” Personally, I love the sunset up there instead of the sunrise. The sun sets over the island then you see more stars than you knew ever existed. A real way to get in touch with the universe and feel it’s expanse.
Describe your favorite local plate lunch and where we can get each item?
Ashley: I have two favorites – miso butterfish plate lunch from TJ’s and mochiko chicken from Tin Roof (or anything from Tin Roof for that matter!)
What is your favorite shave ice order?
Ashley: Really, as long as it has ice cream on the bottom, I’m happy! Normally its strawberry and liliko‘i flavors that I opt for.
What exciting events are coming up in Maui that you are looking forward to this summer?
Ashley: No specific events come to mind – just looking to spend a lot of time outside!
As a woman who networks you’re all about building relationships and making connections. What advice do you have for individuals who want to get involved in the community?
Ashley: My dad always taught us that we should take care of the community that raised us. I deeply understand and live by this - Maui raised me and I could not be more thankful for that. My community has given me my family, my best friends, my life. Life is busy, crazy and even frantic sometimes – but in the end, you need to spend time with people that mean the most to you, in a place that you are comfortable and love. Wailuku is that place for me.