Bagging Business With Creativity
An ace at making connections with people, Eva Laird-Smith utilized her coconut wireless network to launch her line of handbags.
“I don’t know of any woman who has just one bag,” she says.
She offers several types of bags made of various materials including canvas, clear plastic and mesh.
The first style of bag has a palaka print lining, with a Hawaiian design such as a Hawaiian quilt pattern on the outside.
In fact, it was palaka print that inspired her to start her own business.
She was at a monthly breakfast get-together with her friend Goro Arakawa, who gave Laird-Smith an omiyagi (gift) in a palaka gift bag.
“Suddenly the light bulb went off,” says Laird-Smith. “I thought, ‘Has anyone done handbags made with palaka print?‘Goro is the most avid proponent of palaka. He always talks about the importance of plantation culture.”
Laird-Smith contacted her longtime friend,Arleen Fernandez, who is a bag manufacturer in her native Philippines, with the idea of producing her line of bags. Her friend thought about it, and decided to become the manufacturing partner. So in 2006, she started Laird of Hawaii.
In addition to the palaka-lined bags, her second line of bags features working artists’ designs. The first of the artist limited edition line comes from Manila-based artist Phyllis Zaballero, whose tropical beach scenes are digitally transferred onto the bags, which come with a pack of matching greeting cards.
Another product she offers is the ubiquitous black messenger bag, which is tweaked with a contemporary design on the flap.
“You have to listen to market demands,” she says while showing a third style of bag - the recyclable grocery bag.
Laird-Smith also is offering to create bags with company corporate logos on them.
Once the business bee got in her bonnet, she thought it would be a great idea to also design and distribute barong tagalogs with embroidery of pineapples, palm trees and quilt patterns. The barong tagalogs are a formal wear in the Philippines which she hopes will soon become worn by people of any ethnicity as the Chinese cheung-sam is.
The hardest part about running a small business, Laird-Smith says, is time management.
“It’s a lesson I’ve learned from working in non-profits,” she says. “If you can survive 10 years in non-profits as I have, you get good time-management skills.”
Laird-Smith’s career path in the arts includes serving deputy director of the Philippine Presidential Palace Museum in Manila, and as assistant curator of collections for the Tacoma Art Museum.
Her non-profit management skills have been used as the executive director for Hawaii’s Plantation Village, executive director of the FilCom Center, and as president of Junior Achievement of Hawaii.
The Pearl City resident’s future goals include launching her website in a few months and utilizing natural materials for accessories, as well as returning to a leadership position in the nonprofit organization.
Laird of Hawaii will have a booth at booth at the Taste of Kalihi Festival Sept. 29 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Colburn Street near Dillingham Plaza.
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