Creating Lei For Your Luggage

Linda Dela Cruz
Wednesday - December 05, 2007
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Barbara Wallace with her Island Ties
Barbara Wallace with her Island Ties

When Barbara Wallace first showed her island-style luggage straps to Steve Holmberg, executive vice president of the distribution company Islander Group, he said it was the first new souvenir-type item at that price point he has seen on the market in years.

“This is something new, challenging and exciting,” says Wallace, a former Emmy Award-winning television broadcast journalist who has 23 years of media experience on the Mainland and in Hawaii with a stint at KITV, three years at KHON and 10 years at KHNL.

Wallace describes her invention as a lei for your luggage, which she came up with because she wanted a luggage strap that secures her suitcase, but also helps her spot her baggage as it comes out of the chute and rotates on the carousel. She wanted something that identified her luggage as Hawaii. When she couldn’t find anything, she decided to create her own and started her business, Island Ties.

In the design phase, she asked a public relations friend to recommend a graphics designer. With three recommendations in hand, she called the first one, Faith Graphics. Wallace says she decided to work with the company’s owner because, when she asked why she named her company Faith Graphics, owner Kesli Tengan said, “Because I believe in God.” The two hit it off, and with two years of design and research under her belt, Wallace produced a strap with a lei design where the luggage tag is sewn in and held together by a Velcro fastener.

The designs include a black strap with red anthuriums and green ferns, one with ilima, and another with tuberose with ti leaf. Her newest design features pikake with maile. Wallace can also make custom straps in addition to her Hawaii line.

Being an entrepreneur allows her to spend more time with her family. When she’s not busy traveling back to Hawaii each month from California, the Texas Tech University graduate enjoys spending time with her husband, Michael Kosmin, a sales and marketing executive for a real estate development company, her 13-year-old daughter Paxton Hughes, and her step-daughters, Alexis Kosmin, a freshman at UH, and Rachel Kosmin, a senior at Washington State University.

Wallace says some potential customers have spotted the straps on other people’s luggage.

“I got an e-mail from a guy on the Mainland, who was at the airport,” Wallace recalls. “He was leaving Maui and saw someone with it. He went to the website, and he contacted me. He wants to buy 10 of them. I’m getting e-mails and calls from all over from people who want to buy 10 or 12 of them at a time for presents.”

The challenge is to have the money to meet the demand of making the product, Wallace admits.

“I always want to keep things fresh, so I’m adding new designs and colors with each shipment,” she says. “This way you won’t have the same one as everyone else, because that would defeat the whole purpose. There always will be variety.”

The luggage straps are currently available at Longs, Wal-Mart, Kmart, Don Quijote, Navy Exchange, Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) and Norwegian Cruise Lines.

“It is thanks to the aloha spirit that I’m able to do this business,” she says.

Wallace plans to launch her website in the spring.


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