The Original Cinnamon girl

They started by selling her home-sewn fashions at craft fairs, and today Jonelle and Reid Fujita operate eight Cinnamon Girl stores throughout Hawaii. Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what Cinnamon Girls are made of.

Alana Folen
Friday - January 11, 2008
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Jonelle and Reid Fujita met while students at UH
Jonelle and Reid Fujita met while students at UH

Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what Cinnamon Girls are made of. However, that’s merely scratching the surface when it comes to describing Jonelle Fujita,owner and founder of Cinnamon Girl - a local boutique for women and girls. Beyond Jonelle’s pretty face and warm personality is a strong desire and drive to succeed. A woman of intelligence and a love and passion for what she does,Jonelle has turned what was once a seemingly unattainable dream into reality.

When Reid Fujita, then 22, first met Jonelle, 21, at the Wave nightclub in 1987, it was initially her “good looks"that drew him to her.

“When I first met Jonelle, I thought she was good-looking,” Reid says with a smile.“I don’t know if it was immediate that she was going to have that entrepreneurial drive,but she definitely had drive. She wanted to do really well in whatever she was doing. She was very focused on being excellent at what she did.”

And what attracted Reid to Jonelle 21 years ago,when both were UH students, still holds true today. Jonelle’s consistent focus and drive have allowed her to open eight Cinnamon Girl stores statewide: Ward Warehouse;Waikiki;Whaler’s Village, Maui; The King’s Shops, Waikoloa; Pearlridge; Windward Mall and Kahala Mall.


When they first met, Jonelle recalls, she thought Reid was handsome, someone nice and fun to be with, but admits it wasn’t love at first sight.

“It started off as casual dating and from there it kept going,” says Jonelle. Now married and parents of two adorable children, Jolie (8) and James (5), Jonelle and Reid are still in awe at how far they’ve come with Cinnamon Girl.

“Sometimes my husband and I will sit back and we’ll be like ‘Can you believe we have eight stores?!’

If someone were to say way back then,‘OK,start a company and your end goal is to open eight stores,’ I don’t think I could do it.You know, it’s just too much of a big thing,” Jonelle says in disbelief.

But it was her love for sewing and fashion since she was a little girl that has made this “too much of a big thing” even bigger.

“Ever since I was little I would make clothes for my Barbies and Snoopy and all my dolls.I was totally into sewing,“remembers Jonelle. Her Aunty Shirley taught her to sew, and Jonelle would watch her aunt make clothes for her cousins.

“I started with the sewing machine and picking out fabrics - it was like a fun hobby, which I never thought would turn into this. When you’re young you don’t think that you can just do what you love doing and that’s what you can make your living on,” says Jonelle, who earned her degree in sociology.

However, Jonelle continued doing what she loved,designing and sewing clothing, then in 1993 she decided to sell her designs at craft fairs.

“It was me and my husband from the beginning,” she says. Back then, Jonelle and Reid were still dating, but there was no doubting his commitment to her.

Cinnamon Girl: You can't help walking in for a look
Cinnamon Girl: You can’t help walking in for a look

“From the craft fair days of Cinnamon Girl I was there with her, getting up really early in the morning and setting up the tents,” Reid recalls. Looking back on Cinnamon Girl’s conception, Jonelle adds, “I would sew all the dresses in my garage and then he would help me. I’d have to wake him up and drag him out of bed - you had to be at the craft fair by 6 a.m.

“When Cinnamon Girl started off it was supposed to be like a surfer girl clothing company,” Jonelle says.“But, I don’t know, I just started doing sundresses, and then I had the idea of doing a mommy and me type of thing, because I remember when I was little I always wanted to wear what my mom wore.”

Jonelle thought of the name Cinnamon Girl for her clothing line because it possessed “a warm, sunny feeling,” which is what she wanted to portray in her designs and eventually in her stores.

Jonelle noticed that people began liking her designs, and from there what was once a hobby emerged slowly into a career. She says after selling her designs for a year at craft fairs she realized she wanted a store of her own.

“I wanted to be able to display my merchandise somewhere where it could have an atmosphere all its own. It’s kind of hard to do that at a craft fair.”


Jonelle used tax-return money and maxed out her credit cards to open a kiosk at Aloha Tower Marketplace. She admits this move was one of the scariest for her - going from a hobby at craft fairs to a permanent location was a big leap, but one she was willing to take in order to create the atmosphere she always wanted.

A year later, in 1995, Jonelle closed the kiosk and opened her first full-size store at Ward Warehouse.

“I wanted to create a shopping experience with Cinnamon Girl,” Jonelle explains.“When you go into our store there’s the smell of cinnamon and music playing that makes you happy. It’s about how you feel when you leave - the wrapping of the gift items and the clothes.”

“There’s so many influences

 

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