If you had asked me many years ago when I purchased my first piece of silk to dye where I thought I was headed with A’Kai Silks, I would not have had an answer. If you ask me today, I would list a few ideas and maybe a wishlist, but I still allow what was once a kitchen project to evolve and change course.
I did not have a business plan with a mission statement, projected expenses, or anything formal written up to present to investors. I’ve never taken out a business loan. When I review the photos and the path this business has taken (and I prefer to call it a lifestyle because business sounds so formal), it literally started out as wanting to dye a silk for a bellydance class.
I was a new graduate from nursing school and had a part time job in hospice care. My entire life was school, then more school, then work. I started attending every music festival that came through Colorado and although I was taking bellydance classes, I was more drawn to the live concerts. In fact it was a live concert that first took me to Maui where I fell in love with the islands. I had never really considered living in Hawaii. Colorado is an incredible place to live. Many of my friends have a life changing time at Burning Man. Mine happened in Maui. When I returned from Maui, I still did not focus on making silk into a business. I just did what came natural and what I enjoyed. It was not a direct line that led me to living in Hawaii. It was life naturally unfolding and opening new doorways.
In late spring of May 2005, I was offered the choice between taking a room in Pacifica (right outside of San Francisco), or puddle jumping the pacific to take a room in Hawaii. Fearless, without a big plan or much funding, I took the room in Hawaii. Twenty three days later I arrived on the island, sort of bewildered, but then began the discovery of island life. My dress code changed. I slowed down on festivals and learned to surf. I started to let go of the “rush” lifestyle of the mainland. I sank in to the culture and aina of Hawaii. I did not fully understand all the changes that were happening to me until I returned to the mainland for a visit, and I had a difficult time assimilating back into mainland life. Shoes and bras? What are those? Evening news with stories of murder and destruction? I felt lost and rather claustrophic. Where was the beach I was so used to walking to? How come everyone was in such a rush? Why didn’t I own 30 different pairs of shoes? Why was I content to own what would fit in a suitcase? I returned to the island and fell back into the plumeria scented air.
We are presented with opportunities constantly. Some are not always apparent. Some are choices with known consequences. Some are hard learned lessons that take us a while to figure out later.
People always ask, how did I start A’Kai Silks. They look confused when I say it just happened. I didn’t look at others in the business of bellydance and try to duplicate what was already done. The best stories are those made from true stories. Business guides talk about the importance of branding. I see others spending hundreds of dollars creating an identity, a logo, a brand that represents the company. Business experts say that success comes from the algorithms they present in books and presentations. One must first define, what is success? Secondly, as I learned along the way about advertising and social media, to me networking was more about sharing story than making a commercial. A typical commercial tries to illicit a feeling from you, the end result is they want to sell you a product. But they may use themes or images to represent what your life may be like if you own such product. I suppose the blogs, facebook status posts, tweets, photo sharing, etc can all be considered a commercial. But while most commercials have 30 seconds to grab an audience , a life story takes longer.
A life story evolves literally along the time it takes to live such life. I did not wake up one day dressed in a silk sarong with barefeet listening to island reggae . I did not discover overnight that the most sensuous dresses for walking the beach are long rippling silk ones. It really didn’t even occur to me that photos of silk veils at a Hawaiian beach would become the branding image for A’Kai Silks.
We all experience life taking many turns. A few years ago I decided to reinstate my nursing license and work as a nurse. I had in mind that I would work as a nurse and continue to create A’Kai Silks on the weekends. It was a tough balance. I tried to maintain the pulse of A’Kai but soon found I was working way too much. I was at the computer too much, not enjoying the island. I stopped surfing. All the magic that I enjoyed about Hawaii faded into the distance as I put my health at risk to perform a very emotionally challenging job as a nurse. I was suddenly on a schedule again. A five day work week. I lost touch. The harder I worked the worse things became. I sort of gave up and thought maybe my time on the island is over and I could move back to the mainland and find a nurse job with more flexibility. Last August, 2013 I returned to Arizona. But again after the initial comfort of visiting my old hiking grounds wore off, I felt stuck in the desert. This isn’t working.. I was supposed to take time off , rejuvenate, and build the silk business again. I worked at it but again the more I ran towards it, the further it faded away. I am stubborn and don’t always learn a lesson the first time around. I needed to go back to Hawaii. The fastest way possible. So again I took a nurse job as a means of support , thinking I would work harder at balancing life. I returned December 2013. And now, September 2014 I am at a computer again.
I’ve been working in the evenings to revise A’Kai Silks. However instead of returning to the 50 hour work week of dyeing silk, mailing, doing emails, creating more on the side, I have been slow at the approach. As foolish as it was to jump back into a soul sucking nurse job, it would be foolish to rush back into A’Kai Silks doing what I did before. Yes it was successful, yes it was profitable. But this time I started from the top and worked backwards.
What I’ve been doing is maintaining that lifestyle that was so important to me in the first place. Any type of work or business should be based on a lifestyle. Those who are successful with business have a passion about it, or live it every day.
I recently made an announcement that I’m changing things around so that I am not the only one handling all the tasks. I have identified mistakes I made in the past. I would buy a large order of silk, dye it, sell it, use the money to buy another lot of silk. This caused an interruption in inventory. No one likes to visit an empty store. This is new territory for me. Most importantly I need to maintain the lifestyle you see portrayed in the photos I share. As excited as I am to unveil a fully stocked store, this time around the lifestyle has to balance with a plan.
But just as the original A’Kai evolved naturally over time, so too this revision will as well. When things are outgrown we move to a bigger playing field. Our circle of friends changes. The tides change and fluctuate and one adjusts their sails to catch the most of the wind. If there is no wind, we swim.
So now as I prepare to head over to the beach to enjoy the waters, know that changes are happening. But true to the Hawaiian lifestyle I adopted, there’s no rush.
Here are a few short term goals I’ve set (because the long term goals maintain lifestyle)
1) maintaining an inventory of rectangle and half circle silk veils in the store.. not all color schemes will be in stock at all times, but I hope to maintain a good variety of the top sellers along with some one of a kind works
2) having an assistant do the prep work, store listings, shipping, and possibly email responses..overall I need my time opened up to manage the big picture
3) running limited edition stock of items that have been in demand since their first introduction a few years ago.. I hope to maintain a small stock with room to grow
4) finally incorporating certain clothing items into the inventory.. I have many unpublished clothing items that I have sold thru non-online venues and I’d like to test out offering them online
5) getting things in place to be on an auto pilot (or run by assistant) so that I have the opportunity to travel more, to source fabrics, to co-create items that are dance related but not specifically bellydance anymore ..this will include slow overhauls of the etsy store. The main A’Kai Silks website is still on the internet. I will make the final jump to point the URL so that http://www.akaisilks.com will lead you to the blog directly. Static websites are hard to maintain. Blogs allow me to update photos, write, share content, and highlight seasonal activities without requiring a lot of work revising a website.
I will still be catering to bellydancers but opening it up to a much larger sector. As life has changed, so do the participants. I will also be working collectively with others on blogs, forums, travelling boutiques, and other opportunities that have opened up. We keep spinning, by doing so we maintain balance.