Thursday, October 21, 2004

Kauhane Ching demonstrates that pregnant women can still be stylish as she models an outfit in the Makana Mother & Baby store at Ward Centre.

Fashionable maternity store
celebrates move to
high-traffic spot

Americans find inspiration in entrepreneurs, living vicariously through their success, forgetting that far from being masters of marketing, finance and consumer courtship, many entrepreneurs are simply students from the school of trial and error.

Hapai Happening

Time: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday

Place: Makana Mother & Baby

Admission: Free

Call: 942-BABY (2229)

"I made every mistake an entrepreneur could make, and I made those mistakes at least three or four times," said Deborah Sharkey, president of Makana Mother & Baby, a maternity store she's just moved from University Square to a prominent location near Borders Books & Music at Ward Centre.

She's hoping that this third stage is the charm for the business she started in 2001, and will be celebrating her move with a "Hapai Happening" running 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

New moms and friends can meet in front of the store at 9 a.m. for a free mommy-baby exercise class with Stroller Strides at Ala Moana Beach Park. Customers are also encouraged to bring in no-longer-needed maternity outfits for professionals for the Dress for Success maternity clothing drive. Those who make clothing donations will take home goody bags, including gifts from Stroller Strides, Baby Boot Camp and the Queen's Women's Health Center.

Sharkey took the long route to Ward, starting her business after griping for two years about the lack of fashionable clothes for expectant mothers, which she discovered during her first pregnancy. She was running her own public relations firm, which she continues to do, and says: "Most of what was available for pregnant women was not something a professional woman could wear to work. I felt kind of embarrassed whenever I walked into a meeting or when I was visiting a client."

Her big peeve was the cotton panels sewn into the front of pants and skirts to accommodate full bellies. "As unattractive as these were, you'd end up wearing a shirt that came down to your thighs to cover that panel.

"I kept telling my husband, someone's gonna have to start bringing in better clothes before I have another child. He got tired of me saying it and said I should stop waiting for someone else to do it and do it myself."

The couple hit the trade shows and were just about to sign a storefront lease when the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy took place. That put a halt to the retail idea because the economy suddenly tanked, and no one could predict what would happen next. Even so, orders they had placed early in the year were arriving.

Makana Mother & Baby store in Ward Centre provides a pregnant Maile Akiona with options for contemporary clothing.

The quick fix was to host trunk shows, renting a room at the Blaisdell for a weekend about once every three weeks.

"We'd move in early Saturday morning and move out Sunday evening," she said.

The format worked, but the packing and unpacking were grueling, and the timing was difficult for customers as well.

"Some would call the week after the show and want something that weekend, but everything was packed away in our family room and there was no way I could pull things out easily," Sharkey said. The end came when her husband, Jerry Linville, hurt his back.

By that time she was ready to try a retail space but not to pay the high rent of a major mall or hire employees. She calls her temporary move to Ward Centre an "experiment," one that will end on Jan. 15, which leaves her pondering her next move.

Until then, moms-to-be will be able to find maternity and nursing wear by Japanese Weekend, Olian, Duet Designs and Belly Basics as well as the Zutano baby line, plus Baby K infant dresses.

"Pregnant women are like women in general," Sharkey said. "They want clothes that are going to make them feel beautiful. The days of women feeling they need to compromise are over. If they were wearing thongs and halter tops before their pregnancy, why should they say goodbye to them?"

The clothing she carries is so mainstream that she said many women who walk into the store without knowing its target audience are surprised to learn they're looking at maternity wear. She even carries a maternity bikini.

"I carry a few because I'm waiting for the day when someone comes in and actually wants one."

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