Longtime T-shirt screener decides to fold up her business
JULIE CHIYA has turned out women's shirts and tank tops under the Sansei Hawaii label for 25 years, but she's ready to sell the assets of her business.
"I'm just burned out," she said. She is a 55 year-old widow, who imports shirt- and tank-top blanks from China, then dyes and silk screens them herself.
"I only weigh 75 pounds. I'm just wasting away."
The 7 days a week of manual labor could explain her low percentage of rejected shirts -- about 5 percent -- sometimes more a result of irregularities in the shirt-blanks than her screening.
She is very finicky about quality control, she said.
The shirts are "very popular with the middle-aged Japanese tourists and hula halau that come to town," she said. Also, "local people still love them."
She feels the loss of hotel room inventory to condotel conversion has adversely affected the retailers to whom she wholesales, which are primarily in Waikiki, but are also at Ala Moana Center and Aloha Tower Marketplace.
Chiya started out on the craft-fair circuit in 1981 and incorporated in 1983 on the advice of an accountant, "because the income was at that level," she said.
Her apparel was sold in Liberty House, which was a good thing until the company filed for bankruptcy in 1998.
"I didn't get money for like, five years; $17,000 they owed me," she said.
She also sold to other local stores, "and then I hired a sales rep and she just sold it all over the place. I ended up, somehow ... in the resort areas," including Kona.
In the visitor collapse following Sept. 11, 2001, she learned she qualified for a U.S. Small Business Administration disaster loan, as well as a loan from the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. Both loans, a total of $27,000, "carried me through the aftermath of Sept. 11."
It was a far cry from the company's 1980s heyday when it generated $500,000 in annual sales and had seven employees.
She has sold some 50 designs over the years, created mostly by her sister, who quit the business in 1994 but has created designs on a freelance basis since then.
Her best-selling design features two hibiscus flowers; Chiya produces it in several color combinations.
She describes herself as computer-illiterate, but she has friends who are savvy, one of whom sells her shirts via AuctionTurn at eBay.
Another computer-skilled friend listed the business for sale online a couple weeks ago at an asking price of $200,000.
Chiya welcomes offers from buyers who would change the company name and create their own brand.
"I see a young artist-type person who wants to go into business, with a rich parent who's willing to foot (the bill) for the turnkey operation. They can just walk in and if they already know how to screen, that would be perfect. They can make their own designs for the youth market."
If the buyer doesn't know how to screen, Chiya will train them, she said.
"The business is so easy, it's ridiculous."
is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4747, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at: email@example.com