The Kaneda clan, from left, Milton, Sharon and Kelly. The parents now work for the son. CLICK FOR LARGE
Kaneda closing in on goal
Laid back style, reminiscent of Hawaii's way of life, is reflected in the Scrapbook line created by local boy Kelly Kaneda, who grew up with dreams of competing with the big companies. Shown below are designs from Scrapbook's spring/summer 2007 collection. (FEMME KNITS PHOTOS)|
AT 16, WHILE most kids are making their first forays into the world of work via fast-food or hanging clothes at the Gap, Kelly Kaneda created a line of board shorts that he sold to Sears. At that moment, he said, "I knew I could make a living in the clothing business."
He hadn't taken it for granted, even though he's a third-generation clothing designer and manufacturer.
His grandmother started Dale's Casuals in Kalihi, and his father, Milton Kaneda, started the vertical knit-manufacturing plant Latitude Designs, which Kaneda said created garments for local sportswear companies such as Hawaiian Island Creations, Local Motion, Crazy Shirts and Island Logo.
Kaneda grew up working in his father's factory and apparently learned the business well. By 18 he had his own label, Hapa Clothing, and at 21, with the help of an investor friend, was able to make the leap to California, where his company, Femme Knits, brings in sales of $40 million annually, having grown from a mere $200,000 in sales in 1998.
ALTHOUGH he's glad that Hawaii's fashion industry is growing, he says it would have been impossible to reach his goals if he had stayed, due to shipping logistics and access to materials.
"I want to come back to Hawaii and retire someday. I love surfing and all my friends are there, but I always had big dreams of going against the biggest people in the industry," he said from his offices in Westminster, Calif., where he serves as president of Femme Knits. His father is vice president, and other family members fill administrative roles.
"The hardest part was being so naive and island-minded, coming to the big world where I had to deal with a lot of aggressive people.
"Having a Hawaii mind-set, you have a certain level of trust that comes from knowing everyone's family, where they grew up. Here, there are a lot of transplants, people hungry for money. You have to be more aware of who you work with, partner up with."
As his father had done, Kaneda filled a niche of designing and manufacturing knit apparel for sportswear companies such as Roxy, Billabong, Teenage Millionaire, Junk Food and Von Dutch.
"We were the surf knit concept design house for Roxy. They gave us free reign to design. We were helping all these companies blow up, so I thought, Why not do my own line?"
GETTING INTO a branded label is difficult, he said, but he felt confident going in. "We had the creative knowledge plus the technical knowledge of manufacturing. I knew the mistakes other companies were making and thought we could do it better than anyone else."
His young contemporary women's line, Scrapbook, was born in 2002 and, just as he had hoped, blew up to the point that he could no longer keep manufacturing for others.
Scrapbook's playful and casual though detail-oriented styles are carried by such regional luxe boutiques as Bamboo Sky and Shasa Emporium in Hawaii, Fred Segal in Hollywood and large retailers such as Nordstrom, where Scrapbook is the top-selling young contemporary line.
Scrapbook's success led to a second label, Crafty Couture, geared toward the junior market.
But there are other markets to conquer.
"I have huge plans for international marketing," said Kaneda, who also envisions an empire of stand-alone boutiques, with Hawaii as one site, plus reaching a milestone of $100 million in sales in five years.
"I got to," he said. "That's what's on the business plan."