JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Scott Nagata, along with his wife Angela and 3-year-old son Makana, have created a niche by designing and supplying pareos, bleached coconut leaves, poi balls, and other items to hula halau both locally and on the mainland. Their business has skyrocketed in the past year.
Sending Polynesia around the world
The Nagata family sells items from Tahiti, Samoa, Fiji and other locales
STORY SUMMARY »
A Midwest couple's love for Polynesian cultures sparked a worldwide venture bringing unique and exotic black pearls from the South Pacific to places as far away as Germany, France and Spain.
Scott Nagata and his wife, Angela, born and raised in Utah and Arizona, respectively, run Black Pearl Designs, an online retail operation, from the living room of their Kaneohe home.
The virtual store not only sells highly prized Tahitian black pearls, but also offers between 200 and 250 specialized products from Hawaii, Tahiti, New Zealand, Cook Islands, Samoa and Fiji.
The Mormon couple's passion for all-things Polynesian stems from stints at the Polynesian Cultural Center in the 1990s, while studying at Brigham Young University in Laie.
Scott, 37, began his career as a dancer at the cultural center, later moving into its retail department and turning a small kiosk operation into a highly profitable retail component, which nearly jeopardized the nonprofit status of the business founded by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Meanwhile, Angela, 32, learned the intricacies, crafts and products of the various island cultures while working as a tour guide at the center, where the couple fell in love not only with island culture, but with each other after meeting through mutual co-workers.
The husband-and-wife team launched Black Pearl Designs in 2004, running the operation from a "closet," according to Scott, who runs the business full time while taking care of their 3-year-old son, Makana.
FULL STORY »
Scott Nagata describes his wife, Angela, as a unique, precious and exotic black pearl, the product of which he sells worldwide from his living room in Kaneohe.
Black Pearl designs
» Owners: Scott and Angela Nagata
» Address: P.O. Box 4685, Kaneohe, HI 96744
>> Phone: 258-7990
» Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
» Founded: 2004
» E-mail: www. blackpearldesigns.com
The couple runs Black Pearl Designs,
an online retail operation, which specializes in highly prized Tahitian pearls and between 200 and 250 products from Hawaii, Tahiti, New Zealand, Cook Islands, Samoa and Fiji.
The husband-and-wife team, originally from the Midwest, share a passion for all-things Polynesian, stemming from stints at the Polynesian Cultural Center in the 1990s while studying at Brigham Young University Hawaii in Laie.
Scott, 37, of Japanese ancestry and originally from Utah, began his career as a dancer at the cultural center, later moving into its retail department and helping to turn a small kiosk operation into a profitable $4 million sales component, which nearly jeopardized the nonprofit status of the business founded by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Scott, who would visit the center as a child during the summers while staying with his grandmother who lived in Laie, built and designed from the ground up a 5,000-square-foot Hukilau store and smaller Samoan and Tongan-themed shops. He also created a Polynesian Christmas store at Windward Mall.
While dancing was the catalyst for Scott's passion for Polynesian cultures, the retail experience helped build his skills and business acumen in creating a brick-and-mortar store, catalog and Web site, all of which told stories and perpetuated the island cultures. His creativity also was cultivated at the center, where he'd draw Maori facial tattoos and design Tahitian print T-shirts.
"This experience gave me the know-how and confidence that I would be able to do it on my own," he said.
Following his stint at PCC, Scott, who also is self-taught in Web design, eventually won contracts to build Internet sites for the cultural center, North Shore Chamber of Commerce, Waialua Soda Works, Natural Styles, Principle-Centered Solutions, Vaihi, Tahiti Nui International and other local companies. He also designed CD covers for local artists.
It was a natural next step to launch in 2004 their own virtual store, which is now a burgeoning business targeting people looking for authentic cultural items that reflect the heritage of the South Pacific Islands.
The couple invested about $1,000 in the startup venture, which they operated from a "closet," according to Scott, who runs the business full time while taking care of their 3-year-old son Makana, who also helps in the family business by placing mail orders in bags.
The fledgling company's first order came from Maine, the furthest state from Hawaii, a foretell of what would become a large national audience, which now includes California, Texas, New York, Florida, Washington, Oregon, Utah and, surprisingly, Hawaii, despite the competition for Hawaiian products, Scott said.
"I really wasn't marketing to Hawaii, I was marketing to the people who had been to Hawaii and had been exposed to certain things here, cultural items and so forth, who were looking for more authentic items than you would find in Waikiki," he said.
The couple has responded to the surge in local business by expanding Hawaii products, offering lower shipping rates and most recently creating a will-call option to compensate for not having a storefront.
Business, which comes entirely from word-of-mouth advertising, has consistently grown each year. The company recorded $70,000 in gross sales in 2007 and is on track to double that this year.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Angela Nagata braided yarn for making poi balls Tuesday at her home in Temple Valley while her husband Scott and 3-year-old son Makana reviewed some paperwork.
"I've hit all 50 states at this point," he said, and countries including Norway, France, Spain, Germany, England and Japan. "It's as much finding your targeted customer as it is them finding you."
The Web site, www. blackpearldesigns.com, is also translated in Japanese, French and German.
While most of the products such as Tahitian banjos, Maori poi balls, Samoan kava bowls and Fijian handicrafts, are imported from the various islands, the couple also design pareos and other traditional materials.
"Designing pareos is just a natural extension of learning about the culture," Scott said. "I see so many cultural items and traditions on the brink of being lost. Now I'm in a position to offer these items to people who share the passion."
Angela, a teacher at the Hawaii Center for the Deaf and the Blind, helps her husband with business strategies and designing products, most recently the labor-intensive creation of a traditional Maori needle-point costume, which will be available both as a kit for dancers to make themselves and as a finished product. Occasionally, the couple contract relatives to do some sewing, design work and make poi balls for dancers.
The 32-year-old red-hair, blue-eyed Arizona native, who was hired as an American Sign Language tour guide at PCC in the 1990s, learned the intricacies, crafts and products of the various island cultures while working at the center, where the couple fell in love not only with island culture, but with each other after meeting through mutual co-workers. The couple married in 1997.
"I just really was fascinated with Polynesian culture," she said. "I would go bug the village workers and ask them questions."
Angela, who also enjoys crafting and sewing, describes herself as more of a "coordinator and consultant" in the business.
The couple's next step is to produce a printed catalog this year and open a storefront in another four to five years.
Their passion comes from not only their love for the culture, but respect for the native people and need to support them in developing a sense of community and identity, she said.
"They're crafters too and we want to support their craft," Angela said. "We love seeing other people develop and be entrepreneurs -- it's the American spirit and American dream."