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Fresh look


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POSTED: Thursday, October 15, 2009

A prerequisite for entrepreneurs is mind reading, gauging the sentiments of consumers before they are aware of them themselves. At the risk of looking like a serial entrepreneur, Tiffany Tanaka's doing a pretty good job keeping up.

Flash back to 2003: Riding the wave of eBay popularity, Tanaka opened WeSellThings4U to assist the non-tech-savvy with selling their unwanted wares on the auction Web site.

Then, in 2007, Tanaka and a few friends captured the DIY moment with the opening of the Candy Shop next door to WeSellThings4U, at 831 Queen St. The boutique went through a few transformations and name changes before closing for a year of lease-negotiation limbo. Six months of construction followed, and a few months ago, half of the space opened as — surprise! — the casual restaurant Fresh Cafe. The cafe is an oasis in industrial Kakaako where the hungry can pick up a bagel sandwich, salad, cookie or smoothie and settle down at a table to take advantage of free Wi-Fi. The other half of the space will reopen Monday as a boutique for men and women, Aloha De Nime.

“;I want to concentrate on classic things, shirts that are black and white, more staple items that are higher-end,”; Tanaka said. “;The main thing is we're carrying a lot of denim. These days, it's all about breaking in your own pair instead of a pair where 'aging' is already worked in.”;

The boutique focus coincides with a shift in consumer spending and a move toward thinking about clothing more as personal investment pieces rather than trendy throwaways. Those who recognize value are seeking fewer high-quality basics that will last them a long time. The new mindset is reflected in a return to old-fashioned values.

Premium denim brands such as Crate Clothing Co. and Naked & Famous, carried by Aloha De Nime, reflect a return to vintage quality to suit modern purists.

Crate uses deadstock denim, antique buttons and custom stitching in their handmade jeans, while Naked & Famous Denim uses Japanese selvedge denim woven on old-fashioned shuttle looms that create a sturdy, ravel-free self-edge. The company's hang tags read, in part, “;We keep all our jeans raw and simple. No washes, no embroidery, no gimmicks. ... We have eliminated these costly (and in our opinion unnecessary) after-effects and have stripped down our jeans to the core essentials.”;

Although the economy might dictate lower costs, Tanaka, who's been asked to open her store for some of her more impatient cafe customers, said people have shown they are willing to pay $150 to $175 for jeans they intend to wear for many years and that, when broken in by the wearer, become the ultimate “;me”; jeans.

“;It's something they'll save forever. That's the whole idea,”; Tanaka said.

THE CAFE concept grew out of the realization that Aloha De Nime's address is outside the shopping mainstream.

“;I wanted to create something that would draw the everyday person to the area, and I thought if they came to the cafe, they would come in as well to shop,”; said Tanaka, for whom entrepreneurship has been a lengthy learn-as-you-go process.

Although she still has affection for DIY culture and would love to help beginning designers from abroad and local students, she said stocking her earlier store with merchandise was challenging at times.

“;It was difficult to keep in touch with the designers. They couldn't keep up with production,”; said Tanaka, who admits to a certain amount of impatience because fresh ideas pop into her head at a rate that would be impossible to transform into reality.

“;In the beginning, I think I was held back by a lack of experience and having to learn from my mistakes,”; she said. “;The main thing I've learned is not to rush into things, even though it's taken so long to build what I have now.”;

Although she felt pressured to open the cafe and boutique as soon as possible, she said the six months of work that went into the space prior to the cafe's opening was worth the delay.

And she's already thinking ahead toward new menu additions for the cafe and expanding her concept to the mainland. Stay tuned.

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Fresh Cafe and Aloha De Nime are at 831 Queen St. Call 688-8055.