Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Word of the Year

Here it is, New Year's Eve 2013!  I have actually worked all day and am pretty pooped to be honest.  I doubt that I will be able to stay awake until midnight.  But I am okay with that.  I have been prepping for this New Year by cleaning my house, organizing my closets and doing lots of thinking. 
 As you all know, every year, I choose a word of the year.  For 2013, it was "Change".  It was a good word, but I do think I should have been more specific because it seems that I ended up with more "hot flashes  from THE CHANGE" and even several pockets of "loose change" than the other types of "Change" that I was seeking! 

This year went by so fast that I didn't really feel ready to completely give up on that theme, but I wanted to expound upon it.  Perhaps "Transformation" was more of what I was looking for.  But "Transformation" brings on visions of robotic transformers...and that wasn't my thing....so after lots of contemplation, I decided on a word that describes one of life's most beautiful transformations.  It is also the word I use to describe the feeling you get in your gut when you are stepping outside of your comfort zone, pushing your limits a bit beyond what most people would do.  That "little bit scared", "little bit excited" feeling.....you know the feeling! 
Yes!  Butterflies!  I have some goals that scare me a little.  Things I want to do but they are infact outside of that space where I feel safe and secure.  A friend told me recently that "the good things happen outside of your comfort zone".  "That is where the magic happens".   I believe that to a large degree.  You have to push your own boundaries or you will never experience your full potential.  I thought about the caterpillar all safe inside the cocoon.  Working quietly at her transformation.  Then with effort, she works her way outside of the safety of that cocoon and prepares to spread her wings. 
I am not ready to share what all of my goals are yet.  There are many.  But I just wanted to tell you to be on the look out for Butterflies!  When you see one, think of me, here in Hawaii, spreading my wings, and becoming all that I can be! 
a hui hou

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Counting Down to the New Year

The end of December is one of my favorite times of year!  The Christmas rush is over, and I can start to look ahead to the New Year.  Traditionally, it is also a time to clean the house, so I have been busy washing windows, cleaning closets and decluttering my abode.  It is also when I have to do my annual inventory of all of the "nuts and bolts" that keep my business running.  I am SO NOT looking forward to that part!  Do you have any idea how many swivel hooks, D-rings, purse chains and turn locks I have in stock?  ME NEITHER! 

As many of you know,  I don't DO New Year's Resolutions.  I do set business goals around this time of year just so that I don't stagnate and get lazy, but I don't like setting myself up for failure by promising to not overeat or the like.  I prefer to set goals and take steps to achieve them.  I pull up my sales records for the year, and analyze which accounts I can work on to increase sales to and then set myself to go about doing it! 

In place of making resolutions, for many years now, I have instead taken the opportunity to reflect back on the past year by stating what was my "best" and "worst" of the year.  Some years it seems that nothing all that remarkable has happened and it is harder to identify the best and worst.  This year, the "worst" comes to me easily.  It was having my mother in law get sick last spring and then pass away a few weeks ago.  It is always hard losing someone who is such a part of your life. 

Thinking about the best thing is a comfort to me.  I had several really great things this year. My mom came out here in the spring and we got to spend some time just laying in the sun and relaxing together.   MM and I got to go over to Kauai for our anniversary.  I adore Kauai so that was such a treat!  Then we got to go see my mom this fall and help make sure she was all set for winter.  Seeing that she is getting by better than she was last year made me feel more at ease.  Then we went to Seattle and my daughter and son in law were able to make the trip up there to see us.  It was a short visit but it meant so much to me.  So when I think about all of those things, and ask myself, "what was the best thing of 2013?", I have to just sum it up by saying "Family".  Not just my own family either, but I got to experience something special this year with MM's family.  I was so touched at how the whole family rallied together and took care of his mom so that it wasn't too overwhelming for any one of us.  What a gift that everyone came together and honored her wish to die at home. 

I hope that your "bests" outweighed your "worsts" this year.  But even if they didn't, I do hope you find comfort in realizing that no matter how bad your "worst" was, you survived!  As long as you live, there is hope for better days.  Let's make 2014 a great year! 

a hui hou

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Tribute

On Thanksgiving Day, 2013 my mother-in-law passed away.  Kikuye Sasaki was 93.  When I think of words to describe her, things like "hard worker", "kind-hearted" and "generous" instantly come to my mind.  She was married to Harold Sasaki and together raised four kids while in the early years working in the coffee fields and later at their own full-service gas station.  Her husband passed away in 1995, a year and a half before I met their son.  Kikuye retired from the gas station at age 88 to enjoy longer days in her garden, which brought her great joy.  "K", as most locals knew her, loved growing vegetables, often calling it "fun"! 

One time, in an effort to show my appreciation for a discount she gave me on some new auto parts, I went up to the gas station to work for the day.  Just as you would sit down, another car would drive up.  Ding Ding!  And off "K" would go to start the gas pumping before checking the oil, and washing the windshields.  Checking the tire pressure seemed so much easier for her since she was "low to the ground".   To reach the taller trucks, this slight woman who maybe was 4'8" on her tippy toes, would stand on a plastic milk carton container to clean the windows!  I was in awe that #1. anyone would allow this tiny elderly woman to do that and #2 that she was so willing instead of having her workers do it! 

During the months preceding her passing, I was able to enjoy many good days with her and listened as she shared stories of her youth. She wasn't much of a talker, but when prompted she would share her memories.   Her parents ran a piggery on Oahu when she was a small girl so each day Kikuye and her sisters had to go door to door with slop buckets asking for scraps to feed the pigs.  She remembered what hard work that was. 

Some of her favorite memories were of visiting Disneyland as an adult and of course going to Vegas!  She loved Vegas!  She also enjoyed crocheting afghans for family and friends when she wasn't out in the garden. 

My mother-in-law was one of the biggest sports fans I have ever met!  She always knew the names of every UH volleyball player.  She often would call us to tell MM what time the UH volleyball games would be starting so he wouldn't miss it.  She adored tennis and especially liked the "cute" players like Andre Agassi (with long hair), Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal.  It reminded me that age doesn't matter, even in her 90's, she was still "a girl". 

"Mom's" favorite color was yellow, and one year for her birthday, one of her sons rented a yellow Mustang convertible for a week to drive her to work up at the gas station.  How she loved that! 

This is a sad time for our family, losing the Sasaki matriarch.  But somehow, I believe that her passing on Thanksgiving Day was appropriate.  I am grateful that I got to know her and have her in my life for these past 16 years. 

Rest in Peace Kikuye. 

A hui hou

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sasaki Wine Bags

A few weeks ago I had an opportunity that popped up.  I was contacted by a company in Sonoma who had discovered my bags and wanted to get together for coffee and "talk story".  For quite some time I have basically turned down such requests just because I am so very busy with all of my other wholesale accounts that I am not looking to take on any new ones.  But for whatever reason, I really wanted to meet this husband and wife team.  Where it will ever go, is not as important as the sharing of ideas that we had that day. Sometimes, it is just really nice to meet nice people! 

 It is sort of funny because when I first purchased my  embroidery machine years ago...that started me thinking of making things to sell...even before my shoulder injury!  I used to embroider all of my designs on a piece of fabric that was large enough that I could make a wine bag out of it.  I didn't want to just make practice embroidery designs.  I wanted to be able to give them as gifts or maybe even sell them so all of my beginning designs were made into wine bags!  Later on, I went on an embroidered Christmas stocking craze and made personalized stockings for the children of all the people I worked with at the hotel. 

Since meeting with my new friends from Sonoma, I have had wine bags on the brain again.  The other day, I took a few hours and just rummaged through my fabric stash to see what I could come up with that would be good for the holidays.  I think that wine bags can be "re-gifted" without any guilt.  I try to make them beautiful to make the gift of wine seem even more elegant and special, but I also want to have the recipient reuse it and if that means "regifting" it...that is fine with moi!  It is the gift that keeps on giving! 

I created a basic design initially and have stuck to that pattern, but have had fun working in different textiles.   I have used coffee bags, decorator prints, kimonos and obis!  I like to add some sort of hardware on many of the bags that I make so started out just suspending an O ring from ribbon.  That has evolved into a D ring that I suspend a charm from.  Right now my favorite charm is the little glass vials that I fill with kona sand, shells, and Kauai sea glass.  I have also filled some bottles with gold glitter and added a rolled up message of "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas". 

So far they have been selling very well so I have even created a section for "Wine Bags" in my Etsy shop. 

a hui hou

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Everybody has Something

It is Saturday morning.  I've had my first cup of coffee and MM and the cat are still snoring away.  A few months ago, after 5 1/2 years of working seven days a week, 12-16 hours a day, MM confided in me that he thinks I am working too much.  YA THINK?!  If you have been following me for awhile, you know that a few years ago my "word of the year" was balance.  As you can see, I am a work in progress!  But I do listen to MM.  He is my rock and though he doesn't say a lot, when he does, I try to listen to him.  With that in mind, since sometime in the summer, I have been taking one day a week off of work.  I admit, that my mind often strays back in that direction, I have a lot on my plate!  But I have been loyal to the commitment of not physically working on bags one day a week.  No cutting fabric.  No sewing burlap. What a concept!

Kikuye Sasaki
 November 10, 2013
enjoying her garden
I don't actually "take the day off" though, and you won't find me at the beach on my day off.  At least not now.  For the past eight months my mother-in-law has been experiencing congestive heart failure.  I am lucky enough to be part of a family who has all pulled together to lighten the load of caring for her at home and feel honored that we are able to help fulfill her wish to be at home.  She is 93 and is such a sweet and kind woman.  So a couple of days a week, MM and I pack our bags and head up to her house. If she isn't having a good day I just sit by her bed and read the paper to myself, dust, vacuum, or even prep hang tags for my bags.  Some days she even recounts her stories of being a young girl whose family ran a piggery and she and her sisters had to go door to door to collect slop from the neighbors to feed to the pigs.  But on a good day, we sit outside and just let her look at her garden.  That is where she finds the most peace and joy. That is still "quality of life" in my book!  The things you see when you sit very still!  Butterflies, pheasants, wild pigs, and birds!  I like to take my camera or use her ipad to take photos that later can be played back for her when she is in bed. 

When you are involved as a caretaker, other things in life take on a different level of importance.  I can appreciate how a company may have been "too busy" to place an order in advance and they may want 80 bags next week.  Or is it that they just didn't respect me and what I do enough to order in advance?  Hmmm...interesting question!  I have a crude saying (CRUDE ALERT!)  "I don't just pull these bags out of my butt!  I actually have to MAKE them!"  I am committed to my career but I also have a life.  I have a husband, a yard, and I have a family member who I help to look after.  I have to consider what constitutes an emergency.  I may have just been up all night wondering if this is my mother-in-law's last night on this earth.  When I come home, I do my best to shake off what I may have been dealing with and I jump back into work mode but EVERYBODY has something that they are dealing with in their life.

I have learned that concept more than once in my life and because of it, I try to live a life of compassion.  I do try to consider what others may be going through.  If somebody cuts me off in traffic, instead of getting peaved, I truly try to imagine just what that person's mind may be preoccupied with.  Are they on their way to the hospital?  Did someone they love just receive a diagnosis of something dreadful and their mind isn't where it should be?  Could they be hurrying in to the grocery store to frantically grab an item that was a dying request of a loved one?  Yep!  I have been that person and I know that I am not unique or alone.  Rather than to assume people are just "jerks" I prefer to assume that most inconsiderate people have something consuming their thoughts and affecting their actions.   

So right now, even though the 2013 Holiday season is kicking off, I admit to you that my production level is a bit lower than some years.  I carefully schedule in all of the jobs that I have taken so that I don't let anyone down.  I promise to always do my best, but please don't begrudge that I take one day a week off.  If I tell you that I can't take on an extra project, I am not being a diva.  I am being human and understanding my own limitations.  "Everybody has something" going on in their lives.  For me....it is LIFE itself. 

a hui hou   

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, Tote Bags Stacked up to the Moon...

Just to keep the blogging momentum going, I thought I would show you what I have going on this fall. Or atleast some of what I have going on.  A girl can't share all her secrets, ya know! 

Besides keeping my stores stocked up for the holidays, in August I accepted a corporate order for 825 bags that is due in the spring.  Shown is about 200 of the 275 tote bags that are being made for this group.  They ordered 3 different designs of bags.  Work is progressing nicely and I am right on schedule to reach my target completion date.  I have also begun prepping 275 vinyl laminate lined swim suit bags that will be part of a 3 piece amenity set given to each couple in attendance of this incentive group.  The colors are bright, tropical and festive.  The sets look great and I will be proud to have my name on this project.  But it is lots of work.  A project of this size doesn't just fall together by itself.  I ordered 1200 yards of fabric, a plethora of coffee bags, 1000's of yards of cotton webbing and a box load of magnetic snaps.  That aside from the 550 cord ends, 275 cord locks, 275 swivel hooks 13 bolts of vinyl laminate,  500 yds of cording, 100 yards of cotton canvas, 6 bolts of stabilizer and 6 bolts of fusible fleece.  Ouch!  You should have seen that credit card statement! 

I love working with this group though.  This is the third project that I have collaborated with them on and they trust me and I them, which is a really good place to work from. 

Due to my heavy work load that I take on, I only accept a limited number of corporate orders each year.  I try to be aware of my limitations as a small company and always want to produce and oversee quality work.  If I were to take on every job that presented itself, I would have to hire many more people and I would not have the quality control that I choose to keep. 

I often hear, "You are going to have to hire more help."  I guess that would depend on the direction I choose to lead my company into.  I am not saying "no" to that suggestion, but often people don't realize that more bodies can also be more headaches.  More time managing, less time working.  The bigger my business gets, the less time I have to sew.  Much of my days are spent ordering supplies, shipping products, preparing invoices, marketing, meeting with clients, delivering products and then I get back to the studio and say, "now...where was I?"  I am lucky to have one trusted seamstress who has been with me for 4 years.  We work well together.  I respect her and value her.  She knows that I insist on her putting her family before work.  I remind her that the work will be here but one day her family (kids) won't be.  I wish I would have had an employer tell me that when I was young and trying to "do it all".  In turn, she gives me her all when she is working.  What more could I ask? 

I also have my trusted MM.  He often cuts out fabric for me when I really need to streamline my production process.  What a big help that is!  He set up an area outside that can accommodate the large 60 yd rolls of fabric with a cutting table.  That way we can both be working in different areas and we meet up for lunch or each at our own comfy chair for a rousing game of Words With Friends.  (He always beats me BTW). 

So there you have it.  A peek into my life, such as it is today.  A hot cup of Kona coffee.  My old scruffy cat by my feet and a "To Do" list an arms length long.  I'm ready to roll! 

a hui hou

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Being True to Myself...Again!

Sometimes my customers pick up the phone and call me out of the clear blue Hawaiian sky!  It is so nice when I have an opportunity to chat with customers.  I think about the designers who are "too big" for that and wonder if one day I will no longer answer my own phone.  Doing what you love isn't a bad way to spend your day.  I have to admit something though.  It almost feels like a dirty little secret!  Being a self employed maven doesn't come without a dose of stress.  It seems that the more stores I have added to my "ohana" the less "self employed I feel and the more it feels like I am working for someone else.  Someone with their own opinions on how I should run my business, what fabrics I should be using and what prices I should be charging.  You would be surprised (or maybe not) at the number of people who feel compelled to tell me how to make a bag!  ("If only it was leather...if only it had the burlap on the bottom instead of the top...if only it was just like Vera Bradley!...)  Would you ask a hibiscus why it wasn't more like an orchid?  Some people would!  But wouldn't it be better to accept each for their own beauty? 

As much as I respect others opinions, I also have to be true to myself.  I believe that the whole reason why Sasaki Bags has experienced the growth that it has over these past six years, is because I make things that I love and would personally use.  When I start straying away from that, in an effort to please EVERYONE on the planet, well, I believe it is a "lose, lose" situation. 

I have been asked,  "Can you make diaper bags?", or even "Can you make a bag for doggie poop bags to fit inside?"   Although many of my bags were born from the great minds of my customers, I have found that sometimes, my answer has to be "not at this time".  The reason?  For example, diaper bags.  Yes, I am a mom.  But my kids are 30+ years old!  I am not familiar with all of the current doo-dads and do-hickeys that the modern mom wants to carry. It needs straps carefully positioned to attach to the new stroller designs and hooks and such for all sorts of things for the modern baby.   Also I believe that a great diaper bag must have oodles of pockets and I would want it to have vinyl on the inside so that I wouldn't be caught "crying over spilt milk".  I COULD do all of that, but my pricing would have to be too high and I couldn't mass produce them due to the time it would take to make them.  It isn't cost effective for me to design a bag that I only make a few of.   So I admit, I have recently purchased diaper bags from companies who specialize in just diaper bags.  I invite you to do the same. 

My experience has been that when I start saying yes to too many styles or types of bags, I don't have the time to perfect any of them.  At times I enjoy making a custom request because I learn something each time I make a bag.  As many of you know, I am a goal oriented gal.  With that in mind, one of my new goals is to be listed as one of the top bag sellers on Etsy.  (just puttin' it out there!) To do so you have to have over 1000 sales.  I have been studying the top sellers and found something interesting.  The shops that sell the most, are concentrating on their Etsy stores, not on wholesaling to all of the brick and mortar stores.  Also, they have a very limited number of designs.  One gal strives to make the best iPad and laptop bags out there.  Another is famous for her coin purses.  That is all she makes is 1000's of coin purses. 

Now, mind you, I love variety and don't have plans to eliminate my tried and true designs.  But I do believe there is a lesson in there somewhere that I could learn from.  Do something, do it well and don't second guess your gut.  I know I will make mistakes.  I only hope to live long enough to make some doozies!  ha!  But that is how each of us grows, by seeing what works and what doesn't for us.  Listening to our OWN voice before that of others.  Being true...to ourselves. 

a hui hou
A stepping stone I made out of hypertufa with the Japanese images for "Peace". 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

2013...Bring it on!


You know what they say...."What happened in 2012, stays in 2012!"  Okay, maybe I am the only person who has said that but I am ready for the new year!  Not that last year was bad.  No, but fresh starts just feel so good. 

Those of you who follow me (mom, I'm talking to you!) know that each year, I like to choose a word of the year as my theme.  This year, I decided to pick one of my least favorite words to see if I can embrace it.  So here it is:

I can't tell you why, exactly, but I am what you could call, "a change resister".  I tend to like things comfortable and familiar in many aspects of my life.  But then I got to thinking about that word "change".  It isn't ALL bad.  After all, there is always "spare change", "loose change", and one of my favorite prerogatives "change your mind".  On the "yang" side of it are of course, "change a diaper", "change of plans" and "change of life".  Oh yes, I am learning a few things about that last one in the past year too!  *fanning my self vigorously*.   Through out my life, however, even changes that I didn't want or look forward to, turned out okay.  Often, turning that new leaf can lead to exciting new opportunities.  It has been 5 years now since I decided to change my career path and work towards becoming self employed.  It's been two years already since I made the big leapin' change of being totally self employed.  What a journey and there have been no regrets. 
I don't know yet where this word, "Change" will lead me, but I do know that next January, I won't be exactly the same person that I am today.  Each person I meet, each breathe I take are like the gentle waves that subtly and slowly change the landscape.  Change is in the air....can you feel it? 
a hui hou