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TANYA UYEHARA

Founder, Designer, and Owner of Laha`ole Designs

Success:

Selected to participate in the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Enterprising Women of Color (EWOC) Business Center’s Certification Training Cohort 2. During the COVID lockdown in 2020, Tanya saw a 200% increase in revenue. She is starting her certification process.

Tanya Uyehara, founder, designer, and owner of Laha`ole Designs, saw the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 as a blessing in disguise as it allowed her to grow her business substantially! Laha`ole Designs’ sales revenue grew by 200%, allowing Tanya to achieve her personal and business goals. Looking to expand and grow her business, she jumped into the application process of the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Enterprising Women of Color (EWOC) Business Center’s Certification Training Cohort 2! She identifies as Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, and Caucasian. Tanya was the first member of her family to go to college and became a mother to her 4 children while obtaining her 3 degrees. She holds an associate's degree in Cosmetology from Honolulu Community College (HCC), a bachelor's degree in Business Accounting from the University of Hawai`i at West O`ahu, (UH West O`ahu), and a master’s degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Indigenous Management from the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa (UHM). Before becoming the full-time owner of Laha`ole Designs, she was working at UH Mānoa as a Native Hawaiian Retention Specialist.

Laha`ole Designs is a Native Hawaiian-style online boutique that sells jewelry, clothing, accessories, and home décor. Combining Tanya’s passion for empowering the Native Hawaiian culture and inspiration to make Christmas gifts for her nieces, she built Laha`ole Designs.

“I was on maternity leave with my fourth child and wanted to create Christmas gifts for my nieces. I first taught myself how to solder through YouTube videos, then took a class with a local jewelry store to learn how to make bangles. Being a mom of 4 I could only afford to treat this as a hobby between my kids' practice schedules for sports and school. After a long discussion with my husband, I quit my full-time job and decided to establish this into a business in 2013. At first, all I wanted was to make enough profit to pay for the tools purchased to make my jewelry. Over the years, it just snowballed into something bigger. From paying off my tools to paying off my business credit card to becoming a fully self-sustaining company!” –Tanya Uyehara, Founder, Designer, & Owner, Laha`ole Designs


In Hawaiian, laha`ole means rare, choice, and unique. Tanya named her company, Laha`ole Designs, after her daughter and she strives to create products that stand out amongst the thousands of other local jewelry small businesses. After attending the World Indigenous Peoples Conference (WIPCE), her mindset as a business owner shifted. She wanted to make sure her products would live up to her business name! “I met an Alaskan Native American Woman with tattoos on the side of her mouth that looked like birds' feet. When asking her what her tattoos meant, she replied, ‘they are the trees of my tribe in Alaska’. This simple but meaningful answer made me realize that I wanted to create things with meaning, that shared stories and created connections with the wearer. I knew that I had to differentiate my business from the other companies in Hawai`i. I began asking myself ‘how can I be laha`ole and use my products to highlight our culture and the endemic species here in Hawai`i?’”.

Tanya expresses that although she has been running her business by herself, she was fortunate to have the volunteered help from her family. “My brother, kids, and family have always been there to help. My brother, son, and I would hand print our shirts when we first started, and my son has always been my number one sales associate!”. With the significant growth of her company over the COVID-19 lockdown and big plans moving forward, Tanya has expanded her sources. “The lockdown was a blessing in disguise as it allowed me to stop and work on my business. I was actually in virtual school learning how to sew and about fashion. I used the extra scraps of fabric from my `Ilima’ collection to create face masks to sell and donate to our essential workers across the state. It grew to be a little overwhelming but seeing our frontline workers using masks that I made was amazing!”.

“Moving forward, my goals are to move into a space and grow my wholesale stockiest to create more opportunity for exposure. I have always struggled with not allowing people to help me, but it can be too stressful. Over the years, I’ve partnered with a local jewelry manufacturing company that takes my designs and turns them into the products I sell today. Iʻm learning that with a growing business comes the need for more assistance. Currently, I'm getting a marketing team together, and continue to create more designs. Laha`ole Designs is now in a new chapter! I am blessed to have the opportunity to grow...”. – Tanya Uyehara

Although Tanya is still mapping her journey in entrepreneurship, the rewarding moments of seeing her customer’s satisfaction prevails.

“8 years later, I still get so excited when I see someone in the community with my products. I love seeing people using them because it’s so gratifying to know that they enjoy it as much as I did making it. When we first established, one of our first products was these handprinted ‘Home’ shirts that my brother, oldest son, and I printed. Till this day, my kids and I will see people in them and it makes us smile. It’s the best part of my job”. –Tanya Uyehara

She applied to the MBDA EWOC Business Center’s Certification Training Cohort 2 as soon as she heard about it from business friend Camille Heung, owner and founder of Valia Honolulu. Tanya expresses that this one-of-a-kind cohort could allow her to grow not only her business but act on her passion for empowering the Native Hawaiian community and other Women-Owned businesses. “After hearing about the statistics about the 42,000 women small business owners here in Hawai`i and only a small fraction of them being certified, plus the federal contracts leaving Hawai`i to go to the mainland, I was frustrated. I knew that I needed to be a part of this cohort to help change that by supporting and empowering our communities. This cohort was a way for me to solidify that I can be of assistance.”.

Laha`ole Designs is now in the beginning stages of her Women-Owned and minority certifications. Tanya’s piece of advice to aspiring women small business owners:

“Anything is possible. Work hard and keep going at it! Things won't change within a day and it’s going to be hard, but don’t give up! If you know what you want and what your end goal is, don’t stop. Be persistent until you can achieve them.”