Owner, Kalaheo Designs, Inc.
Selected as participant for the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Enterprising Women of Color Business Center’s Business Certification Training Cohort 4A/4B
Yunah Joseph was just eight years old when her family immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea. They settled in Dallas, Texas and faced many challenges, including having to work hard in the family’s dry-cleaning business, for which Yunah was teased at school. Through hard work and determination, she emerged from those humble beginnings and entered the retail industry as a corporate buyer, working with industry titans like Caesar’s Palace, Warner Brothers, and Disney, just to name a few.
“It gave me a lot of insight and experience in how corporations run their businesses from a merchandising standpoint,” Yunah reflected. “I was one of the lucky ones who was trained as a buyer to do inventory management, analyze the business and measure lifecycles. My jobs enabled me to develop products and conduct market research to supply the data on location, product placement, psychographics and demographics—it was a good amount of left brain and right brain.”
Yunah’s career brought her to Hawaii where she worked at Hilo Hattie and met Terri Funakoshi, who is now YWCA Oʻahu Chief Operating Officer and introduced her to the MBDA Enterprising Women of Color Business Center. In 2021, Yunah was selected as a participant for the Center’s Business Certification Training Cohort 4A/4B and is now working with instructor/consultant Mari Villa to certify her own business Kalaheo Designs, Inc., a Kauai-based retail merchandising/consulting and jewelry company, that she started in 2009 after getting married and having a baby.
“Being a stay-at-home mom is fun and challenging,” she said, “But I also have a passion for products, merchandising and branding—taking a logo, concept or brand, and putting it out to the marketplace.”
With that calling in mind, Yunah began working as a consultant for local businesses, helping them with product development, B2B wholesale merchandising, and retail/marketing strategy. She also created Kailee Kauai, a jewelry line named after her daughter, through which she makes bracelets, necklaces, and earrings. Yunah uses the business to teach her daughter the values of work and independence by having her help make bracelets to earn allowance.
“I live in a resort area, so I have to think about what I would want to wear and what’s aesthetically pleasing to me, but also what other locals and tourists will buy,” she explained. “I look at colors and color combinations of where we live for inspiration. I study market trends and look at sales history. It’s trade shows, trends, high fashion, chain styles, jewelry styles—and how I can incorporate what’s been selling for the past 10 years with something different to go into a new segment. I love classic designs that transcend trends and fashion. I call it ‘simple elegance.’”
Yunah is most proud when she receives positive feedback about a product she designed. It brings her great joy to see someone sporting a shirt she created or enjoying her jewelry pieces.
But there’s a larger purpose and calling for Yunah—to use her business to achieve financial independence. As a past board member of YWCA Kauaʻi, she knows the challenges of financial abuse between couples and families, so it’s important for her to develop a solid foundation for herself and to help others do the same.
“My company has been hit pretty hard by COVID,” she said. “I do B2B, I rely on traveling to trade shows in bigger cities, and I haven’t been able to do that. Many stores have closed. I essentially have to start from the ground up. COVID has affected many couples, relationships, and families, and I’m no different. Now, I’m at the point where I need to buckle down and I have to pivot somehow to get to the next phase. I want to help my friends get there as well and show you can create and have your own little nest, too.”
Yunah offers the following advice to other women in entrepreneurship or other careers: “Build your tribe. Emotionally and mentally, we as women need our tribe. I love bouncing ideas off friends. It’s not paid advice; it’s your tribe. These are my girls; these are my friends. They’re there for me, and I’m there for them. That’s important as women. Before we’re entrepreneurs, we’re women, and it’s so important that we have that foundation with our tribe and community. You give and you receive, wherever your community is. You empower each other, you help take care of each other’s kids by guiding them the right way—this is how we grow as women and how businesses can grow too.”