Lo and her staff
The first time I met Lo Kaimuloa was in the Lihue airport. She was dealing with huge cases of accessories she had brought to the Garden Isle for a trunk show. Riches was a brand new business and she was reaching out to neighbor islands. I was a brand new fashion writer and broadcaster and was immediately taken with Lo’s great taste and eye for design talent.
As Riches Kahala turns 30, I must salute Lo and her incredible staff for the success of this little retail gem. Small? Yes – for its first 16 years, Riches was 87 square feet; now it’s 200 – but a powerhouse in the Honolulu accessories world.
Bliss Lau, New York jewelry designer, born and raised in Honolulu. Photo courtesy Bliss Lau
Lo has discovered, and given a chance to, dozens of local designers who have thrived under her tutelage and often risen to national and international acclaim.
One fine example is Bliss Lau. Bliss is a Honolulu girl who went to Punahou, then on to Parson School of Design. Right out of school, she began as a handbag designer, and Lo grabbed up her bags. As Bliss segued into jewelry, Lo kept pace with her success, ordering each category as Bliss grew.
Lo said when she met Bliss, “I just took one look at her and knew she was going to be incredibly successful. You look at the design and the workmanship and you just know. They (designers such as Bliss) have a love for it, a gift for it, a passion.”
When she spots this passion, Lo does everything she possibly can to nurture the designer and introduce them to the business of fashion accessories. “I’m happy to help because it’s a hard, hard business, especially if you’re a one-man show,” she said.
Charm bracelets by Beachcomber Design
Lo helped her BFF from age 12, Cori Rilliet, take her passion for collecting shells and beach glass on Oahu beaches into a successful business. With constant mentoring from Lo, Cori began with lamps and picture frames and segued into jewelry. “She’s awesome,” Cori said. “I was nervous because the things in her shop were much more elegant than mine, but she was so gracious and said, yeah, of course, let’s see how it goes.”
Cori often travels with Lo on buying trips to NYC and L.A. “She has an eye that goes so quickly. She knows what she wants and what works for her clients and that’s a great quality to have.”
Among the other local designers Lo has launched and helped along the way are:
- Hands in the Sand
- Jana Lam
- Two Hands
- Catherine Weitzman
- Bliss Lau
- Kimberley Le
…and that list could go on and on.
Jana Lam’s bags have taken off in Honolulu. Riches Kahala had them first.
Riches Kahala is often way ahead of its time. Sometimes that is a boon and sometimes it’s a bit of a bust.
For example, Kate Spade: Lo and her hanai brother, Herman, who often goes on buying trips, spotted the line in NYC and bought the minimalist backpacks. “I brought it in and every single person said ‘Have you lost your mind?’” Her Kate Spade went on sale. Then her customers started seeing the line in NYC and they came home with a different attitude. And that was years before Kate Spade turned up in Neiman Marcus and later in her own stores.
In addition to Kate Spade, Riches has been ahead of its time bringing in national and international lines such as:
- Isabella Fiori
- Jose and Maria Barrera
- Save My Bag
- Stewart Stand
- Gerard Yosca
- Pietro NYC
- Helen Kaminski
Ippolita bracelets Photo courtesy Ippolita
Ippolita, which now buys full-page ads in Vogue and is sold in Neiman Marcus, was first carried in Hawaii by Riches. “I knew her husband and he asked me to look at her work,” Lo explained. “It was called Seno at first and I told her she should cal it by her name, Ippolita. We sold it as Seno and we always had to put it on sale before it caught fire” around the world.
Pietro NYC is one of her hottest current lines. “I’m trying to get quality, beautiful Italian leather products that aren’t $2,000,” she said. It’s also important that the bags are made in Manhattan, not China.
Another hot line is Laggo, which is made in L.A.
“About ten years ago, I made an attempt to buy things that are not made in China. I want things made in Hawaii or at least, the USA,” Lo said. “My clientele is very happy about this and they didn’t mind paying more for a quality product” made in our country.
Lo with her long time manager, Kelli.
At a time when retail employees change jobs almost as often as they change cell phones (and spend most of their working hours on said phones), the majority of Lo’s sales women have been with her for many years.
For example, Lo’s manager, Kelli Coffin, has been with her since 1995. She took a few breaks to get married and have children and try something a little different, but she always came back to Riches and to Lo, who is like a hanai mother to her. Sabrina Awana, Sammi Tom, Kristyn Wong and Lei Ann Agag, have all been with Riches for many years. “New girls,” who started working there this year, are Maria Ambrosio and Erica Elisha.
Lo, who has two sons, sees all her employees as “her girls.” “I’ve watched my girls become strong, beautiful young women. They were just little girls when they joined me,” she said. “It’s not easy to work by yourself. You have to be super-motivated and love what you do to be in a small environment and motivate yourself.”
Riches feels more like a “Cheers,” where “everybody knows your name” – and your personal taste.
The kiosk effect allows Lo and “her girls” to get to know each customer personally and they often talk story. Lo said there are days when they feel like psychologists or bartenders.
“Integrity is really important to me and our clients trust us,” Lo said.
Another key to Riches Kahala’s success is entirely behind the scenes. Lulu Ying has worked with Lo since the beginning, doing the bookkeeping, human resources, party planning – you name it. Lo says she could not have done the business without Lulu.
Lo chooses her designers according to the kind of people they are, rather than just by their accessories and their popularity. “The most important thing in my line is the designers I have to deal with are kind, good people. I don’t care how hot (a line) is, I won’t bring it in if the designers are not good people. Because it’s about what we put into the world and that has never changed.”
And, after 30 years, it’s evident that it never will.
- Paula Rath