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How a flight attendant and banker met on Craigslist and created a million-dollar brand

The Aloha Collection co-founders used their creativity to solve a common problem.
Heather Aiu and Rachael Leina'ala created a line of water-resistant travel bags with sales that give back to their community.
Heather Aiu and Rachael Leina'ala created a line of water-resistant travel bags with sales that give back to their community.Courtesy Greg Merino
/ Source: TMRW

We are all works in progress; even the successful women you see owning it on Instagram faced stumbling blocks along the way and continue to work hard to stay at the top of their game. In this series, we're sitting down with the people that inspire us to find out: How'd they do it? And what is success really like? This is "Getting There."

Aloha Collection founders Heather Aiu and Rachael Leina'ala never intended to start an international brand, but that's exactly what the former banker and flight attendant have done with their line of "splash-proof" bags and accessories.

The duo, who just opened their first flagship store in Honolulu, sat down with TMRW to talk about their humble beginnings on Kickstarter, the importance of giving back and the advice they'd share with fellow entrepreneurs.

TMRW: So let me get this straight: You two met on Craigslist over a vacant-room listing?

Heather: Yes! We like to call it fate.

TMRW: As a private mortgage banker and flight attendant, where did the idea for Aloha Collection come about?

Rachael: The initial idea came from me being a flight attendant. I always had a wet bikini. I didn't want to use a plastic bag from my layover hotel so I would wrap my wet bikini in a sarong, which wasn't a good solution. Traveling the world with a carry-on doesn't allow much space for anything extra, so my search for a lightweight bikini bag hatched the idea of Aloha Collection. At the time, Heather was doing hot yoga. Plastic bags got banned and she had the same problem — there was nowhere to stow her sweaty yoga clothes after class. The original two sizes were meant for my wet bikini and Heather's hot yoga clothes.

TMRW: You each contributed $2,000 and then launched a Kickstarter. What was it like to crowdfund and what kind of support did you receive?

Heather: After getting a logo, a trademark and a couple of samples, our initial $4,000 was gone. We went back to the drawing board and launched a Kickstarter campaign. With the help of friends and family, we raised $6000, which was enough to go into production.

TMRW: How has the brand evolved?

Rachael: We started with two pouches. We expanded those two designs into hundreds of skus, 40 employees and an international ohana (or family). It's not just bags anymore, it is a lifestyle.

TMRW: As a company owned by native Hawaiians, you give back 5% of annual profits to Hawaii-based conservation organizations. Why is this so important to you?

Heather: Giving back to Hawaii is important to us. Hawaii is our home. Hawaii has given us so much. We want to give so that future generations can enjoy the culture and natural beauty that we grew up with.

TMRW: What is your best piece of advice for entrepreneurs?

Heather and Rachael: Just start. There are so many reasons not to. It is never going to be perfect. And it's not going to be easy. You will learn from your mistakes. If someone says no, figure out how to find a yes. Just start and keep moving forward.