Sisters By Design

(From left) Brenda Kenui, Dale Pregil, Carlene Wolf, Rae Cabatu-Mateo, Regina “Lola” Miller, Roxy Cabison, Rowena Austria, Jackie Sales-Iyo and Tiffany Kai-Kekipi

At its core, fashion brand Simply Sisters tells the story of owner Regina Miller and her hula hālau, which remains an integral part of inspiration for the brand.

Regina Miller, designer and founder of Hilo-based Simply Sisters, started her clothing brand for two simple reasons: her love for her hula sisters from New Hope Hilo’s Dance Ministry and her passion for modern island wear.

It began with Miller, who is affectionately known as “Lola,” using pareo from the Hilo Farmers Market to create garments for hālau performances. But it was her husband, Kimo Miller, who encouraged her to turn her hobby into a business and sell her designs at craft fairs.

“What I loved more than anything was the fellowship and fun of interacting with customers and my hula sisters. It was so rewarding for me,” she says. “I remember at our second fair in 2011, I made $500 and I was so excited to go spend it, but my husband said I had to put it all back in the business.”

Though it was never really Miller’s dream to go into fashion, she says she has found her passion in design and the relationships she has created in the community.

“This has really become a learning experience for me, and a lot of it has been trial and error,” Miller says. “But I really enjoy working with my husband. I come up with the ideas and vision for Simply Sisters, and he makes it happen. And my many hula sisters (of which there are nearly 30) are a beautiful part of our brand. It’s more than just dancing together or sharing this activity — it’s about sharing life. It’s a very special sisterhood.”

Simply Sisters may have started small, but it quickly gained popularity thanks to Miller’s modern take on aloha wear. From kalo to anthurium to lehua and orchid, all Simply Sisters’ designs reflect the beauty of the Big Island.

“Our island’s plants and flowers are in everything I create,” she says. “I love prints that are bold and bright, and feel our florals complement a woman’s body well.”

Miller’s son-in-law, James, takes his background in tattoo design and helps make her visions come to life in artwork that is hand-screened onto fabric.

In addition to women’s wear, Simply Sisters also offers men’s and keiki clothing, umbrellas, bags and jewelry, which Miller and her team take to pop-ups and crafts fairs on O‘ahu, Kaua‘i and Maui. Simply Sisters is also at Parker Ranch in Waimea, Kapohokine Adventures at Grand Naniloa Hotel and at the Simply Sisters boutique in Hilo.

Even with all the different events Simply Sisters now attends throughout the year, however, there’s something special about Merrie Monarch Week in Hilo, and this year is no different. Miller is planning to highlight her newest designs — hibiscus and bird of paradise — during Hilo’s busiest week of the year, starting with a fashion show.

The Grand Naniloa Fashion Showcase features several Hawai‘i designers and takes place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 23 — a prelude to the week of festivities. Then, find the brand at the official Merrie Monarch Invitational Hawaiian Arts Fair, which runs April 24-27, at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium. Those unable to make it to Merrie Monarch festivities can check out the boutique at its location at 961 Kīlauea Avenue next to Café 100.

“Merrie Monarch is the biggest event for our little town of Hilo,” says Miller. “I really think the festival perpetuates our town’s ideology of preserving the ways of the old, while also moving forwards towards the new.”

The Hilo community has been a tremendous support when it comes to the success of Simply Sisters, Miller says.

“Eight years ago I was just selling my jewelry to my friends at church. The church was instrumental to helping me get started. It gave me confidence to start my own business. And stores such as Parker Ranch, Aloha Grown and Kapohokine Adventures gave us a venue to sell our line, too. We are so thankful to our Hilo community that really helped support our business.”

What makes Simply Sisters different, says Miller, is its foundation of sisterhood and relationships with others.

Once a month, Miller opens her boutique to other small businesses to let them feature their own handcrafts at a pop-up, and also spends a great amount of time using her business to bless others — supporting various local organizations, including the Hilo Women’s Shelter and Puna Lava Relief among others.

“Part of growing Simply Sisters is to help others to grow also,” she says. “We are all ‘ohana in business, and that is part of showing the aloha spirit. I think I’ve learned that the secret of growth is helping others to grow.”

For more information on Simply Sisters, call 769-3384 or visit lolamillerdesigns.com.

Like Mother Like Daughter

Simply Sisters’ designer and founder Regina “Lola” Miller (pictured above) has passed down her keen eye for design to the next generation.

Miller’s daughter Alexis Ahakuelo, 25, has taken after her mother, starting her own line, LexBreezy Hawai‘i, in 2016.

“LexBreezy is my twist of mashing modern street and aloha wear together,” says Ahakuelo, who plans to feature a special release for this year’s Merrie Monarch Festival at the Simply Sisters boutique. “I’ve worked in retail since I was 16, and I’ve always been interested in fashion. After five years working in retail, I felt like I wanted to start looking to the future.”

Ahakuelo says her mother fanned the spark that helped her to get started.

“My mom always encouraged me to find my passion, and I found that in creating my brand,” she says. “At first it was scary. I didn’t know where to begin. But I started small and worked every day on my business. Once I started, all that fear and anxiety just faded away.”

LexBreezy Hawai‘i’s first release was a simple T-shirt style dress.

“I was nervous people wouldn’t love it as much as I did, but it ended up being a bigger hit than I envisioned,” she recalls. “I want every woman who wears my designs to feel empowered and beautiful.”

Many of Ahakuelo’s ideas come from Miller, as well.

“My mom and I love bouncing ideas back and forth,” she says. “We have similar tastes so our ideas evolve a lot when we’re together. Other ideas for designs come from my everyday life. My fiancé designs all my prints, just like he does with my mom’s line.”

Ahakuelo, who is studying design at Honolulu Community College on O‘ahu while she continues to build her brand, releases the majority of her new designs online. She says that her biggest strength is her unique twist on modern Hawaiian wear and her strong social media presence.

“If this is work, I don’t mind doing this for the rest of my life,” says Ahakuelo, who plans on opening her own studio in Honolulu, where she can design full-time and do custom orders after she graduates in May.

“We are constantly amazed by our daughter’s determination and dedication to her work,” adds Miller. “We are so proud of what she has done with her line and her growth in becoming a businesswoman.”

For more information, visit lexbreezyhawaii.com.