“Experience the luxurious you.”
Sharing with us the mission behind the Lux Aloha brand, owner Melissa Jean Riggs tells us how she got her start in sewing and owning a business. But first, let’s hear more about this motto!
“We get caught up in the world. No matter what’s going on we need to take a pause. Embrace the luxurious you. Embrace more luxury in our lives. In Hawaii, we live in the most luxurious places," says Melissa.
Choosing to see the abundance of everything in life, she tells us “there is so much opportunity. Go for what your passion is. When you have passion about something it’s not always the same. I try to stay true to Lux Aloha which is luxury and aloha.”
So where did Lux Aloha come from? Simple – two words luxury and aloha.
Lux is a word that her grandma used her whole life, signing cards with it, meaning 'love you much'. It also means light, universe and all of the wonderful things. “Aloha is fragile,” Melissa says, “everybody wants it but gets frustrated and busy. Luxury and aloha clash but are also woven together.”
Due to the tourism industry, with Made in Maui and Hawaii collectives, Lux Aloha is more than a brand but a collective. As she grows, her real mission is not just about the Lux Aloha brand that she’s designing but about Made in the Islands, Made in Hawaii collective.
“Even though we’re separated, we’re also all so together,” she says. “As a force we could change how we’re doing business and exporting/importing. A lot of us could make a living off things we love and pursuing our passion.”
The Lux Aloha brand all started with a girl born in Bolinas California, north of San Francisco bay area Marin County. Blessed to have best of both worlds, the little town reminded of her Hawaii, and she moved to Maui at the age of 6, having been here over now for 20 years. Melissa tells us that she’s the typical Cali Maui surfer girl but also a country girl at heart with a love for horseback riding.
The journey into fashion began with a trip to California, where she would buy fabric scraps in the streets of San Francisco and saw a clip of FIDM fashion design school and thought about attending. Ultimately, she decided to move back to Maui, saying that if she wants to wear a wet suit she wants to be in Maui. Not only that, but with her family there, she wanted to be around everyone. While she began sewing at 15, she didn’t fully dive into it right away, as she started her own family young, having her first son at 18 and choosing to have him over going to FIDM. Melissa continued to pursue sewing at home, doing alterations as a side gig, until she had another son and put sewing aside for a little bit.
By the age of 20, she took her first sewing class at the community college in Maui, learning industrial sewing and construction, after being all self-taught the first five years and sewing as a hobby. Then deciding not to take any more classes, Melissa knew that the sewing career she wanted was more artist style and creating new fresh ideas, not sewing patterns and seamstress/design work in typical way.
Around that time she worked for Love the Beach Maui, where she made custom bathing suits. As an employee, her job was to do fittings and design custom swimsuits for customers. She worked there for Lucinda for many years, learning to make swimwear and working with that material. There she also learned how to make sales and run a business.
“You can sew all you want,” she says, “but if you can’t sell what you’re sewing you can’t make a living off of it.”
Over the course of time, Melissa began to take on projects of her own, including that for Maui Police department uniforms. After working and sewing for over 10 years, she was ready to take the step in creating her own brand – something she has wanted to do since she was 15!
So her business came to life under So Surreal LLC - the original company name for the brand and alterations. In February, a month before the pandemic, she had her first successful fashion show and launched the Lux Aloha collection! With plans to sell mostly wholesale, because of the pandemic Melissa instead decided to start building her business and growing the Lux Aloha image.
Although 2020 was a hard year for everyone, she says that it opened another door of creativity, which happened to a lot of artists. “It was a nice pause,” she says, “I look for light in darkness and did things I never would have done otherwise or had time for. I wouldn’t be where I am now without the growth and networking that I did in 2020.”
While still working under the So Surreal brand, she’s considering separating that and Lux Aloha, as she says Lux Aloha is more clean and classic while So Surreal is whimsical and punky in a way. The fine line she says comes with different branding looks, keeping the brands separate but sisters.
So what inspires Melissa’s design style? She has always said from beginning that growing up in Marin and Maui, two of the most beautiful places, she is inspired by everything around her. From beach resorts to country houses, she loves the clash between country lifestyle and inspired by luxury. Melissa believes that everyone has the ability to live in luxury no matter what class you’re in and have a luxurious life despite what your circumstance is like.
“Stop to smell the roses,” she says, “I am inspired by the roses that we stop to smell.”
As a working mom, her personal style, what she wears and designs is very different, as she designs out of fantasy of what she would love to wear. The way she creates her patterns includes draping, comfort, clashes of stretch and chiffon material – all difficult things, but who doesn’t like challenge?
Her style leans more artistic, as she has painted all her life and often throws things together. A lot of designers, she says, draw a dress then make the pattern and dress but she does things backwards. First an idea pops into her head. Then falling in love with fabric, she looks for that first before knowing what to make of it, starts laying it out, imagining what to make, cuts the fabric into pieces and traces them. Tracing the way they are, she pieces together what she imagined, alters, and once it’s a wearable piece she adds on or takes away to make it whatever it turns into.
Sewing is art for Melissa. Her dad was artist, along with more in the family. Her great, great grandma was from Madera, Portugal and her mom told her that she could pick out a dress in catalog and her grandma could make it. Leaving it up to genetics, this is how she makes her designs.
As far as the future goes, while there is still much left to explore, right now she is pursuing beach lingerie and gowns. However, she does have an exciting announcement that she decided to share here with us first! Shyla, Miss Polynesia, has sponsored Melissa to make her outfits for competitions this summer in the Mainland for pageants. Congratulations, Melissa on this incredible opportunity!
What else is next? She plans to add more interns and employees as she grows and expands, with a lot to look forward to on production. People have asked why she doesn’t have her product manufactured somewhere else, but she says it’s about value and staying true to her brand. The brand is growing exponentially, with orders backed up to two weeks out!
“There’s a place for us,” Melissa says. “People will wait for something they hold value in. Wait for those customers. Growing organically is our best way to hold value.”
With many seamstresses out there willing to learn, 5-10 years from now she could see a sewing factory on every island like the one on Big Island, available to all designers on the islands. She hopes to start a small collective, share a factory, with seamstresses trained on multiple levels. As these ideas circle in her mind, she tells us that Lux Aloha has grown into so much more than a brand.
With one final thought, we wanted to know what Melissa’s favorite part is about what she does!
Networking is the first thing that comes to mind, as she tells us there are a lot of people around with so much talent. “Playing together,” she says, “brings you back to bliss of doing something you love and with someone doing something they love, creating a magical beautiful energy that shows in the pictures.”
She loves seeing something she values in another and being able to bring it out of them, telling us that encouragement brings people a long way. “We all get to experience it together, feeding off of everyone’s energy and pursuing passion together.”
Unlike regular jobs, you’re doing something you love with someone doing what they love, creating a lot of passion. Three words that come to her are: connected, collective, inspiration.
She goes on to tell us that when she thinks of clothing, she thinks about how someone made this and designed this and has a business selling it. There’s more to life and fashion than just the clothes you wear.
“So much aloha goes into every garment we wear. A thread of aloha can change the world. Like a ripple effect. If we do it, other countries, small businesses, people will do it. Rare items because of mass productions are getting lost, but people are starting to awaken to fact that what you wear matters. When people wear things made in Hawaii, they feel the aloha on them.”
Mahalo from the KAPAMAG Team,
Written by Katlin Tara for KAPAMAG
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