Opened just over a year ago, Aloha Sunday is an 800-sq.-foot (74-sq.-meter) boutique that carries its own men’s contemporary label along with other brands. Here, its co-owner, Kahana Kalama, discusses the young Southern California shop’s evolution and the challenges of being a retailer today. Interview by Christopher Blomquist

What is the history and background of Aloha Sunday Supply Co.?
I grew up in Hawaii and the name Aloha Sunday is a play off of a phrase they commonly use there. “Aloha Friday” is more or less the Hawaiian version of TGIF. It’s a celebration of the end of the workweek and an expression of relief that the weekend is near. Aloha Sunday is essentially a challenge and encouragement to live passionately and in a way that celebrates the start of the week.

The Hawaiian shirt or as we say in Hawaii, the Aloha Shirt, has always and continues to be the most worn article of clothing by anyone in Hawaii looking to “dress up.” Attend any baby luau, wedding reception or business board meeting and 90% of the people there will be adorned in some sort of Aloha Shirt.

Having a lean and slender build always posed a problem in finding something that fit because the majority of Aloha Shirts tended to have a very boxy cut. Like most resort destinations, the warm and humid climate in Hawaii can be difficult to dress for without looking like a Baby-Boomer tourist or a mid twenties surf bum and it’s more or less this problem that led to the idea of Aloha Sunday.

Aloha Sunday has since grown into a complete collection of finely tailored clothing built around the concept of dressing for an occasion. The vision for Aloha Sunday has always been to create functional climate friendly and regionally appropriate attire that maintains a sharp and put-together look.

The idea for Aloha Sunday Supply Co. came about as a desire to create an inspiring space where people can come to experience the brand. At the time I wanted to set up a self-sustaining brick-and-mortar location that would provide the infrastructure to house inventory, fulfill online orders and host events. I also wanted to stock the store with other brands that share our ethos.

Aloha Sunday
Aloha Sunday

What are some of your current bestsellers brandwise and itemwise?
As expected Aloha Sunday is always on the top of the list. With San Diego being a very surf-centric city we tend to do well with the Aloha Sunday 17” board shorts and or 16” hybrid swim trunk. We've recently introduced Baxter of California as our first men's well-being label and it has performed extremely well. We also do well with Portland-based Eyewear Company Shwood.  Their handcrafted wooden sunglasses are always in high demand.

What item’s or brand’s sales performance has really surprised you?
We've seen a surprising response to products that have an artisanal handmade feel. For example, a relatively young brand The West is Dead offers amazing American made selvedge denim and they back every product in their range with a lifetime warranty.

Waxed canvas and leather bags handcrafted in Portland, Oregon by Matt Pierce of Wood and Faulk also performed much better than expected. It’s products like these that have the most heart and are the most fun to introduce to our customers.

Who is your “typical” customer?
Our typical customers are men who like to put effort and care into their wardrobe but don't want to look outrageous. They're usually out of college with steady employment and stable relationships. A good majority of our customers also share some sort of affinity with the ocean or the sport of surfing but don’t want to look like a 20-year-old grom. The typical age range of our customers is 25 to 40.

How does the store compare to other shops in the San Diego area? What sets Aloha Sunday apart?
Aside from the traditional surf shops and a few shopping malls and department stores, San Diego really doesn’t have much of a retail presence. However, we try to differentiate Aloha Sunday from other stores in San Diego by carrying quality products with a story that aren’t overly distributed.  I’d say roughly 80% of our offerings are available only through us, south of Los Angeles.

We carry products that fit into several different price points within the store.  The higher end pieces tend to be from brands that most retailers in Southern California try to stay away from. It’s our ongoing goal to educate our customers about value. We make sure to communicate why every product we release is worth the price tag.

We care a lot about the atmosphere of the store. As much as we would like to maximize the assortment of our offerings I place a lot of importance in minimalism and cleanliness and I feel as though this shows in the merchandising. We also put a lot of emphasis in customer service and in creating a social environment that is comfortable and space that lacks pretense.

What has been the biggest challenge of having the store thus far?
We always wanted the store to be a very social space, a place where neighbors, friends and customers would feel comfortable just stopping in for casual conversation or to meet up with others. To our contentment that’s exactly how the space is being used, but I admit that I definitely underestimated the toll this would take on workplace efficiency and actually getting things done.

As much fun as it is to wrap out with customers I’ve had to make it a habit to spend a lot of time outside of the store to make sure all of the other aspects of the business are cared for.

What has been your favorite memory of the store thus far?
It’s hard to pinpoint just one experience because I’ve had so many amazing memories after only 15 months of being in business.  However, I’d have to say that our grand opening was pretty special. Prior to opening our doors I had a lot of doubt as to whether or not San Diego was ready for a store like ours. The response we received on our opening night was overwhelmingly positive and it continues to get better.

How do you find new brands and merchandise?
We discover new brands through the Internet, friends, traveling and trade shows. A lot of the brands and products we carry right now are created by people we have known for a long while. Before we jump into selling anything we like to test the product ourselves. We only sell products that we personally back.

Tell us about the in-house line. How important is it for retailers to have their own lines these days?
Our in-house line is what inspired the store. It existed before the store and it make sense to sell the quality product that we create. I think having your own line is an excellent opportunity to create brand equity and increase margins. However, I don’t think it’s for everyone.

Anything worth doing should be done well, and the same goes for creating your own in-house line. Creating a line is a very time intensive and difficult process. In the case of Aloha Sunday where all of our products are being manufactured in the USA it is even more difficult.

My partner has 19 years of experience in design, merchandising and manufacturing.  Creating a complete collection of this quality would not be possible without her.

Aloha Sunday
Aloha Sunday
What do you think is the overall state of fashion and retail at the moment?
Fashion is such a broad term that has different meanings in subcultures. As it relates to Aloha Sunday I feel as though the bar is being raised. I think it’s becoming harder and harder to be unique. As everything is becoming more transparent it’s important that designers and brands alike employ a higher level of creativity, resourcefulness and authenticity.

When it comes to retail I think that in addition to sound business practices the most successful retailers are those who focus on creating an experience as opposed to those who solely offer goods and services.

How do you stay in touch with your current customers and attract new ones?
Our primary method of staying in touch with our customers is through e-mail and social media. We tend to attract a lot of new customers through the on- and offsite events that we organize.

Social media is a very helpful tool to reach our online community. In-store events also play a large role in involving customers in the Aloha Sunday experience. We just try to make sure that we aren’t throwing the same party twice. Events in a single location can become a bit redundant thus it’s important to make sure that each affair has an element of surprise.

Tell us about the store’s décor.
The interior was built primarily out of barn wood that I salvaged from a friend’s grandpa’s barn in Oregon.

What special services, etc. does Aloha Sunday offer customers?
We offer free gift-wrapping on all purchases, in-store and online, which can be very persuasive during the holiday season.  We also tend to hand deliver orders when they’re in San Diego. We’ve also been known to serve up a glass of whiskey to those looking to enrich their shopping experience.

How important are sales at the store?
To be honest it’s very confusing. When it comes to digital retail, there’s a new discount site popping up every day. Overall there’s a discount culture that’s becoming stronger than ever, largely in part to the ease of price comparing online and the perceived economic status. It’s becoming more important for us to offer products that will last beyond the current fashion cycle, especially when we are commanding a higher price point.

What percentage of total sales does the online store account for? And is selling online easier or more difficult than in the brick-and-mortar store?
Right now online sales account for about 30% of our total sales. Once we have a customer in our brick-and-mortar store it’s much easier to sell to them. This is largely due to the customer actually being able to get the complete retail experience of being able to touch a product and actually try it on.

Nonetheless, growing our digital presence is a very high priority for us. We realize that there is so much potential to reach a much larger audience. We have found it fairly common for a customer to comb through our website to decide what they want and then actually come into the store to make a purchase.

What are two or three rules that every retailer always needs to follow?
1.  Treat people well… At the end of the day it all boils down to people.

2.  Do something different.

3.  Follow your instinct… authenticity can’t be forged.

What fashion trend, brand or specific piece are you excited to carry for the spring 2013 season?
I’m the most excited to be bringing the Aloha Sunday spring 2013 collection into the store. It’s our first complete collection to date and we’re excited to be adding chinos, denim, walk shorts, printed wovens, blazers and jackets to our current swim offerings.