Fierce, Creative, Resilient Aloha
By Sarah Hodges
Have you ever met someone who seems to embody the qualities of a real-life superhero? Meet Yvonne, the founder of Aloha is Love, a company that began with three-layered face masks and has since evolved into a movement to spread the spirit of aloha.
In early 2020, before most of us could have imagined the severity of the oncoming pandemic, Yvonne had an inkling that we were about to face great challenges, which would require certain safety measures like wearing facemasks. Coming from Asia, Yvonne was familiar with mask-wearing because of the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s. She had taken many flights between Hong Kong and Japan with people wearing masks to stay healthy. Wearing a mask was a culturally accepted and common practice. However, now living in Hawaii, where the norm of mask-wearing did not yet exist, Yvonne discovered there were very few places to find masks and absolutely nowhere to find ones that were three-layered and fit properly. “I couldn’t find any that were comfortable to wear for more than an hour,” explains Yvonne.
“You can’t just sit and wait for things to happen,” Yvonne shares. She lives by these words. Not waiting for anything, she took action and created her business DYY Creations, or Double Yum Yum, the first working name for what is now umbrellas Aloha is Love. Yvonne knew how to make masks and she loved making and eating delicious snacks and treats; the name was perfect and all-encompassing.
During this period, Yvonne was also in the midst of a big move from her home in Asia to Honolulu, where her elderly mother lives. She needed a way to stay in Hawaii, provide for herself and her teenage daughter, and take care of her mother. Because of the pandemic, she could not look to her usual career in event management. This is where Yvonne’s superhero-like willpower kicked in.
“You’ll get many nos, but you just have to keep pounding the pavement,” says Yvonne. Resilient, persistent, and patient, she knows it takes hard work to build something from the ground up. Once she was ready with her three-layered, perfectly fitting unisex facemasks, she then needed to get them out into the world. Her good heart compelled her to donate masks to a nearby senior home, offering this added layer of protection to some of those most in need. Right after making the donation, she experienced a lot of other good things pouring back in her direction. At first places like Foodland, a tough-to-get-into local shop, told her they didn’t have room for her masks. With time and persistence, Yvonne continued to establish her company. Today, you can her face masks at most Foodland stores across the Hawaiian Islands! She even got her masks into the award-winning Wantanabe Floral shop.
“I love Hawaiian patterns, but I also wanted something simple for a mask,” explains Yvonne, who grew up in Hawaii until her early college years. She decided to go with solid black and add a meaningful and universal message: “Aloha is Love.” She first doodled this message on a piece of paper during the lockdowns, not knowing just how relevant the words would soon become. “You wear it and feel good about it,” she says with a smile. Yvonne’s life mission is to share the culture of Hawaii and aloha with the world.
“Dream! You don’t know what will happen, but you can always try,” says Yvonne, who not only dared to dream but also learned to adapt as the roller coaster of the pandemic continued. “You have to be quick and see where things take you,” she says. When the demand for masks decreased, as people hoped they would no longer be needed, Yvonne responded swiftly, expanding beyond masks and creating a line of well-made, beautifully fitting, activewear tops, onesies, stationary, caps, totes, and much more to come. Today she wears her shirts and masks proudly and spreads the word about her business with gusto. The response continues to overwhelm her with joy.
Along the way, Yvonne found a community of women supporting women in business and sisterhood. “Aloha is a real thing on the island,” says Yvonne gratefully. “If you’re doing business with heart so much can happen.” Making meaningful connections and learning more about the community that surrounds her makes all the challenges of business worth it. Now at the the Lokahi Farmers Market in Kailua on most Sundays, Yvonne feels a growing sense of family amongst the vendors.
Yvonne is also a loyal student of Still & Moving Center and has found a haven at the center ever since she first started coming back to Hawaii to visit her mother and ‘ohana. “Still & Moving is core for me,” says Yvonne. She first stumbled upon the space online, over eight years ago. “I went for my first ever Nia class with Renée,” Yvonne recalls. She had no idea what she was in for. “By the end of class, not only was I sweating buckets but I was shedding tears. It was instantly clear to me that this class was also a session of healing, releasing, restoring and rejuvenating one’s mind, body and soul.” Her Nia experience with Renée felt life-changing. “I knew that meeting Renée was no accident,” states Yvonne. “She has become one of my life mentors, a friend, and shining light for me.”
Meeting and dancing with Kumu Mālia, Doris and her hula sisters (and brothers) from the center also brought Yvonne cherished friendships and connections. “I’m very grateful,” says Yvonne.
She also felt strong support from Still & Moving when she started Aloha is Love. “Renée was definitely one of the first people to believe in my endeavor and livelihood,” she expresses. She’s happy that her fellow dancers love her message too. Yvonne continues to dance online in Still & Moving Center’s virtual classes in the little moments when she’s not running her business. “Each time I’m there I feel a sense of peace and empowerment,” she says.
“Aloha is love is all around me. I believe it’s an important, universal message.”
Yvonne expresses that this message is for everyone, for all times – it’s not just a trend. As the universe continues to align with what she’s doing, this message of aloha spreads throughout the island and across the world. It’s not just about the masks. Yvonne is calling in a whole movement of aloha.
Yvonne wants to say a special thank you to her precious ‘ohana and dear friends in Hawaii and around the world who wholeheartedly supported her from day one. She says: “You know who you are, and I couldn’t have done it without you.”
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This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)