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This Former Flight Attendant and Her Roommate Started a Side Hustle With Just $2,000 Each. Then It Earned Them Nearly $600,000 — and Counting. Rachael Leina'ala Soares and Heather Aiu co-founded ALOHA Collection in 2014 — inspired by a "wet bikini" and "sweaty yoga gear."

By Amanda Breen Edited by Jessica Thomas

Key Takeaways

  • The co-founders envisioned bags that would protect items from the wear and tear associated with travel.
  • After a Kickstarter campaign validated their product idea, the duo secured a manufacturer and launched the line.
  • ALOHA saw $583,874 in revenue in 2016, and the co-founders quit their day jobs halfway through that year.
Courtesy of ALOHA Collection
Rachael Leinaʻala Soares, left; Heather Aiu, right.

This Side Hustle Spotlight Q&A features Rachael Leina'ala Soares and Heather Aiu, co-founders of ALOHA Collection, which carries "versatile bags and pouches designed for everyday use." Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

What was your day job (or other sources of income) when you started your side hustle?
Back when we were roommates starting our side hustle, Heather was in real estate looking for an opportunity to start her own business, and Rachael was an international flight attendant with a suitcase full of ideas.

When did you start your side hustle, and where did you find the inspiration for it?
The initial spark came in 2014 from real-world problems: Rachael's wet bikini and Heather's sweaty yoga gear. We envisioned creating multifunctional travel bags to protect belongings from spills, leaks, splashes and more. Today, our splash-proof bags are the perfect solution to life's everyday adventures.

Related: She Grew Her Side Hustle Sales From $0 to Over $6 Million in Just 6 Months — and an 'Old-School' Mindset Helped Her Do It

What were some of the first steps you took to get your side hustle off the ground?
We bootstrapped ALOHA Collection with a single prototype bag and $2,000 each. When we launched our Kickstarter campaign, it wasn't just about funding our first production run — it validated that there was a real interest in our product. We used those funds to attend our first trade show, where people loved the bags. We secured pre-orders right off the bat, which was crucial in securing a manufacturer and launching our product line.

Image Credit: Courtesy of ALOHA Collection

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while building your side hustle, and how did you navigate them?
Sourcing materials and finding reliable manufacturers was really challenging in the beginning. Our motto became, "If someone says no, figure out how to find a yes." With any setback our goal was to just keep moving forward!

How long did it take you to see consistent monthly revenue? How much did the side hustle earn?
For the first two years, we put every dollar back into the business. From our first year to our second year, we were able to triple revenue. Once we saw consistent growth, we quit our day jobs halfway through 2016.

Related: 'No One Took Me Seriously,' Says Gen Zer Who's Changing How People Date — Now Her Side Hustle Earns Up to $4,000 a Month

What does growth and revenue look like for ALOHA now?
We have a huge market share in Hawaii and have launched initiatives to expand into the continental U.S. Our retail footprint is growing rapidly, with five existing locations (Waikiki, Encinitas, Lido, Whalers Village, Malibu), Disney Springs and soon-to-open Ala Moana stores, and plans for 20 locations within the next three years. This success is fueled by a commitment to company culture, attracting and retaining top talent and a unique approach to goal-setting. Since 2014, ALOHA Collection has expanded into over 2,000 U.S. retailers and 25 countries, achieving remarkable revenue milestones: $62,913 in 2014, $204,067 in 2015 and $583,874 in 2016.

What do you enjoy most about running this business?
The most rewarding aspect of running ALOHA Collection is the multifaceted impact we create. It's the feeling of knowing we're making a real difference — providing opportunities for our team's growth and development and empowering customers to live active, adventurous lifestyles. That sense of purpose and connection to something bigger than ourselves, alongside the freedom to live and work on our terms, is the best feeling in the world. From day one, we set out to share ALOHA with the world and build an international ʻohana, a global family united by a love for travel and adventure.

Related: Looking for your next side hustle? Become a member of Entrepreneur+ and get access to the most profitable ways to earn extra cash today. Subscribe now during our 4th of July Sale and you'll save 33%.

What's your advice for others hoping to start successful side hustles or businesses of their own?
Remember that building a successful business is a marathon, not a sprint. Explore different paths, trust your gut and don't wait for everything to be perfect — just jump in and learn as you go. It's a constant learning curve, but that's part of the fun! Embrace the challenges as opportunities to learn and refine your approach, all while staying true to your core vision. Build a strong support system — find mentors or advisors who can guide you through the process.

This article is part of our ongoing Women Entrepreneur® series highlighting the stories, challenges and triumphs of running a business as a woman.

Amanda Breen

Entrepreneur Staff

Senior Features Writer

Amanda Breen is a senior features writer at Entrepreneur.com. She is a graduate of Barnard College and received an MFA in writing at Columbia University, where she was a news fellow for the School of the Arts.

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