Sasha of @sashaloha_ is the perfect example of, well, the best of East meets West. The Japan-born, Hawaii-raised influencer brings Hawaiian culture to her largely Japanese followers, along with some cool new projects upcycling remnants from local creators' clothing lines into new designs. Outrigger chatted with the multi-hyphenate on being hapa, how the spirit of aloha is really all about giving back, the special omotenashi of Waikiki Beachcomber—and how a little bit of ukelele against a Hawaiian sunset makes everything better.
(Q) You were born in Japan and then went to high school and college in Hawaii. What is the most interesting aspect of your "aloha" meets "land of the rising sun" background? How do you bridge these two worlds today?
I was born in Japan but since I was little, half of the year I was in Hawaii until I officially attended Kahuku High School. So, I had many childhood friends that I grew up with here in Hawaii and aunties and uncles who welcomed me. They all taught me what the "aloha spirit" is. I was going back and forth between Japan and Hawaii and always felt like I was surrounded with aloha no matter where I was. Because of this, I was able to see Hawaii within Japan and Japan within Hawaii.
For me, I think I never had to overcome big differences because it’s almost like my background of Japan and Hawaii is melted within me and it’s all mixed. I’m hapa (my father is American and my mother is Japanese) and whenever people ask me if I’m Japanese or local, I have a hard time answering because I truly believe I’m local but at the same time I’m half Japanese and I am both. As I grew up, I realized that I’m so fortunate to be able to see both sides from both perspectives. I love both cultures and both countries, and I want to help bring these two island countries together. I want to share and show the beauty of both sides.
(Q) Your Insta is in Japanese and you have a huge following—what do you think your followers love most about the aloha lifestyle?
One of the things that I love about my followers from Instagram is that they are willing to learn and expand their perspective with me. I grew up and live in Hawaii but Hawaii has so many different color of nature and different sides that even locals discover something new every day. I think that’s something very special about Hawaii. I wanted to show people from outside of this island what Hawaii really is. I know that Waikiki is beautiful and doing some shopping there are lots of fun. But Hawaii has mountains, ocean, people, and places. And every time I show my followers the sunset on my instagram live or play a little ukulele, they are so happy and that makes me happy too.
Also as everyone knows, the lifestyles of Hawaiians were all about living with the nature. When we take something from the nature we give back, that’s a part of aloha life style too. So together we are educating and learning such as how we could prevent from harming the ocean, to wear rash guard and not use sunscreen, but when we use sunscreen, let’s use reef-safe products, or let’s use eco friendly shopping bag and not plastic bags. It might be a very simple and also common sense for most of the people but everyone’s wanting to learn those topics so when they come to Hawaii, they can be respectful towards the environment the locals cherish the most. I believe that my followers love the life style of aloha, which is caring for others, supporting each other through difficult times and learn from one another. That’s the life style of aloha for us.
(Q) We know Hawaii business were hit hard during the pandemic (as around the world)—and love that you started your organization Sasha Supports Hawaii to support local designers and brands via the Japanese market. How did you get your start? And how do you work to connect Hawaiian brands with Japanese consumers?
When I started my career as a model and TV show host, I made a determination that through my career, I would promote and support local small businesses in Hawaii. I have lot of friends who are owners of small businesses, artists and designers and I’ve seen them really struggle economically. When the pandemic hit Hawaii, it was worse than ever for them and I, myself, lost all my upcoming gigs and my income dropped to 0. I was fortunate enough to have a family that really supported me during the hard time and I really appreciate them. Because of their support, I was able to move forward with Sasha’s Support Hawaii (SSH) At first we didn’t know what to do or how we could support the local businesses but I saw that some of the people I know had to close their stores and move on to opening online shops but they needed to advertise so I offered to promote their products on my social media (mostly on Instagram).
When I started this project for promotions, it was during the “Stay Home order” in both Japan and Hawaii, and people were living with uncertainty and fear caused by the virus. Lots of people who were planning to come to Hawaii had to cancel their trips. My purpose for SSH was of course to support local small businesses but at the same time, I wanted to encourage my fans and followers from Japan during this pandemic. I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by my friend’s and family’s aloha so I wanted to share this spirit as much as possible to everyone. That was my motivation and driving force to start and continue SSH. Happiness is a chain reaction and I wanted to expand that chain reaction across the sea.
During 2020 we were able to launch a website that includes landing page for each local brands that we promoted in the past. We’re doing our best by uniting together to overcome this difficult time together.
(Q) Through Sasha Supports Hawaii, you are working with all different kinds of brands and businesses—from photographers to jewelry designers. What is the most rewarding part of working with such a range of Hawaiian businesses?
I know people all over the world are having hard time with t dramatic life style and financial changes and I’m absolutely grateful that my followers on social media still want to be a part of SSH. And it is most rewarding for me that people purchase local items not because they just want nice stuff that’s from Hawaii but their fundamental reason to purchase through SSH is because they want to support local businesses. Because of the pandemic, the shipments takes so much longer than it was before, sometimes 3-4 weeks, but I get messages from my fans and SSH supporters in daily bases saying “It’s ok! I don’t mind packages arriving later than scheduled.
I’m doing this because I want to support Hawaii’s economy so it doesn’t matter how long it takes as long as I know i am helping in a small way” or “Hawaii gave me so much aloha every time I visited, so I wanted to give something back. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to be a part of SSH”. Those messages give me so much happiness and it is so so rewarding for me. I can see and feel aloha spreading everywhere in the world and that makes me so happy.
Also the local businesses that were losing hope from the pandemic tell us that SSH are the hope for them to not give up and move forward. We are so happy that this project is creating hope for everyone.
(Q) How do you select which brands and designers to work with?
Usually we get to know brands from being introduced by other people. It’s really exciting because we get to discover some hidden gems, and talented artists or designers. When we get introduced we ask the owners or designers what kind of brand they are, what kind of products they produce, what is their concept and is the idea of the company from Hawaii? Also, I personally use the products to see if other people would like them. Reviews are so important for me because a lot of people trust my selection and I want as many people as possible to feel a little bit of Hawaii at home in Japan. So when people purchase from SSH, they get to support small businesses and can feel Aloha from their home.
(Q) One of your other Sasha Supports initiatives is the HUI Project, focused on upcycling. Tell us more about the project -- how are brands are working together to develop products?
SSH is all about supporting each other TOGETHER, to unite and not be defeated by this pandemic. We really treasure the concept of being kind to the environment and “unity” which in Hawaiian, is “HUI”. Working with various brands, we’ve noticed that lot of them have products that didn’t sell well so they have left over products, or when they produce products, such as bags, masks, or aloha shirts, there are left over fabrics. So my team and I came up with an idea that what if we use these left over stocks and fabrics to create and upcycle products? Which was absolutely amazing and very beautiful that we were able to work together as a team. We are currently in a process of creating another HUI product so I’m really excited to announce it in the near future!
(Q) You've recently signed on for a "residency" where you'll be doing regular Instagram Lives from Waikiki Beachcomber. What do you love most about the Beachcomber? What made you decide to partner with the resort?
YES! I am so excited to work with Waikiki Beachcomber. I’ve always loved staying at the resort. Perfect location, very stylish and the people that work at the Waikiki Beachcomber have so much aloha. The reason why I decided to partner with the resort and this connects to the reason why I love this resort is that when you step into the room, you can really feel Hawaiian style omotenashi (hospitality from the bottom of the heart). And every part of the room and hotel has art, created by local artists. Waikiki Beachcomber takes care of locals and the visitors, with the highest quality of aloha. I think that’s so important. Aloha has so many different meanings but to accept and welcome you is part of Aloha spirit. So I’m really excited to be a part of the team and show why I love this resort to all my followers!
(Q) Besides Sasha Supports Hawaii and hanging out at Beachcomber, what else are you up to right now? What other personal or professional projects are on the horizon?
Right now we are really focusing and working hard for SSH project but also we’ve started a “support organization” project. This is a project to support educational organizations and NPOs that engage in the activities that protect Hawaiian culture and nature.
We really want to expand this project too! Also in the future, we want to introduce the small business of Hawaii to the people in different states and countries. I hope that the notion of supporting each other, uniting together can be expanded to all over the world so it can be someone’s hope and courage!
(Q) How can people support what you’re up to via Sasha Supports Hawaii and beyond?
People can follow my Instagram that I update about SSH frequently! And I’m still continuing my Instagram live every week so they can definitely check that out too. I know it’s mostly in Japanese but we are trying to incorporate more English for the locals, but we do have our SSH website which is sashasupporthawaii.com and this website can be viewed in Japanese and English too. We have some updates and news section which people can also view in both languages so you can check out what’s happening with SSH project!
The biggest support will be to shop from our ohana brands and our online shop! We have a landing page for our SSH ohana brands, and also our online shop “Sasha’s collection”. We even sell T-shirts that support the local taro farm/education center “Na Mea Kupono”. If you purchase this shirt, 50% of the sale will be donated to Na Mea Kupono.
Buy cool products from awesome local artists at Sasha Supports Hawaii and follow her (bi-continental) adventures on her Insta (hint: it's mostly in Japanese!). And book a stay at her Sasha's favorite Hawaii resort to take your own Insta-and-beyond snaps.