Meet This Hilo Fashion Designer, Mompreneur and Longtime Merrie Monarch Supporter
Simply Sisters fashion designer Regina “Lola” Miller shares her passion for aloha wear with pieces inspired by her love for family, hula and Hilo
When I first met Simply Sisters’ owner and designer, Regina “Lola” Miller in 2014 at the Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, we instantly bonded over our shared love of hula, the festival and supporting Hawaiʻi’s thriving creative community. It was Merrie Monarch, after all, and I was making the craft fair rounds for all my Hawaiian fashion favorites. Her energy was magnetic and her gratitude was palpable—I remember thinking she was one of the most genuinely kind, gracious and aloha-filled women I had ever met. After swooning over her designs, we exchanged contacts and our friendship ensued. (The annual craft fair was cancelled this year for safety reasons.)
I watched with awe over the years as her craft fair booth doubled and tripled in size each Merrie Monarch, blossoming like the vibrant floral prints hand-screened on her designs. Simply Sisters evolved from a modest passion project and into a thriving business which led to the opening of her very own boutique in downtown Hilo. Regina reflected upon the growth she experienced through her participation in the Merrie Monarch craft fairs, the exciting new releases she debuted at the 2021 Simply Sisters “Merrie Monarch Marketplace,” as well as the success of her daughter Alexis’ newly opened LexBreezy boutique in Kailua on Oʻahu.
Merrie Monarch is special to so many of us, but it is particularly sentimental for you as it is where you launched Simply Sisters. What does Merrie Monarch mean to you?
Merrie Monarch represents our culture and our livelihood—it’s so many things for Hilo! It’s the craft fairs all over town, the hula and the aroma of flowers in the stadium, the beautiful hula and live music that can be heard so far away. It is such a magical week and we are so thankful to have been a part of it.
What memories do you have from your first vendor experience at the craft fair there?
I remember getting into Sangha Hall Craft Fair for the first time and was so nervous that nobody would buy anything–I was just creating jewelry back then. I distinctly remember how friendly our neighbors were and how kind our customers were, everyone was just grateful to be there. I remember making $500 my first day and was so excited, I just wanted to shop! I discovered other vendors who were willing to barter, so I just traded merch–that was so exciting!
What has it been like to watch your small business grow from a seasonal vendor booth to a brick-and-mortar store?
It is still surreal to me that we are in the retail and fashion business–it all started as a hobby selling jewelry. It’s just so amazing how creative you can be when you have a passion to do something you love. If you are passionate about what you love, you will surely grow and creativity will come naturally.
Over the years people have lined up in droves to shop Simply Sisters at your booth in the MM craft fair to now doing so at your boutique in Hilo. How does it feel to see your visions realized?
There was never a plan to have a shop, we were happy just doing craft fairs. But when your apparel and merchandise start taking over your home, that’s when you start thinking you have to find a place. We started doing pop-ups in a one-bedroom apartment we own in Hilo and eventually opened the boutique because I also wanted to support other brands and enjoy supporting other designers. We have now opened the shop to other artists by hosting pop-ups like a mini craft fair where people can enjoy shopping and fellowship. It’s all about the aloha spirit when shopping at craft fairs and thats what I love about our boutique in Hilo. It’s not only about shopping but enjoying fellowship–seeing old friends and making new ones.
Your daughter, Alexis, followed in your footsteps, developed her talents in design school and launched her own successful business, LexBreezy! How does it feel to see her follow her dreams and realize the depth of her talents?
We are so proud of Alexis and all of her accomplishments. She has always been hardworking, starting in high school, and began taking part-time jobs as soon as she could get a work permit. We tried to instill that work ethic in our family to work hard at everything you do so you will be happy knowing you did your very best. Now, she has become our teacher and helps us with our business. She is so innovative, creative and hardworking, it is incredible to see the success she has achieved with LexBreezy’s online store and now her own beautiful boutique in Kailua.
What similarities or differences distinguish Simply Sisters from LexBreezy as you and Alexis evolve as designers?
We are similar—we are both lovers of Hilo and we use the beauty of our Big Island in all of our designs. Aesthetically, our styles slightly differ, as LexBreezy embraces the younger generation with flirty and fresh aloha wear and Simply Sisters focuses on more casual and contemporary styles.
How do you and Alexis find balance as your companies evolve, while still being such steadfast supporters of one another?
We try to talk to each other daily. We bounce ideas off one another, collaborate and explore new projects together. We support each other in everything we do. Sometimes it can be challenging, but in the end we know we only want the best for each other. Being there for one another is what keeps us going.
How did you feel seeing her unveil the LexBreezy boutique at its recent grand opening in Kailua, Oʻahu, especially knowing firsthand how emotional that experience can be?
I was simply amazed at how quickly she got it done and how amazing her vision came to life. I joked, “Why didn’t I think of that?” or “Why isn’t that in my shop?” We worked on her store together and she asked our input every step of the way–but everything is truly her. It is her vision and her ideas. It is absolutely gorgeous. Kailua is so lucky to have her. She said, “Mom, we’re gonna need some of your old ladies’ apparel!” I laughed, “Excuse me, who are you calling old?” But she told me that customers were coming in and asking for Simply Sisters! That made us feel wonderful that she also wanted our apparel in her boutique.
Your aloha for other businesses and creatives is infectious and you always make it a point to support those around you. Why do you think it is important as a small business owner to put those values into practice in an industry that often fosters competition?
It’s very rewarding to me when I can support other women in business. I enjoyed opening our boutique for pop-ups and inviting other sisters in business to sell their merchandise. As sisters in fashion, we should always remember to be supportive whenever can because, in the end, it’s all about showing real aloha, and there is nothing more important than relationships.
2020 was an incredibly difficult year and particularly for small business owners. How have you navigated these challenges with your company and staff?
It was incredibly difficult year when everything shut down, but just having faith that it was only temporary really got us through. Because we couldn’t do events, we focused on our online store. People were so kind to continue to support us and support local businesses—it was such a blessing.
How would you describe the feeling in Hilo town during this exciting time of year?
The feeling here in Hilo is pure joy! You can feel it—at the farmers markets, restaurants and shops—everyone is happy to see businesses opening up again. Merrie Monarch had no audience this year but many people are coming out to shop again. We held a Merrie Monarch Marketplace starting last weekend and included some wonderful pop-up vendors, as well as hosted a mini lūʻau with our fried fish tradition. We also created Merrie Monarch tees as a mahalo to celebrate the return of the festival, with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the festival. Hula is alive and well in Hilo!
You cultivated not only a beautiful brick-and-mortar shop, but an online store as well. What new pieces are you particularly excited about and do you have anything new launching during Merrie Monarch week?
We are excited to introduce our new print this season: our Liko Lehua. We are also excited to have expanded our collection to home and bath merchandise as well this year.
How will you be spending MM week and what are you looking forward to most as the competition nears?
Merrie Monarch week will be spent celebrating hula with my hula sisters. We will miss watching it live at the Edith Kanakaʻole Stadium, but we can’t wait to watch it on TV this week.