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METRO HNL || JANUARY 8, 2016
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Flights Of Fashion

Christina O'Connor

Metro |

After graduating high school in the early 2000s, Lanikai native Aimee Imai landed a spot on an MTV reality show, Surf Girls, in which they’d compete for a chance to go pro. Imai had to drop out after just a couple of weeks for family reasons, but the experience led her to another opportunity: being a surfer and brand ambassador for Roxy.

“That took me everywhere,” she recalls.

She spent the next four years traveling with the team — to places like Australia, Costa Rica, Fiji, Spain, France, Bali and Thailand.

Along the way, Imai grew an appreciation for the type of clothes that she could easily wear on the road — simple-yet-chic outfits that could be ready to wear right out of a suitcase.

It’s that type of look that Imai seeks to cultivate in her newly launched clothing brand, ANVI (pronounced on-vee, and standing for her full name, Aimee Nichole Vogelgesang Imai), which made its official debut during a runway show at last month’s Honolulu Night Market.

“The inspiration behind it is very fuss-free, effortless chic,” Imai explains.

Imai’s mother Roxanne Vogelgesang is a noted seamstress based in Kailua, so she’s been around clothing design her whole life. But it could be said that her real foray into fashion began with a baby bunny. A few years ago, her rabbit broke its leg, and it was going to cost $3,500 to fix it. Imai forked over her credit card — and only afterward did she think about how she was going to pay for it.

So she pursued an idea she’d had for some time to make a scarves out of recycled men’s T-shirts and started scarf and accessory line Wanko Wanko.

“My pitch was like, ‘Help me fund my baby bunny’s surgery!'” Imai recalls. “I started selling to friends, and then other people started hearing about it … It moved really quickly.”

Before long, Imai was making sales via Instagram and Facebook, eventually getting picked up by various stores including Whole Foods, Olive Boutique and Fighting Eel.

“I got a taste for how fun it was having people be excited about something that you made and deciding to wear it,” she says. “That is a big thing — when someone wakes up and they put something on that you made.”

The line was a side project to her day job as an account executive at a local public relations firm, where she managed marketing for clients including Polynesian Cultural Center and Hawaii Meth Project. But after a few years, Imai set her sights on something different, something bigger than Wanko Wanko: an entire clothing line.

So she quit her PR job, took a few months off to travel throughout Southeast Asia with her husband Sean and since has become a dedicated student of all things fashion, learning to sew, making patterns, sketching, studying the manufacturing process, and a laundry list of other things that designers must do.

Now, three years later, it’s all happening for Imai. In addition to launching ANVI, she also recently started another company, Palme The Label, with friend Margaret Steinmeier, an online retailer that curates beachy boho-chic clothes from various brands and creates its own line of graphic tees.

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ANVI can be purchased online at anviclothing.com, and Imai is in the process of pitching to various boutiques.

Metro recently had the chance to chat with Imai about her new brand, what inspires her and what’s next.

How did you first conceptualize ANVI?

I have a certain type of style. I like to have things that are forever pieces, not just a big trend or something that is going to go in and out (of style). I like to invest in pieces that are going to last and stay in my closet. So it all kind of started off where I wanted to just make a collection of all of my favorite pieces, what I would want to wear. And then I also travel a lot, so I wanted stuff that translates from day to night.

How would you describe ANVI?

My tagline is “relaxed, effortless chic.” Sophisticated summer style. It is also very coastal inspired, so it is warm-weather friendly. The line definitely emulates my style of the clothes that I like and that I wear.

And then, obviously, as you can tell from looking at it, it’s very black and white, which is very much my style. I struggle so hard with color. It always looks good, and black and white never goes out.

What inspires you as a designer?

I don’t like to put a lot of effort into getting dressed. I really appreciate a good piece that speaks for itself — when you can just throw something on and look really put together. That is kind of what inspired my line — I wanted every piece to be super easy.

I know your manufacturing process takes place locally from start to finish. Why is that something that is important to you?

I design everything here, and I have a factory here that I work with.

At first, I thought there was like a whole amazing, cool feel about producing in Bali — that is originally what I wanted to do. And for me, that just wasn’t realistic. My job is here, my husband is here. And it was just really important for me to be able to be here.

And also, it’s just important to support made in Hawaii and local products. The market in Hawaii is getting so big — people are excited about locally made items and supporting local artisans. The fashion industry is growing immensely in Hawaii, and I think that without people in the industry supporting it, it’s not going to keep growing.

Moving forward, what is your goal with ANVI?

Just to keep creating and evolving (the line). Even though my brand is very much me, I want it to be ready for anybody else to wear as well, and to make them feel confident wearing it.

But the goal is to just basically evolve the brand, keep going and grow into more pieces in the line, expanding into (pants and shorts) as well, and possibly accessories.

Everything is one step at a time right now.

Between ANVI and Palme The Label, it sounds like you have everything happening at once for you.

Yeah, I think that’s how it goes, right? It all happens at once, and you just have to go.

For more information, visit anviclothing.com, or find ANVI on Facebook and Instagram.