Owner of Chai Lee J
Please tell us about your business. I started this business a few months ago making duct tape wallets. My friend was sending me duct tape and I didn’t know what to do with it. It was leopard print because she knows I like leopards. I saw someone else making wallets out of duct tape and so I looked at one and taught myself how to make them in my own style.
What sets your business apart from others? My creativity. I try to be unusual, and I want to give everyone lots of different choices so that there is something for everyone.
How do you come up with the ideas? Actually, when I go to sleep, sometimes I wake up with a vision of my wallet. And as I’m making a wallet, if I don’t see it coming out right, I’ll stop and I’ll continue later. I have a lot of half-finished wallets right now that I won’t work on until the right idea comes to me. It’s like I’ll stare at the duct tape until it talks to me.
Where are you from and where did you graduate high school? I’m from Kaua’i and graduated from Waimea High School in 2006.
How did you start this business? I’ve crafted since I was little. My mother Susan Cox and I would do craft fairs for Girl Scouts and other activities. And now that I have a 2-year-old, Chai, it’s hard to find a job and a baby sitter, so I had to find new ways to make income.
Where do you sell your products? I sell my wallets at Hanapepe Art Night on Fridays. I also sell my products on Etsy and whatever craft fairs or swap meets I can find.
What is your creative inspiration? My daughter. She makes things, too, and will take my scrap pieces of duct tape and put them all over her toys. A lot of the wallets are inspired by things she likes, such as cats. But I get my creative side from my mother. She used to make small Zen gardens at craft fairs.
Who are your typical clientele? I thought it would be a younger crowd, but I’ve actually had older folks be interested in the wallets. Everybody buys them.
How much do your wallets cost? Usually about $10 unless they sit here for awhile, then I’ll mark them down.
Where do you find the duct tape? Everywhere. I search high and low. Sometimes I buy it over the Internet, or when I’m on Oahu, I go to Target and Walmart. You always have to look every time you go to the store – you have to look because the next day it will be gone.
What’s the most challenging aspect of what you do? Trying to make my products original. When I see someone else’s products, I make sure that my wallets are totally different – I make the design unique and the quality better so that they last longer. I use a glass cutter instead of plastic, and I have my techniques. I’m a perfectionist, and I always test out the product to make sure it is ready for sale.
What else do you sell?
Since I started selling my products at Hanapepe Art Night I also started selling other things specifically for visitors, like Hawaiian Salt Bath Scrubs. We actually go to the beach and take the salt off the rocks and we make them in different colors and scents, like pikake. I also make ornaments with sand and objects I find at beaches around Kaua’i. Sometimes I even have some cookies for sale like Cranberry Crunch, Cocoa Crunch and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Macadamia Nut Oatmeal.
What are your future aspirations? I hope to build my online store so that I can work more at home. It would also be really nice to have my own store some day.