Anna Kahalekulu is designing for a new generation of Hawai’i
Running a business

Anna Kahalekulu is designing for a new generation of Hawai’i

In honor of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month QuickBooks is spotlighting AANHPI-owned small businesses, their stories, and their journeys to success. Check the Small Business Stories hub all month for more inspiration.

Name: Anna Kahalekulu 

Location: Makawao, Maui, Hawai’i

Business: Kūlua

What makes your small business unique?

Kūlua’s small team of makers is what makes it unique. When you come into our shop you can hear the hum of the sewing machine, see the patterns hanging on the back wall, and know that we're as locally-made as it gets.

Why did you decide to start your own business? How did you get started?

I studied business in undergrad and went back to school for fashion technology at UH Maui College. I love to design and create. Before starting the brand I did custom jobs and alterations while my kids were little. I started the brand in 2015 and created our first Keiki collection that holiday season. In the early years the growth was really slow and we mainly did wholesale to a couple of boutiques in Hawai’i.

What is the biggest lesson you learned in the first year?

The biggest lesson I learned in the first year was that, as a business owner, there are times you need to really push. My own capacity, our teamʻs capacity, and the business’s capacity — there has to be a balance from those intense periods.

What was the most surprising thing about becoming a business owner?

The most surprising thing about becoming a business owner was how many things there are that youʻre responsible for.

quote image
Being the best version of myself was crucial to effectively running the business.

What were some things you needed to teach yourself about running a business? 

I really had to identify my strengths and pinpoint both what the business needed me to spend most of my time doing along with what I wanted to spend most of my time doing. Once that was clear, I had to learn how to communicate with others and manage things well. The first two years we had our brick-and-mortar, I found myself doing a lot of self-work to get there. Being the best version of myself was crucial to effectively running the business, leading our team, and making sure my family was taken care of. Itʻs still something that I work on to this day.

How does running your own business make you feel?

Overall, running my own business makes me feel really proud of what can be accomplished when we work together with purpose and creativity.

What are some of the challenges you’ve overcome or are working to overcome?

There’s always some kind of challenge to overcome. The most important thing is learning to quickly identify the root of the problem and think through all of the possible solutions so you can assess your options and create some sort of action plan.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?

Believe in yourself and surround yourself with good energy.

What is your best advice to other small business owners for hiring and retaining staff?

You just have to make the best choice given the options at hand, and accept that sometimes youʻll make a mistake. Be open and honest with yourself and with others. And give yourself grace when you do make a mistake.

What challenges do you feel are unique to AANHPI business owners?

AANHPI business owners often lack access to resources, banking, and markets outside of their specific community, which impacts their ability to grow.

What are your proudest moments?

I’m proudest when I hear our team express love for the work that we do with our clients. I’m also really proud when one of our clients finds the perfect new garment that inspires them to stand a little taller and feel ready to take on the day.

What are the next big plans you have for your business?

We're in a really sweet spot right now where we have a great team in place. I'm really excited to keep creating and making with them.

When you’re having a tough day, who or what inspires you to keep going?

Thinking of the greater “why” is what keeps me going. I started the business so I could create for our community. Yes, at the end of the day, we make and sell clothing — but I feel a sense of purpose to be the best I can be for our community, create the best garments, and put the greatest design into them.

How do you maintain a work/life balance as a small business owner?

I prioritize time for me first thing in the morning and strive to be present in whatever task is at hand, whether it's at the studio or at home with my family.

What’s your “power song” and why?

Currently, it's “Naturally” by Kalapana. I find it grounding and relaxing — cleansing my mind so Iʻm ready to take on anything!

To learn more about Kūlua and support the business, visit their website or check out their adventures on Instagram.

Recommended for you

Mail icon
Get the latest to your inbox
No Thanks

Get the latest to your inbox

Relevant resources to help start, run, and grow your business.

By clicking “Submit,” you agree to permit Intuit to contact you regarding QuickBooks and have read and acknowledge our Privacy Statement.

Thanks for subscribing.

Fresh business resources are headed your way!

Looking for something else?


From big jobs to small tasks, we've got your business covered.

Firm of the Future

Topical articles and news from top pros and Intuit product experts.

QuickBooks Support

Get help with QuickBooks. Find articles, video tutorials, and more.