Women in business: Ali & Gadea of Avela
Avela is an accessories brand based on Oahu and founded by kindred spirits Ali and Gadea. The brand believes in slow fashion, and is rooted in sustainability, and investing in the continuation of cultural craftsmanship. I interviewed the girls to get a better perspective as to why they do what they do.
What is the meaning of the name Avela?
Avela means ‘to sail’ in the Spanish language. This name holds a lot of meaning for us. The first meaning stems from the fact that Gadea is from Spain and the idea for our business was born while we were traveling along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in Ibiza, Spain. The second meaning behind the name Avela, is that we both have a deep love for the ocean and are trained as marine biologists. It is only appropriate that our business have a name related to the place that makes us most happy, the ocean ☺
With backgrounds in marine biology how did you two begin traveling and sourcing textiles and accessories for your brand Avela?
We have both always been avid travelers and love learning about new cultures and their traditional crafts. We met while studying abroad in Australia and this love of travel and adventure instantly brought us together. As our friendship developed, a business idea developed as well. We both had the desire to work for ourselves and to travel the world while supporting something we believed in, but we weren’t sure what that “something” was. Then, while traveling in Spain, we saw a lot of handicrafts from Africa and India and had the idea to start sourcing our own goods, in hopes of supporting artisans that still make things traditionally, using their hands. So we sourced our fist products in Ibiza, Spain and brought them back to the islands as a trial, to see if people appreciated the beauty behind handmade crafts as much as we did. And so, Avela was born! We later travelled to Morocco to visit the artisans that make our woven palm fiber bags and, more recently, to India, where we got to see the process of block-printing fabrics first hand.
Having a business partner can be challenging, especially when you started out as best friends, do you two try to keep your business relationship and friendship separate, how do the two intertwine, and is it ever challenging having two leaders?
When we first started this business, we had many people tell us to be careful, that doing business with friends can end badly. And we can honestly say that the experience has, in fact, resulted in the exact opposite. Building this business has been a serious challenge, filled with many ups and downs, frustration and disappointment but also so much pleasure and pride and we have shared every moment of it and have enjoyed the closeness it has brought in our relationship. It is difficult sometimes to set business aside and just go to the beach and enjoy being together, but we make a conscious effort to do so. And we often combine pleasure with work, like spending a day at the beach on the West side but taking a few product shots while we are at it… that's efficiency ;)
Do you two play separate roles in the business, or do you make all decisions and do everything together?
We both have our strengths and weaknesses and, luckily, we compliment each other really nicely. While we try to make most important decisions together, we are able to find a good balance by divvying up the work and each doing our part.
I noticed you recently made the switch to your products being made with organic cotton and heavy metal free dyes. What prompted this switch and was it challenging to get your factories on board with your decision?
We made this decision during our recent trip to India. We are both big believers in environmental sustainability and feel a responsibility when it comes to businesses that we support. So we decided we needed to make this more of a priority in our business and have started working with a different group of artisans in Jaipur that use 100% certified organic cotton as well as AZO-free dyes. The benefits of going organic are endless and the dying process is much more environmentally friendly, as well as completely non-toxic to the artisans working with the dyes.
Share with us one of your biggest learning curves with starting and operating Avela, what did persistence through it teach you?
One of the biggest challenges we faced early on was rejection. Here we had these amazing products, we knew they were really special but had a difficult time getting stores to support us. We both became really frustrated when we were rejected again and again, but simply kept persisting in hopes of gaining more wholesale clients. A handful of amazing people were really supportive in the beginning, along with immense support from our friends and family, and that is really what drove us to keep going.
The whole experience of starting a business has been a challenge and we have learned so much in so many different areas. At the end of the day, we are just really proud of what we have built and love sharing it with those around us!
What do you know now, that you wish you knew back when you first started Avela?
When you first start a business it’s hard to value your own product and figure out how to market it properly. At first you compare yourself to others a lot and try to stay competitive but we've learned that our products are different and that's why they're special. We feel a lot more comfortable pricing and selling our products now but it was definitely challenging in the beginning. We also wish we would've taken a class on accounting in school. That's definitely the bane of our existence, haha!
What are your future plans and goals for the brand?
We just launched our new MITIK collection so we are just really focused on that at the moment. We are especially proud of these fabrics because we designed them ourselves and have a new process of fabrication that is much more sustainable and environmentally friendly. We would love to expand our product line in the future, but we are just taking it one day at a time and enjoying every minute of it!