Hawaiian designer Shaolin Low moves into retail

Wanting to create a store that draws local shoppers back again and again as they refresh their decor or pop in to find a special gift, interior designer Shaolin Low has opened Woven by Shaolin in Kailua, Hawaii.

The 1,200-square-foot store features a mix of furniture and home decor, as well “rejuvenation” items such as bath products, candles and stationery. The store and its complementary e-commerce site also offer an assortment of items for children, or “littles” as Low, the mother of 4 ½-year-old twins, calls the category.

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Vendors include Rowe Furniture for custom upholstery, Made Goods, Four Hands (in-store only), Essentials for Living and Currey & Company. The store’s wall art comes from local female artists, and several women-owned, sustainable businesses produce items such as throw pillows and vases for the store. “I’ve hand curated the store,” Low says. “Every single thing has been picked by me personally.”

The store’s opening in early July comes just a few years after Low founded Studio Shaolin, a Honolulu-based design firm that offers residential, vacation rental and commercial design.

With the store’s corner location on 146 Hekili St. in Kailua and its prime spot in a destination boutique shopping and dining area of “a really cute beach community,” Low expects Woven to attract a good deal of foot traffic — and, she hopes, repeat customers. It’s open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Low’s goal is to keep Woven’s offerings fresh. “I’m not buying a lot of the same thing. We might restock some favorites or we might move onto something else,” she says. “… I think what’s fun is giving people unique pieces that they can’t find everywhere else. I want people to come in every week to feel inspired. … I want people to say, ‘I always know I can go into Woven and find something fun and unique there.’ That’s what I want to be known for.”

Her target customers include design-focused shoppers and people who like do-it-yourself home design. “But I also want this to be a place where you can pop in and pick something up for that birthday party, housewarming or baby shower,” Low says.

As an extension of her interior design business, the new store also offers private morning appointments for customers seeking custom upholstery or the single-room, mini-design services offered by Studio Shaolin. “Our new mini-design services have been a hit,” she says. “All of our clients who we’ve done them for love them because they’re getting a well-designed space but it’s not an overwhelming process.” Through the mini-design services, clients choose a room, receive a home visit and then custom floor plan and design deck, along with private log-in to directly purchase items featured in the design deck. For one room, the service is $750.

Although the new brick-and-mortar store caters to local shoppers, the Woven e-commerce site ships to the mainland, Low says, noting that she was happy recently to fulfill an order for a customer in Connecticut who bought a mirror. “We’re doing a big revamp of the website right now and I hope to have people from all over shop there.”

Why a store? Why now?

Why open a brick-and-mortar store in the age of online shopping and sometimes wavering consumer demand?

Low saw a need, she says. Since founding her design business, Low had gotten requests from people asking to purchase specific pieces of furniture, say a sofa or dining table, through her firm. Those one-off requests, plus her own difficulties sourcing products on the islands, spurred her to open a store that sells the kinds of products she wants to buy for herself and her projects. She describes her own aesthetic as modern coastal.

“I thought it would be really nice to have something additional that was my aesthetic, that sells everything that we love and are excited about. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to create a vibe that’s truly ours that people can visit?’ Because we design all these homes but only a few people experience them,” Low says. “And that’s what differentiates us and sets our designs apart from others — the way you feel in our spaces.”

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“Our spaces are beautiful to look at, but they have a great vibe and energy,” she continues. “That’s what people love.”

Low launched the e-commerce site first but her goal was opening the brick-and-mortar space this summer. Again, it’s all about consumers being able to “feel and experience” the spaces she creates.

“I get feedback from our clients months or a year later. They call me and say, ‘I just want you to know I love my house. I feel like I can be my best self here. I’m obsessed with what you did and thank you so much,’” she says. “They don’t tell me how much they really like the sofa, though they love the furniture. It’s always about how they feel in the space.”

Low acknowledge that it’s a challenging time to open a brick-and-mortar location, but approached the store’s opening with both optimism and pragmatism: “I always have back-up plans for a worst-case scenario and what’s the worst case here? I’m obsessed with all the pieces in the store, and we’d just funnel them into our Studio Shaolin projects.”

That said, Low’s optimism was winning out as the store opened, seeing it as a space for gift buyers, homeowners and other interior designers, too.

“I just don’t think there’s a lot of people in Hawaii doing what we’re doing: Creating a space where I can walk in and find pillows and other pieces but also look at fabric and tile samples and talk to a designer and figure out how to pull a room or project together,” she says. “There aren’t a lot of other (retail) spaces offering that kind of versatility.”

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