Necessity Is The Mother of Invention

By Erika Engle The Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Angie Higa became an entrepreneur at age 11, selling hand-crocheted bikini tops at the long-lamented Waialae Drive-In Theater swap meet.

Given that, it should be no surprise that following a 30-year career at Central Pacific Bank, she's back in business for herself making things by hand.

Higa's SkyDreams LLC makes blankets that fold compactly into shoulder bags, backpacks or duffel bags, luggage straps, smaller straps and a new line of multipurpose tote bags with a waterproof lining.

What spurred her business though, might be a surprise.

She caught a cold.

Higa was on a seven-hour flight in 2006 with no blankets available and blames that for her nasty cold. That unsated necessity became the mother of invention behind her travel-blanket-and-pillow-and-more company established in 2009, following her 2008 retirement as vice president and commercial branch manager for CPB.

Her primary products are travel-blanket-and-pillow-in-a-bag sets in five styles, named for her husband, a daughter, her granddaughters and her dog.

However, she also makes other multipurpose goods, and notes that the self-contained blanket-and-pillow sets are not solely for people who travel.

"Not everybody has the privilege of traveling," she said. Gearing herself exclusively for the travel market would exclude a much larger potential audience.

That larger market comprises mothers who want discreet, easy-to-carry nursing drapes, moms of wee ones who can use a blanket and neck pillow for car rides or need one for nap time at preschool, or perhaps sports fans at chilly indoor or outdoor events.

Her new SkyBaby tote, at $84.99, has a waterproof lining and can be used as a diaper bag, a beach tote, reusable shopping bag or for other purposes, she says.

But back to the blankets.

Most of Higa's blankets measure 40 by 58 inches and are washable, 100 percent cotton, backed with 100 percent cotton flannel for softness, and cost $46.99, with a couple of exceptions.

The Sheena and Arianna designs fold up into a 14-by-20-by-3-inch bag with an adjustable strap that can be worn as a shoulder bag, across the body or slung onto carry-on luggage, and it is not counted as a separate carry-on item, according to Higa's SkyDreams LLC website.

We'll get to a higher-end, luxurious version of the Sheena in a moment.

The Maxx design folds the pillow and large cotton blanket into a backpack and is $46.99, while the Randy, designed for guys, is $39.99 and is a polyester fleece blanket with a neck or lumbar pillow that folds into a 12 1/2-by-13-by-5-inch duffel bag.

Its adjustable handle can be worn on the shoulder or slipped over the handle of carry-on luggage.

Kaianna, in cute fabrics for girls or boys, are blankets with matching neck pillows designed for children from toddlers through age 6, for $46.99. The Kaianna folds up into a 13-by-12-by-4-inch backpack.

Now the deluxe version of the Sheena: Made with plushy, trademarked Minky faux fur in animal prints or solid-color, textured paisley, and backed with trademarked Minky Cuddle, the higher-end items are $76.99, while the Exotic Faux Fur version is $84.99 and is much bigger, less expensive and more politically correct than your mother's circa-1960s mink stole.

Higa's most affordable items include luggage straps made with sturdy webbing and covered with whimsical fabrics at $8.99, and her SkyLugStrap2, which she calls her add-a-bag strap, which sells for $7.99.

Again, not just for travelers she arrived at the idea while watching Christmas shoppers struggle with multiple shopping bags digging divots into their hands.

"You can strap all the bags together and hang the strap from your forearm," Higa said.

When she first fired up the blanket-bag business, she thought to herself, "This is going to be one of Oprah's favorite things," she said, referring to the TV personality's famed product giveaway show in which audience members each received a raft of gifts deemed "Oprah's Favorite Things," netting the makers of those products millions of dollars' worth of publicity in exchange for the giveaways.

Then Oprah decided not to do her talk show any longer.

"I had to rewrite the whole dream," Higa said.

She decided to go after a partnership with Hawaiian Airlines. She did and has become a rare Hawaii handcrafter that offers Hawaiian Miles with each purchase.

After SkyDreams LLC was featured, along with locally made products by other female entrepreneurs, by Olena Heu on "Wake Up 2Day" on KHON-TV, Higa was contacted by a representative of Hawaiian Air who said her travel blankets "would fit in with Hawaiian Airlines and Hawaiian Miles."

She created an exclusive design for Hawaiian Air for a trial sales run via their duty-free shopping catalog of merchandise sold on international flights.

"Talk about a huge milestone," she said.

A representative of Florida-based DFASS Group later told Higa sales were "within their standard of how a new product should be selling and they ended up renewing my product for the summer," she said.

She feels "very, very fortunate" for the break.

In addition to her retail locations, customers can find Higa's schedule of appearances at the Navy Exchange or Blaisdell Center craft fairs on her website or via phone.

WHERE TO BUY SkyDreams LLC 95-1030 Meheula Parkway No. 893315 Mililani, HI 96789 Phone: 626-8831 (weekdays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) www.skydreamsllc.com

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