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Kristy Maligro and Ariana Owen of Clean Kaua'i

I've been a long time fan of Hawaii Says Hi and so was especially excited to see the launch of their Clean Kauai project. Kristy and Ariana have a way of making everything beautiful and bring life to the idea of living clean, both through well made products and now their new refill station for cleaning products. I am most inspired by their openness to evolving the business, in line with their vision, to solve the challenges they see on the island. Their journey has captured an approach of using every experience as a stepping stone for the next thing.

What sparked the desire to be an entrepreneur? 

A: I honestly never really knew that I had a desire to be an entrepreneur. My first small business was inspired more on need then a desire to be a business owner. At the time I had five small children all under the age of 8. I had been homeschooling all of them since Kindergarten and we all LOVED books. Kauai, however, had no book store other than the one on the West side. I decided to start looking into the possibility of starting a small children’s bookstore and things kind of started from there.

K: Funny thing is we never really set out to start this business. It was our husband’s idea. We each had unique skill sets that collaboratively seemed like they would serve well put together to form a business. They’ve since left the business and over the years it has transformed into more than we initially ever dreamed up.

What was your first business? 

A: My first retail business was “Cru,” named after our 5th born - a children’s book, paper and education toy store.

K: First business ... hm, interesting question. I majored in art in college, got married and had babies soon after. Creating art and doing freelance graphic design all along the years they’ve grown up I guess, even though I was a sole proprietor of sorts, I didn’t really think of that as a “business”. I just loved art and the process of creating. Longing for my kids to experience art, a friend and I started a visual arts program for youth here on-island years back and then this whole biz was born just as that ended.

How did that play a role in this new business of Clean Kauai? 

A: It gave me a little more confidence in ordering, setting up wholesale accounts and having somewhat of an idea of what sells and what does not. I was able to also recognize what I enjoyed, what I did not, as well as my strengths and weaknesses in running a business. Although I very much enjoyed my little shop, when we made the decision to close Cru, I felt relieved. It was too much by myself and I wanted to direct my attention and energy towards my family. I did, however, miss the creative outlet owning the shop had

given me.

K: Mostly seeing a need (at that time not seeing many opportunities for youth on-island to learn to think outside the box and experience all kinds of art mediums) and assessing what tools, experience or knowledge I had that could serve to meet that need. Now with Clean Kauai and having learned how critical sustainable living habits are for both here and now as well as future generations, we’re constantly brainstorming and seeking out how we can help set our community up for success to live more sustainably. We readily ask each other what we can do with the knowledge we’re accumulating about sustainable living to have it carry over to both our lives and our retail business.

What's been the most fun about cultivating this business? 

A: At the moment, the most enjoyable aspect of cultivating Clean Kauai has been 2 fold. I tend to err on the side of dreamer. Opening a refill station was something I have been wanting to do for over 10 years but the task just seemed too daunting. I am encouraged that although all ideas and dreams do not come to fruition - sometimes they do and during the most unexpected times of our lives! I am encouraged to jot down dreams instead of disregarding them. The other part of cultivating this shop that I am absolutely loving is the learning process! I feel good about what we are doing - I believe in it- and simultaneously seeing how little I know and, sadly, how much I waste. However, I feel encouraged that I can change and hopefully take the information that I have newly acquired and make better decisions in the future. Learning from your mistakes can be a powerful motivator.

K: Getting to work with such a good friend. Can’t even tell you how many times we’ve surprised each other with loving the same color, style, scent or concept. We complement each other so well and I love getting to see dreams in our head become reality that is then well received in our community.

Who or What were key influencers in your journey? 

A: Biggest influencers.... hmm... I am encouraged by so many people!   I am so thankful for my husband who has been my biggest advocate.  He has always encouraged me to dream big and has an amazing gift in hearing me, praying with me and making things come to life .  It always amazes me!  To be able to work as a family has been one of my greatest joys. My sisters have always influenced me in business as well.   After our dad passed away, we were kind of thrown into management positions at a young age.   Watching them in business as they assumed huge responsibilities has taught me so much about pushing through really hard times - specifically maintaining their gentleness as women while still being savvy business women.   My business partner and dear friend Kristy is amazing to work with. I love the way we complement one another and how our hearts are in unison as far as our vision in life and business and letting God be in control.  Her creativity and diligence is inspiring and her willingness to walk in faith and out of her comfort zone. Friends in the community that have a passion for people and the island have been instrumental in getting me to open my eyes about the importance of treading softly. I have also been encouraged by our warehouse community that supports each other in our process.

K: To be straight - Jesus, the Profit and Shark Tank haha! The past couple years have been a crazy road on a personal level and mentally I feel like I’m in a healthier space than I ever have been because I know how loved & secure I am in God. He’s my Rock and steady ground even when everything else seems out of control. We often look to His lead on decisions big and small w/ the biz. And then on another level, as I said before I majored in art in college so there’s definitely times I’ve felt lacking when it comes to business. I know it’s just TV but I’ve honestly gleaned loads from watching the Profit - highly respecting Marcus Lemonis’ business model of placing such tremendous value on people. And of course Shark Tank is just classic and I’ve learned a lot from that one too.

What have you learned about yourself through this process?

A:  I have learned a lot and hope to learn a lot more!! I have always had a hard time feeling that I was good at anything. Having the opportunity to be a part of these businesses has shown me my love for creating spaces. I am better at creating a blank canvas for others to decorate. I am a visionary with some management skills, however, I think I am a better employee than a boss.

K: I’ve learned that even though on many levels we are SO similar, I’ve also learned how differently Air and I process and articulate parts of the biz. She’s a dreamer (in the most incredibly fascinating way - she dreams big and it’s beautiful) and when she goes there’s I tend to go microscopic of how this is gonna practically work out / what are the logistics. But then there’s other times where one of us may go off on a tangent of wanting to carry something totally unrelated to our shop and we have to remind each other to keep it under the umbrella - assessing items against our motto to “Live Clean” whether it be helping equip our customer’s to live  more sustainably or the item itself is ethically and sustainably made. Anyways, it takes me TIME to process what I think, how I feel and she moves fast. It’s weirdly a great combination though!

What “dead ends” in this journey have been useful in moving forward? 

A: Being able to see what doesn’t work and feeling okay about moving on or saying we were wrong or it didn’t work is freeing. We have learned to love “closed doors.” They help us with boundaries so we can stay more focused.

K: Covid. If all this hadn’t gone down we likely wouldn’t have moved spaces, wouldn’t have had room to expand into our refill station, wouldn’t have been pushed to consider how critical it was to serve our own community and not rely so heavily on tourism. So really even though everything shut down for a time, it propelled us to leap forward.

What are the different roles you play in life and how do you balance them? 

A: I am a wife and stay at home homeschool mom first. I love my job I wouldn’t give it up for anything. It has been a gift that Kristy and I both have the same priorities and have asked for accountability of not losing sight of these priorities. My husband runs our property business but we confer with one another. Communication with each other has been key to keeping balance. Aside from teaching my kids, I am, at the moment 1/2 owner of our business at Clean. Kauai and manager of the Warehouse 3540.

K: Wife, mom, friend, daughter, business lady ... hm, trying my best to be fully present to who’s in front of me at that time. My kids know if I’m working at the shop that’s not the time to ask me a million questions. When I’m home or with a friend etc my goal is to be all there and not have my head wrapped up in work. MUCH easier said than done but i think we’re made more for that style of living than a go•go•go never fully engaging with the one in front of you kind of life. That’s my desire anyway.

What are you reading, listening to, watching?

A: Reading : Homeschool Curriculum. Listening to: Audio Bible. Watching: occasional movies. My present favorites were “The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society” and the “Peanut Butter Falcon”

K: Reading: Emotionally healthy spirituality, Eve’s daughters by Lynn Austin, and “get out of your head” by Jamie Allen. Listening to: Podcasts or music / Loving Jonathan Ogden’s album 24 and Isla Vista worship - Soul Hymns. Watching: Rare. Um, Profit or Shark Tank but no new episodes. Alone. And Down to Earth with Zac Efron sometimes.

What impact or influence do you hope to have with this new business for Kauai? 

A: I hope that this business will inspire people on our island that they can make a huge impact by simply re filling containers and keeping unnecessary plastics out of our oceans and landfills. I know it is difficult to go entirely plastic free, however, there are very small things we can do that make a dramatic difference. I also hope we can educate and support one another in our gifts and I believe watch this island flourish even during this time of economic hardship. I am confident this presently tourist driven economy can effectively transfer to one of more self sustainment.

K: Holding the first refill station on-island for essential cleaning supplies I really hope people catch the vision even though it includes thinking a little different than normal in how we shop for these items. No need to throw away so many containers! Come refill instead. So ultimately we’d love to be a part of inspiring and helping people transition smoothly to a sustainable lifestyle for the future of our island and our keiki.

What are you looking forward to?

A: I am looking forward to meeting new people in the community, learning from them and then sharing some of the wisdom that we (hopefully!) acquire along the way. I look forward to researching new products in hopes offering the best we can to our community and then just encouraging each other through this transition time.

K: What a funny question, it’s such an odd season where I feel like we rarely can plan very far ahead because of so many unknowns. So today, I look forward to when I can surf again. I look forward to good meals with my family. To dates with my hubby. To laughing so hard I cry.

What advice would you offer to others? 

A: My advice to others - what do you love to do? What do you enjoy most in serving others?

Sometimes those simple gifts that are seemingly easy to you are the building blocks in what you are called to do. I believe our gifts are given to us to serve others and to find joy in doing so. This may manifest itself into a business or it may be just loving your family and/or those close to you. Pouring into those around us and the next generation is one of the greatest successes we could ever have.

K: Never give up hope. Some things that seem like a dead end road may actually be an opportunity for something greater. That sounds so cliché but it’s true.

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