Dan: Today's guest is a designer for whom discovery is at the heart of what she does. She grew her firm out of the 08 recession into a globally recognized creative studio. She was an HGTV host on Aloha Builds with her brother. Her firm was recently selected as one of BDNY's Gold Key Award winners for Best Guestroom Midscale, The Wayfinder Waikiki.
She's the President and Creative Director at the Vanguard Theory. Ladies and gentlemen Michelle Jaime. Welcome, Michelle. It's so good to be out here in Hawaii. I have a really funny story. I love coffee. I love black coffee. And I'm staying over at the Lalo on Waikiki. And I think her name is Clarissa. She was working at the little coffee bar there.
And she said, Do I want honey in my coffee? I said, I'd never heard of that my entire life. And I'm a beekeeper.
Michelle Jaime: Are you?
Dan: I am.
Michelle Jaime: Did you know that's, like, my goal?
Dan: No. Oh, so we're going to have to have a whole separate conversation outside of here. Really?
Michelle Jaime: Yeah. Is it? No wonder.
Dan: Oh, wow.
Michelle Jaime: I'm not kidding.
Dan: Oh, good. Well, we can, we'll get in there a little bit, but I've never, have you ever, have you ever heard of honey in your coffee?
Michelle Jaime: Um, no one has ever asked that.
Dan: It's weird. It's really weird, but I had it. I went for a great run and I came back and I said, Clarissa? Thank you. I felt like I was running on a cloud and I think she forgot who I was and was like, what are you talking about? I'm like all sweaty
Michelle Jaime: Gross.
Dan: uh, It was a really cool new experience. So now I'm going to, I'm going to try that local honey in my coffee.
Michelle Jaime: Is that, are you a creamer, or just?
Dan: No, just black.
Michelle Jaime: Well now, and honey.
Dan: well, and honey, but I don't know. It's like, anyway, it was just very exciting. I'm excited to try it news. So I feel like I always experience and learn new things. Whenever I come to Hawaii.
Michelle Jaime: Look at that, Clarissa, just opening up your mind. Well,
Dan: what does hospitality mean to you and how do you define it?
Michelle Jaime: hospitality in Hawaii is sort of part of our, culture. You'll probably hear people from the mainland say they come and visited for the first time and then got hanai'd or adopted by a local family for and then brought them over to the house and cooked for them and took them out to the beach and showed them their culture, showed them their neighborhood and their family.
So it's very much a part of our culture here. So I think we grew up in Hawaii. As a duty to have, to be, hospitable. Um, and then on the larger kind of more, like, industry term, I think hospitality is the same thing in different types of projects, like hotels. It's the same, exchange of you taking care of people and showing them the ropes and, then really showing them, the authentic part of your life.
Dan: I mean, you've had a varied career journey, right? So you went to college here in Hawaii, born and raised in Hawaii, to California, studied interiors. Where did you work when you came back to Hawaii from the mainland?
Michelle Jaime: Well, so I had a kind of, you know, Cheers to whoever figures out what they want to do at an early age, but I had a lot of zigzags. So at first I thought I wanted to be like a psychologist and, um, I really did not have the emotional bandwidth for that. Though I find it really interesting and it does give me a lot of, of like foundation to work with right now.
Um, but I had a friend who owns a big interior design firm here called Philpott's Interiors.
Oh wow, who is the friend?
John, stop. Marian Philpotts. Yeah.
Dan: I love them. I have, I have to tell you, I'm going to tell you a life changing
Michelle Jaime: tell you a life changing story for me I mean, they were fabulous. I mean, fabulous. And, you know, growing up here I didn't, like, I had a very humble, uh, upbringing.
So I didn't have any fancy friends, or I didn't have interior design friends, architect friends, anything kind of artsy in my life where that's what they did for career. So it wasn't until, like, my twenties that I meet John and Marian, and they just They were so nice, and they were like, Hey, if this is what you're interested in, come work in our library for a summer, see if this is what you like, and then maybe go back to school and do that.
So I did, and I remember people I mean, they had fancy clients. And I was working in the library, and one of the designers asked me, Can you help me pull fabrics for our Kelsey Grammers? And I'm like, oh my god, I have to pull a fabric. I gotta pull a I don't know if they ever used my fabric, but it was like, such a big deal.
So I was hooked, and then went back to school.
Dan: You have to think that they used the fabric on like a chaise lounge that He used when he was getting into character as a psychologist for Frasier,
Michelle Jaime: Oh, circle back.
Dan: I'm circling back to psychology. That was a good one, right? Um, did you study psychology in undergrad?
Michelle Jaime: Undergrad, and I spent some time in graduate school doing that. Yeah.
Dan: Hmm. So that's interesting because I think psychology and your definition of hospitality and kind of creating these spaces for others I think that there's like a good Venn diagram about those three things. And because it's, it's so much of it is about empathy from what I've heard, seen and heard. Um, and being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes and have, have understanding for where they're coming from.
And then you can meet them in the middle. Um, side note also. I started my hospitality career in a library at Hersh Bednar, yeah, in
Santa Monica, yeah. I worked there for two summers. It was fun. Get to learn a lot, get to build shelves, reorganize everything.
Michelle Jaime: Are you a little OCD? Do you,
Dan: Sometimes, I have to like really focus in on something, but most, more than OCD, I'm like severe ADHD.
Michelle Jaime: you
Dan: Yeah, like, I've broken the spectrum
Michelle Jaime: I think it's, I think that's why you're probably very entrepreneurial.
Dan: I think so.
Michelle Jaime: I, I got a, I got shades of that too.
Dan: But it's, it's interesting. And actually hearing about, well, I'll ask them when we're done. But hearing about your, I forgot about your TV experience on HGTV until you reminded me
Michelle Jaime: hmm.
Dan: But talk about varied because you started, went to school, went to Phil Potts, working in the library, went to graduate school, came back, started and then started working in design.
Then you started a multi line rep agency, but you said you hated it, or you weren't good at it.
Michelle Jaime: I wasn't great at it, no.
Dan: And then you went and, how did you find your way to TV, HDTV?
Michelle Jaime: You know, they found my brother. And my, I mean, David. Yeah. And David's meant for TV. I mean, he really is. Like, he knows where the camera is. He knows his angles. He's got that TV voice. You know? But, and he's got a, I mean, he's very talented as well. So, they found him. He's featured in a local magazine.
And the, and a production company was down here trying to do a show in Hawaii about, you know, all the HGTV shows are kind of, Like, there's always like a brother and brother, a husband and wife. So when they asked him if he was interested, if he had like a partner like that, he said, my sister. And I didn't want to do it.
I didn't at first and um, and so,
Dan: he like the builder and you were the designer?
Michelle Jaime: but see, David's design builds, like, so we don't work together normally, but um, so, because he does everything himself. He does design builds, he does restaurants, houses, and stuff. So he had, we had to work together. And David and I are very close in age. We're a year and a half apart.
So it was like, kind of, it was a very new dynamic for both of us. For him, kind of, letting me design. And me, like, just, cause he's the end person who just builds everything, you
Dan: the TV, the show also wants you to get in arguments and fights.
Michelle Jaime: No, not that
Dan: really? Okay.
Michelle Jaime: Yeah.
Dan: I remember you told me this.
Michelle Jaime: Bravo, it's like Real Housewives sort of thing. It's like, HGTV, everything is great.
Dan: year was that?
Michelle Jaime: 2018, I think?
Dan: Cause I think I remember you told me or maybe Brady told me. And, or Shelly, I don't remember, but I remember being somewhere and then you were on TV. I was like, what the hell? And I took a picture and I may have texted you the TV
Michelle Jaime: I remember that. You were probably in some like, courtyard.
Dan: was at, yeah, I was at a Marriott Courtyard in like Wichita, Kansas, at a
Michelle Jaime: In the lobby.
Dan: and just waiting and there you go.
I was like, Oh my God, I got to get back to
Michelle Jaime: You know what, those things like, they, they play it forever. I mean, I would look like, I'll probably be, you know, 80 years old and they're still playing it in a lobby in Wichita, Kansas.
Dan: do you get residual
Michelle Jaime: that where
Dan: Wichita's in Kansas, yes. Do you get, um, residual checks from that? So it's not like every quarter you'll get like, Oh, I got a 75 cent check from HGTV.
Michelle Jaime: be so rich!
Dan: 75 cents, like, there's like a diminishing return of
Michelle Jaime: No, I think they just keep, like, selling the show. I'll probably be in, like, some obscure lobby and You're up somewhere in the hostel, like,
Dan: I'm really glad you brought up John Staub because it was just yesterday. It was either yesterday or the day before. I saw someone from Keoya, a guy named David, I believe. Um, I was in L. A. at Alice. And I was recounting a story about how John Staub changed my life.
Michelle Jaime: changed your life
Dan: he changed my
Michelle Jaime: he just like a miracle
Dan: He is. And I actually went on my run where I was sweaty today.
I went into the Moana Surfrider to the big banyan tree and took a picture and I'm to send it to the two people I was talking to at Alice. Um, I think it was David. I just met him. I have his card. Um, so I was just awarded one of the towers to do the furniture at the Moana Surfrider. So I said, Hey, John, let's go have a drink.
Thank you. So we sat under the banyan tree and it must've been. Must have been 2013, 14. I don't remember. Probably the same time you were on TV. And we were sitting there and as an entrepreneur with ADD, I don't think I'd ever unplugged in like 10 years of being an entrepreneur. So it was just always phone, computer, text, non stop.
And so we were just talking about that under the tree. And he's like, well, you know, you just have to unplug every once in a while. And I said, well, what does that, what do you mean by that? He said, well, I unplugged twice a year for four weeks each. So I'm like, and as he's telling me that I'm getting like a panic attack.
I'm like, how the
hell, how the fuck do you do that? He's like, I have a really good team. I was like, okay, well, I'm still kind of just starting and I have a team, but it's not enough to like, unplug for two months. And I said, but you know what, I'm going with my family. My kids were really little.
Michelle Jaime: you want to go
Dan: We go, we went to this family camp called Rocky Wall Deep Haven Camps out in New Hampshire for, I don't know, 10 years over July 4th.
And it was our first time going.
Michelle Jaime: Or I can
Dan: And July 4th was on a Wednesday.
Michelle Jaime: week, just get out
Dan: So I was leaving, I was, I was probably with him in June. So like three weeks later, I was going there. I was like, you know what, John? Or he said, well, you're going away for a week. Why don't you just take that week and try with one week? And I said, okay, I'll totally unplug like
Michelle Jaime: Because normally, you would probably like, still be plugged
Dan: Correct. Well, there's, there's like, there is wifi at this camp. There's everything, but I, I made a promise to myself to not touch my phone or computer for one week and July 4th was on a Wednesday. So I felt I could do it, but like Thursday morning, I woke up. In complete
Michelle Jaime: it,
Dan: panic, but I just breathed and I chilled out and I fought it and, um, like I wasn't even picking up my phone to take pictures of my kids.
Like, I was
Michelle Jaime: had wrote
Dan: yeah, totally
analog. And, um,
Michelle Jaime: to my executive. I don't know
Dan: so anyway, I wrote him this, I wrote a very heartfelt letter or it was a letter because I sealed it. Um,
Michelle Jaime: you know, John, so much. Like,
Dan: I don't know. He wouldn't be able to read that. My handwriting is terrible. Um, but it was like, kind of block letter. And I just said, you know, John, thank you so much.
Like, you've changed my life. I never, didn't know that this was possible. Um, I'm gonna be in Hawaii in
Michelle Jaime: I'd love to see
Dan: August. I'd love to see you. Um, I sent it.
Michelle Jaime: uh, I found
Dan: And then, you know, went on with my summer. I think in July at some point, I said, Hey, I'm going to be out there in August. I emailed him. No response.
Michelle Jaime: rascals going
Dan: I'm like,
Michelle Jaime: I ran
Dan: Well, that's a bummer.
So then, uh, I found out he had a stroke. And I saw him at one of the trade shows. It might have been, uh, HD Vegas. And he was on one of those Rascals going around. And I ran up to him. And I gave him a big hug. And, uh, he goes, Yeah, I got your letters. Kind of like in a Like, sassy voice, I got it, but you can see I've been busy,
Michelle Jaime: Yeah. Oh, that's sweet. Yeah.
Dan: So then I, every year, over July 4th, I would do that. But since the pandemic, I haven't done it. So now I, I've been really thinking about it a lot. I really need to fully go analog for a week. Do you do anything like that to
Michelle Jaime: You know, it's funny. I talked about that as the goal for this year. I think I did it once on, um, My honeymoon in Tahiti, and it was a little hard to get the Wi Fi where we were at So I was like, ah, whatever, you know, and it felt really good. It takes a while to like fully decompress It's faster when you fully unplug that way That's when you're checking all the time.
It's harder, but I that's it's really a goal and I think like creatively to recharge
Michelle Jaime: is important because If you're always on Behind the screen, how are you going to learn anything new? So I find my best ideas when I'm like, not working.
Dan: Yeah, I find my best ideas come when I'm going for a walk or a run or a hike. Yeah, it's um, it's almost a, it's like I'm exerting myself, but I'm really focused on breathing and kind of not focused. It's almost meditative in a way, right?
Michelle Jaime: when you're bored. I feel like when you're, you allow yourself to get bored.
Dan: You know, you bring up a really good point because I remember as a kid being bored a lot. And I really feel sad for my kids and their friends. Because with all the phones and all the screens, no one's ever really bored anymore. And I think good ideas and imagination come from being bored.
Michelle Jaime: Mm hmm. 100%. You know, I haven't seen John Staub in a really long time. It sounds like he goes around the world and just tries to reposition people's lives in a better direction. I'm
Dan: me. I should, I need to definitely reach out to him. Um,
Michelle Jaime: course
Dan: he, yeah, he's like I'm so grateful for that kind of course adjustment he gave me, right? Um, but also speaking of that, like there's so many Hawaiian design firms, right? You being one of them and I do, and obviously there's so many hotels on all of the islands and just other projects.
I noticed that oftentimes Hawaiian firms will design Hawaiian projects and mainland firms. Will design Hawaiian projects, but I see very rarely that Hawaiian firms will design mainland projects. Like, have you noticed that, and is there a solve for it? I don't know.
Michelle Jaime: love to hear this solved for it because it's always been a struggle for us, um, to be sort of valued the same. As a mainland designer would be and, you know, we have
great projects and we have great clients, but the majority have been, like, 99 percent of them have been in Hawaii. We've done stuff in Nashville and things like that, like, that are, they hired us because they knew us from Hawaii, but, um, it's very hard for us to go outside.
And I don't, I don't know why that is, but I could assume it's because people feel like Hawaii is so far away and it's very specific to its culture and that we have one look, the Zoolander one look, but we have the blue steel. But we, you know, I think we have to really work extra hard to prove that we can do other things.
Dan: you do have a footprint in the mainland.
Michelle Jaime: do. So Shalia Sullivan is my associate designer and she's rad and she's out in Seattle.
Dan: I've known her forever.
Michelle Jaime: She's so nice, isn't
Dan: Yeah, I think I worked on one of her first projects as a designer. I think she was at Gensler many, many moons ago in L. A.
Michelle Jaime: Yeah, she's a force. I mean, this lady has three kids. And she's like, I remember when she first started working with
Dan: Can you say wahine?
Michelle Jaime: Yeah, wahine? This
Dan: Has three kids? Did I say it
Michelle Jaime: Yeah, you did. I mean, actually it's wahine, but like, but we, wahine. Yeah, this is her. She has three kids, and at the time I think her son was four, and she threw a party for her husband.
She worked a full day. I went over to her house afterwards. She had a full lamb roast cooked, craft cocktails. She picked up her kids. I mean, I don't know how she, this girl does everything, and she's so good. She's like a hundred percent all the time. Yeah, I got, I'm really lucky.
Dan: I think I need to tell Daniel that I need to go to Seattle
Michelle Jaime: I think
Dan: Have Celia cook me a
Michelle Jaime: I mean, she's serious.
Dan: she bury it in the, in the
Michelle Jaime: no. No, it's hard to get in Seattle, those banana
Dan: It is a little too rainy. Hmm. Um, so no, but okay. So I want to, I'm going to push you a little bit here. So, I saw you in November in New York City, and you're very good about, you particularly are really good about going to all of the events, whether it's an ILC event, a BD event, a HD event, and really good at networking and seeing what's going on out there.
But then, you You were up for this Gold Key Award, and you won. How important do you think that would be as far as helping get more work in the mainland?
Michelle Jaime: it's funny that you say that because everyone recently thinks that's our first O. T. award. We won, that's our second Gold
Dan: Oh, I didn't know that.
Michelle Jaime: yeah, we won, um, uh,
Dan: poor research, poor research. I forgot about your TV thing
Michelle Jaime: where's your whole staff?
Don't dig enough
Dan: damn it!
Michelle Jaime: No, but, I mean, this kind of goes back to answering your question, in 2016, we won for Best Public Space, um, or Lobby, I think Best Lobby, for, um, for the Surfjack Hotel, yeah, and, at the time, I was just like, I think it was just, um, two people working in our office. So it was a really, I mean, we, no one knew us, we're small, little business, and we were able to compete on that level and we won, and still no one knew us.
And it was like, we were thinking that something was going to happen big, like we were going to get phone calls, we were going to get like, asked to do, you know, projects, major projects in the mainland, like nothing. Nothing. Uh, I think, um, the crew from Surfjack, like the owners and the developers.
Dan: the owners and developers of that?
Michelle Jaime: So, that was, the majority owner was Green Oak, um, and then, of course, uh, Ben Rafter was on there.
And I think,
Dan: From afar. We were like 20 feet from each other and winked at each other, I think.
Michelle Jaime: Um, and I think Eric Warner and Stephen Chen stayed on as minority. But, no.
Dan: I love those guys.
Michelle Jaime: Yeah, so it was a fun group, and I think, you know, having done that successfully, because it was successful for them financially, um, that we got more work from that team. But beyond that, I mean, one guy I met right after the, the award ceremony was like, oh, where are you based out of?
Oh, Hawaii. Oh, maybe something closer to Asia. And I'm like, oh, well, yeah, I know, something. When they say like, oh, I mean, go back to the States, I'm like, we are a state, you know?
Michelle Jaime: you, I mean, you travel all the time, right? So like, for us, minimum travel time is five hours. And it's no big deal. Like, I was just in L.
A. for the weekend for a girl's, like, birthday trip. Two days and I came back. So it's like, not a big
Dan: from like a contractual perspective, maybe ownership groups or project managers think that there would be too much of a travel cost to come to, to the mainland, but tickets are pretty darn reasonable too. I mean,
Michelle Jaime: Tickets are reasonable. I'm up there all the time. Shalia lives up there. So it's not a,
Dan: an office there.
Michelle Jaime: yeah, it's not a, yeah, it's not a big deal. Travel, you know, now, especially after the pandemic, the way that we communicate is a lot more accessible as well. So,
Dan: So, you know what? Um, one of my favorite movies is Billy Madison.
Michelle Jaime: oh
Dan: bring this up all the
Michelle Jaime: that the one with Adam
Dan: Adam Sandler. But, you know, he's like, he's in story time with like, it's almost nap time. And Miss Lippy is reading a story about some dog that gets lost. I can't remember the name of the dog. But she's like, And then, little Billy put posters all over town asking to help find his dog.
And all the kids are kind of falling asleep. And then the end. And then Billy Madison, Adam Sandler's like, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, Miss Lippy. Hold on. You're telling me this kid goes around and puts up all these signs and he doesn't go the extra mile. He doesn't try and
Michelle Jaime: goes around. But
Dan: like call his friends and do all this.
He's like, Miss Lippy, you gotta he he's got a job. He's got a responsibility. He's gotta find that dog. love it. So, to me,
Michelle Jaime: I gotta go out
Dan: You gotta go out there. I mean, you're out there. Maybe Shalia's gotta get out there.
Michelle Jaime: Yeah.
Dan: And go push her out the
Michelle Jaime: you know, I, I don't go to all the things. I'm not
Dan: go to a lot of them.
Michelle Jaime: Well, I go there for like, creative, like, ammo, basically. I'm not like a great networker. I got my own, like, style. Everyone has their own style. I'm more like, I don't want to meet anybody just to network.
I want to really, like, meet somebody and actually have a good conversation. Yeah. I'm not one of those that stand there and talk to you and then look beyond you,
Dan: I'm guilty of that
Michelle Jaime: Are you?
Dan: I try really hard
Michelle Jaime: you know? Is it your, is your a DD?
Dan: It is, but I also, I remember hearing a story about um, I forget what president it was. It might have been John F. Kennedy. And someone was talking about, like, what they appreciated about President Kennedy. I could be wrong on the president.
But they said, like, in all these events, and all these people, and everyone would always be around at these gala events, but he was, like, better than any human being of locking in,
in a conversation, and being 100 percent present at what was being said. So I really beat myself up when I'm talking to someone and then I do that look because like if it's a trade show or someone's walking by, but I just have to lock in.
Michelle Jaime: well, I, I am a DD too, like. So I often get sick of my own conversation that I'm having, like midway through my sentence I'm already thinking about something else. So it's really a struggle to keep like,
Dan: Keep it all together.
Michelle Jaime: it all together.
Dan: Well, or, but maybe, but going back to your kind of the premise of the, of the line of questioning is you're,
Michelle Jaime: ADD conversation.
Dan: it's no, but the squirrel.
Michelle Jaime: know.
Dan: there squirrels in Hawaii? Oh, okay, good. Can't bring them here. Do not bring squirrels. They'll check you at the, at the thing. But, um, You are putting yourself out there. I see you at the places. But maybe that has to go with the, um, The prejudice, I'm going to say prejudice, I think it's a bad, maybe it's a clumsy word, but like, or the preconceived notion that for whatever's keeping Hawaiian design firms are doing more work on the mainland. Like you're out there, you're doing it, you're winning awards. You're on fucking TV for God's sakes. I wonder why it's like, uh,
Michelle Jaime: I'm not a hard seller, and I don't know if that works for anybody, like, that's a creative to be a hard seller, I just feel like I'm still in the process of like, this is what I do. If you like it, I don't know. Come here, come our way, give me a call.
Dan: but you're, but you've built, you've built quite a, a track record of projects and and happy clients and, and success, right? If you were to think about, um, a hotel project for you that, like you said before, for Green Oak and Ben and, uh, Stephen and Eric, I think it was financially very rewarding. A lot of that has to do with buying right and repositioning and getting the rates up, right?
Because then that increases the NOI and the overall value of the project. What's a really great example of where you guys came in, the Vanguard Theory, and really repositioned something in a major way that was a resounding success?
Michelle Jaime: I think, I mean, we, we're pretty scrappy when we work with um, um, Uh, our clients, I think a lot of, we understand the goal. So a lot of Ben's projects, I mean he takes, and Ben Raptor is from Springboard, but, um, you know when he went to the ownership side, he found, and he knows very, he's very familiar with all these distressed properties in Waikiki, um, and he, he finds those things and he comes to us and he's built on the relationship we had on Surfjack and would be like.
Can you give me a new concept? And he just is like, hey, you guys are the creatives. Let's just do it. And so, when we know the goal, and you know his budget and timeline, we can, we just have that relationship that we can get there. So we've got, I mean, White Sands was one of them that we did with him. Renew was another one.
We did the branding for that one too. And, um, yeah, I mean, most of our projects were pretty scrappy, and I feel like we were given a challenge of like, X amount per key. And we do this beautiful design, and a lot of times when people are not familiar with working with us, they'll look at it and go, now that's too expensive, you can't hit that budget.
I'm like, just let us work it.
Dan: And you've already done your homework.
Michelle Jaime: We've done, we just know what material costs, dimensions are, so we're not gonna, we design around those things, and we know how much it costs to get things to Hawaii, and how long it takes to get things to Hawaii, that's an added cost. So, when we started doing projects in the mainland, I swear, like, it was nice because we had a cushier budget because there's not this like 25 to 30 percent.
Dan: Oh, haircut,
Michelle Jaime: yeah.
And then there's not this, like, there's, there's just so many more options when you work in projects in the mainland. So when we do it, it's just like, it flies by fast and we get to a better product because now we're just not limited to getting things to the middle of the Pacific. So sorry, I'm on this rant here, but like, I feel
Dan: Yeah, you have a lot of headwinds to have a successful project, because there's like a 30 percent freight
Michelle Jaime: right. It's really,
Dan: and labor, and installation, everything is just so much more here. So there's so many more constraints
Michelle Jaime: There's so many, I mean, and then the permitting process here is bananas. Bananas, it takes like nine to twelve months to get your permit. I'm not kidding. So, we strategize on turning in our, some like, documents, and then we go back to the furniture. It's just like, you know, we, we end up being part of the conversation of development, not just a consultant like, let's get some, you know, cosmetic things in there.
We're talking about like, major strategy on, on like logistics and uh, for FF& E and, and also for um, permitting.
Dan: Maybe the, maybe the angle to take is for mainland projects,
Michelle Jaime: there's constraints on every project,
Dan: look there's constraints on every project so I don't want to minimize that, but like I love the idea of how you said being scrappy because you have so many headwinds and so many constraints. It's like in the mainland you don't have that 30 percent headwind of freight, logistics, handling, and that you could do even more
Michelle Jaime: Yeah, and then you know what I love about working in the mainland? Is if you're on a project, say you're doing a lobby, which we've kind of done and, and, and you, you like, I need accessories or I need whatever, like a lamp or what, you can go out and get those things. In Hawaii, there's nothing.
We have to order and then we have to either fly there to look at it in person.
Dan: Or go to an ABC store.
Michelle Jaime: nuts on the shelf.
Dan: Yes, chocolate covered. We're going to do chocolate covered, caramel
Michelle Jaime: don't know if we can afford the chocolate
Dan: Oh, right,
Michelle Jaime: We're scrappy, remember?
Dan: totally. Um, yeah, I, I just, I'm, I'm, I'm actually perplexed about that as well. And, and that, but I also think, like, on the other side of that coin, I think it's, um, you know, there's an extra challenge for a mainland non Hawaiian design firm to do projects here.
And a lot of them do projects here, but I think they have to be really sensitive to the fact that they're not, like, Putting tiki heads everywhere, or like, kind of making it
Michelle Jaime: Yeah.
Michelle Jaime: non local design teams come here and want to consider the culture. Um, and there's a fine line of appropriation, right? And celebration. So I think it's, it's, it's sometimes it's a little a kick in the gut when you see somebody that's not local talk about. Like, explaining the culture to you of where you live.
So, um, I'm seeing a lot more people trying to engage with cultural consultants or, like, local people, but I would really like to see people engage with local fabricators, local artists, local designers, and that's something that's really important to us because we can have one lens as a design firm. And design something that we say this represents the community.
But if we don't engage the community, that's not really authentic. Um, and that's what we really believe in when we did projects elsewhere. We make sure to engage, like, the craftspeople, the artists, the whoever, the designers of that community. Because it's not just our lens, it's the community's lens of telling that story and being Showing hospitality. Um,
Dan: to pull on the scrappy thread a bit more. Does my memory serve me right? That when you started Vanguard Theory, as far as to like, just get, get business and do stuff, you would do like
Michelle Jaime: to
Dan: specifications and drawing, like you were like almost like an outsourced
Michelle Jaime: Yeah. Yeah.
Dan: writing, drawing,
Michelle Jaime: drawing.
Dan: what, like how did you,
Michelle Jaime: when you decided
Dan: when you decided to start it in the wake of the financial crisis, like how did you, what were the types of projects you were doing then to like your approach now?
Michelle Jaime: So, I mean, we started it during the recession, like the wake of the recession, so not a great time to
Dan: Also, also a great time to start a
Michelle Jaime: Also a great time to
Dan: but typically not a great time.
Michelle Jaime: Nobody's knocking on our doors for any projects, um, but when they did, we noticed that some of the big design firms, they were running thin. You know, they just laid off their whole staff and they probably had like one or two people. So when they got a hotel project or a big commercial project, they didn't have the staff, but they knew us.
Um, so we'd come and augment their team. So we ended up doing, like, design sourcing. So some of them, like, had hospitality experience, but in one lane. And they knew, coming from where we came from, coming from where we came from, Uh, we did residential and we did hospitality. So we had, we could bring in more sources.
So we started doing design sourcing from the, for them, specification writing, um, drawings. Uh, so we helped build a team.
Dan: that was your, what was your first full big shot?
Michelle Jaime: We did, with ADI, we did the Westin Maui resort and spa. It was 552 rooms at Ocean Tower. Yeah, that was our big one that we did with them.
Dan: And how did, how did you get them to believe in you and take the leap with you?
Michelle Jaime: So, Jim, uh, sorry, Jim Ochanaga, he was one of the principals there. And he knew us from, cause he's worked long ago.
Dan: he come from Outrigger?
Michelle Jaime: He came from, I don't know, like, but he was, he worked at Philpott's long ago, way
Dan: name sounds very familiar.
Michelle Jaime: He's a purchasing guy now, JMI. But, um, I think he'd like purchase Holly, uh, Holly Puna. And then Judy went to go work with him.
Yeah, so we, um, so we So we got a job with him because I think he was running lean, it was just him. And he, he was at that time in his career that he kind of wanted to retire. So he just really wanted to be client facing, but not necessarily like in the weeds. Um, so we were in the weeds and, um, it was a great relationship and we did many projects with, with him in an ADI, but that was the first real big one when we started our company.
Dan: And then, Being an entrepreneur in Hawaii, as like a founder, what do you think your biggest challenge has been? I guess it doesn't even have to be in Hawaii, it could be
Michelle Jaime: I think, I mean, I think a lot of entrepreneurs feel this way, but maybe it's because I'm a woman, too. A
Michelle Jaime: wahine. Yeah.
Dan: It's with a V?
Michelle Jaime: The W's are V's most of the times. Yeah. But we say wahine. Um. Scaling.
Michelle Jaime: So I think, you know, that risk factor of like scaling really big and then having to lay off a bunch of people is pretty crappy.
You know? In Hawaii, it's like super busy, and we're small, so we're like, it's super busy and then it'll go, something happens, like SARS, or like the president says, or the governor says, don't visit Hawaii, like, and then tourism goes down. And we're like Economic slump. So they're very like, sensitive here, so I, I think being an entrepreneur it's just like, I'm very careful about scaling and I know I should push and I've had people tell me like, hey you got to be more, you got to be more out there and push, but I feel like I just would see my stats up when I was younger just getting laid off and laid off like time and time again and I know it really sucks, so I don't want to put anybody in that position.
Dan: So as an entrepreneur, I was all about scale and grow and grow and grow. And like I was in this whole peer group where it was
Michelle Jaime: sure that
Dan: all this stuff. Yeah, which is good. Um, however, in all these, I call them business porn books, they should, One of the books should be a book, and I've brought it up a couple times on this, uh, pod, but it's called Small Giants and just focusing on being great
Michelle Jaime: I, I've seen that book around.
Dan: It's a good one. He talks about all, he talks to all these private entrepreneurs, uh, or private companies. Um, some are pretty big that just, just choose to stay small and great and focused on where they are. And, um, Look, there's a spectrum to everything, there's benefits to scale and growth, there's also benefits to being really focused and niched, niched, niched down into a really specific set.
Okay, but I, I appreciate that. Because it's like the accordion, being able to flex and be like an accordion as the business is coming in is really important to stay nimble,
Michelle Jaime: that's the one. The, the thing I, I, I'm not the only person that runs against, runs against this issue though, is that I didn't really have business people in my life growing up. Um, I didn't have a, somebody to, to look up to. I didn't have a mentor. So, I think I just learned by failure. Um, and being really broke all the time and so like it pushed me to like work harder either, you know, had to give up and with my walk away with my tail between my legs or just push harder.
And I think that failure really pushed me harder and I, there's so many blind spots that I have and I'm learning every day and it would be really great. It'd be so awesome if there was like a sage interior designer who owned a firm would be like, Michelle, let me take you under your wing. But I feel like I learn best when I go through the fire and I burn myself.
Dan: my son was just writing an essay, he's 13, and I was reading it and I was like, I was really impressed, but he, he pulled something from like a childhood basketball coach, who's also a friend, um, Coach Mackey, give him a shout out, but he, um, Theo, my son, wrote, you know, I, I remember back, like, failure, I learned from failure, and I had a basketball coach when I was a kid, he's still a kid, but um, He would say, if you're not failing, you're not trying hard enough.
And I think like as an entrepreneur, being in a dark time, I brought this up before as well. It's coming out of a dark time of failure. Um, I remember being on a bus and seeing a woman in a shirt ahead of me. I was with my daughter. We were heading up to the Catskills to go to a friend's and um, she was leaning forward.
I couldn't read it. And then finally she leaned forward. Enough that I could see her shirt. It said,
Michelle Jaime: Mm hmm.
Dan: is just unfinished learning.
Michelle Jaime: Mm
Dan: And somehow that t shirt
Michelle Jaime: I thought it was
Dan: was like a really pivotable, uh, pivotal, like, uh, anti depressant. It was really, it gave, it like helped me get back up on the purpose horse.
Michelle Jaime: The Purpose Force, I like that.
Dan: it was good.
Michelle Jaime: No, yeah. I feel like, you know, now that we're talking about this, I feel like, you know, the hesitation to scale, you know, that kind of fear about letting people off and things. I think for me, and maybe this is a woman thing, is that the risk is more Relationships. It's not monetary.
It's not like, uh, sort of like, creatively or any of those things. It's really like, relationship. Like, am I going to fail this person? Or, you know? So, I think, I don't know if that's a woman thing. It sounds like it is,
Dan: I think it's a, it's an empathetic psychologist thing, right? I mean,
Michelle Jaime: a
Dan: are everything,
Michelle Jaime: Um,
Dan: right? I was once at this, another entrepreneur event where, actually talking about extrovert and introvert, it was this woman,
Michelle Jaime: wanted to say it was in
Dan: I can't remember her name, Susan Cain or something, she wrote a book called Quiet. It talks about introverts, extroverts and she came up with the, I don't know if she came up with the idea, but I, it resonated with me of ambiverts. So people that can do both but need introvert
Michelle Jaime: extroverts. And extroverts, hi. But
Dan: and extrovert time. But I was in this room of a hundred other entrepreneurs and they, they did like some survey monkey, like real time thing.
Michelle Jaime: they had
Dan: like driven data?
Michelle Jaime: It was like
Dan: It was like basically a Myers Briggs, there were like four things. And then, or you, or an empathetic was one. And then like, most everyone was like a I or D, which is like driven data.
Michelle Jaime: And
Dan: And then, there was one empathetic one. Which was me.
Michelle Jaime: Oh.
Dan: And then I was like, what the fuck am I doing in this room with all these people?
I'm different. But, entrepreneurs take on every kind of shape and size and
Michelle Jaime: Everyone has their own style.
Dan: and to me, but the reason why I'm sharing that is it's it's really about interpersonal relationship, that space between, that, and the, and that, the relationship that exists between, that is really valuable. And that's why I would feel bad if I were laying someone off, right?
And it's, it's that relationship. It's not the money. I've never done all this stuff for the money. I've always thought that the money would follow if I'm really doing what I love.
Michelle Jaime: I think, you know, some of my team members have told me that one of the best things about working here is the culture. And I, it's really important to me because you see these people more than you see your own family sometimes. And I mean,
Dan: I think all the time.
Michelle Jaime: yeah, it's true, yeah, and then
Dan: factor in sleep and work, there's like, there's some shoulder time.
Michelle Jaime: I definitely talk to them more.
I talk to them more. Um, And, uh, it's important, you want to come to work and you want to like the people that you work with and you want to, and we do these things on Monday, it's Inspiration Monday where we, we talk about anything we're inspired by, it doesn't have to be design related. And it's like, it's fun to learn about people outside of work.
You know, you're like, you always think of them as, as something, like. When did I hear something? Somebody said, like, you know when you see your, in elementary school, when you see your teacher out of school,
Dan: Oh, it's weird. yeah,
Michelle Jaime: you're like, whoa. She's grocery shopping. You're like, whoa. It's kind of like that. So every Monday, I'm like, wow, there you are.
So I think it's, it's important to have, like, a good culture and a workplace and we certainly have one and I feel like I know you should never say family. It should be more like a team. But I really feel like, uh, I don't want to let them down.
Dan: Yeah. Ohana. Uh, I also, so go ahead, t shirt philosophy, there was an, and blind spots, it made me think of kind of supermarket philosophy, so seeing the teacher, you're like, oh wow, that's a real person, it's not like this mythical god that I'm, I'm like, worshiping every day or I have to like, be subservient to, um, I had a really interesting New York City supermarket experience once where, you know, New York City, everything is fast, fast, fast, you're going.
And then I remember going in one of these small grocery, grocery store, super, not supermarket, but they call it that just smaller and like someone's leaning over trying to find the box of pasta or something. And I'm like getting really frustrated, like,
Michelle Jaime: Your
Dan: are you doing, you know, impatient. And then I go around to the next aisle and then I'm looking for some spice and it's on the bottom and then I'm down there trying to do it.
And I was like. Oh my God,
Michelle Jaime: You're that guy.
Dan: what I hated five seconds ago. I was like, you know what, I just got to chill out. But that was like a good, um, looking in the mirror, blind spot reduction for me.
Michelle Jaime: Empathetic. Yeah.
Dan: So, as you're looking forward to what's out in the future, um, long term, mid term, near term, it doesn't matter, what's exciting you most about what you're up to?
Michelle Jaime: So, we love to think of ourselves as creatives and that interior design is our platform right now. And, you just mentioned being ADD, I think this is the perfect job for me because I get to do many things, but creatively I am really excited for our team to, like, do other things besides. Interior design. So, I mean, quietly, we've been doing, or maybe not so quietly, in all of our projects, we do collaborations with artists.
So, we take their art and we use it and reformat it for fabric, wall covering. We design our own lighting, we design all our own furniture. So, we're trying to put something together where we have our own stuff. And, um Yeah, I think really would want to continue to work and collaborate with artists to do this, but I think it'd be a nice creative shift
Dan: Yeah, and it's like you're building intellectual property, right? You, you have this whole catalog of past work and you're doing all this stuff all day, every day. It's nice to have it out there and in a way, monetize that in some way. So it's like this evergreen creative space.
Michelle Jaime: I think for so long We were fortunate to have our clients include us in their marketing, you know They don't have to do that. I think a lot of people will say here's our hotel This is the design, but now more people are saying, and the designer was, the Vanguard Theory. And it's great, our clients have been very generous, um, in doing that.
Uh, but we weren't able to kind of craft our own narrative. The narrative was always put out there by our projects and what their needs were. So I think, um, I think it's time that we sort of craft our own narrative and kind of put the greatest hits together and say, like, this is This is who we are, uh, we are Hawaii, and we're proud of it, and, um, I think Hawaii is a really lucrative brand.
And if you look, you know, even in the mail, and you'll see like Poke bowls, you'll see Hawaiian chips, you'll see like Maui this or whatever, and it's not from Hawaii. So we know that Hawaii aesthetic, tropical aesthetic, surf aesthetic is super, uh, marketable. And we want to say, our point of view, coming from Hawaii, this is what it means for us and you can take something authentic away with you if you, you know, work with us.
So I think that's our goal this year is to kind of trickle out into other creative avenues because all of us, I mean, especially on Mondays, now we know, um, all of us have other creative like interests that we want to explore.
Dan: I love it. And whatever I can do to help,
Michelle Jaime: Yeah. Thanks.
Dan: I just have an aside story, or a question for you. You know, we'll be, we'll be like a severe weather front, or a tsunami warning, and the, the, the phones go, meh, meh.
Michelle Jaime: know. RNY,
Dan: years ago, Someone, somewhere in Hawaii, pushed the wrong button, and it said like, incoming nuclear attack.
It was a mistake.
Michelle Jaime: mistake.
Dan: I'm very curious, where were you when that came through, and what were you thinking?
Michelle Jaime: I,
Dan: Ha ha ha
Michelle Jaime: if like, it was just some weird reflex or something where it really Like, your personality, I think, really shines when something like that happens, right? You're either fight, flight, or freeze. I was laughing. I don't know what happened, but I was in my apartment building and, I mean, no one has ever prepped us for that.
I mean, actually, you know what? When we were younger, this is bananas, when we were younger, I remember being in elementary school and the sirens going off and we all had to hide underneath our desks. Because, you know,
Dan: and cover.
Michelle Jaime: you know, we had,
Dan: There's a lot of
Michelle Jaime: Pearl Harbor was not that long ago
Dan: there's a lot of very important military installations out
Michelle Jaime: Yeah, but like, hiding under a desk, what is that gonna do, right?
But, so, I remember this thing went off. I was in, I had no food in my refrigerator. I took a, like a Brita. Water pitcher and a cliff bar. And I just started laughing and I mean, I went down to the basement, which is air conditioned so it wasn't like a big deal, but I just, I remember seeing people running around our building with their children and they were terrified.
I felt really bad for that. But I couldn't stop laughing at the situation. But you should have seen, like, I left, after everything was called down, I left. And I, I don't know, I was driving to a friend's house and there were, it was chaotic. There were drunk people on the road. I mean, people, I heard like a fancy golfers, uh, golf club here at YLA.
I heard people were going behind the bar, like old little ladies, and just chugging top shelf.
Dan: no way. Oh, see, I haven't heard all this for some, I don't know what made me just think of it, but that's just like a crazy
Michelle Jaime: Should it be a movie? It should be a
Dan: be a movie. Yeah, 100%.
Michelle Jaime: I feel like that's like a, that was a movie. Wasn't that like a weird,
Michelle Jaime: like Seth Rogen type of Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Dan: That was a weird
Michelle Jaime: weird.
Dan: uh, okay,
Michelle Jaime: But yeah, I couldn't stop laughing. I mean, the person I was with at the time was not laughing. They were calling everyone saying, I love you, and I was just like, meh.
Dan: how long did it take before they said, oh, it was a mistake?
Michelle Jaime: You know, I don't remember. I don't think it was like super long.
Dan: How do you push a wrong button like that? That's just
Michelle Jaime: Well,
Dan: It's a mistake.
Michelle Jaime: don't you, in my mind, there's one of those
Dan: Yeah, the cover. Yeah, or and two people have to like turn a
Michelle Jaime: The same thing,
Dan: at the same time before you push that. Maybe it was just like a test of like a mass psychology, a mass psychosis test, and they just measured every how everyone reacted.
Michelle Jaime: Some like, curious kid is like, what does this do? Just
Dan: well, then here we know that this one. And maybe there were a couple others they saw in some kind of video that started laughing and like these are the people we need. For the arc.
Michelle Jaime: It's probably like a stressed laugh or something, I don't know.
Dan: think we just came up with an idea for a show. Michelle, this has been awesome. If people wanted to learn more about you or Vanguard Theory, what's the best way for them to get in touch?
Michelle Jaime: Our website, thevanguardtheory. com
Dan: Right? And, uh Seriously, I know I've wanted to do this since November. I'm glad we're doing it
Michelle Jaime: I'm glad, right.
Dan: a thousand mahalos. Thank you for your time.
Michelle Jaime: Thank you for having me. This is so much fun.
Michelle Jaime: And, uh,
Dan: uh, Hey, listeners, thank you for all listening because without you listening and showing such interest in these amazing guests that we have, I wouldn't be sitting here
in Hawaii with Michelle having this conversation.
So mahalo to all of you. And, uh, We'll catch you next time. Thank you.