Powell Berger is a Honolulu-based freelance journalist who writes about business, social justice, travel and tourism, and education for Hawaii Business, Huffington Post, and other publications. Her essays have appeared on Full Grown People, The Manifestation, and The Mid.
Every day, she has to hustle to sell the floral necklaces before they wilt.
Name: Stacy Farias
Occupation: Owner, Sophia’s Lei Stand
City: Honolulu, HI
Follow the sign to the Honolulu airport’s lei stands, and you’ll find yourself looking into the steely eyes of more than a dozen lei makers. Each watches you over the edge of her glasses as she sews floral necklaces, hoping to lure you away from the competing stalls.
Sophia’s Lei Stand is said to be the oldest, started by Grandma Sophia, then passed on to her daughter, Joyce. Her granddaughter Stacy Farias swore she’d never work the stand, until her mother died four years ago, leaving Stacy in charge. Sophia first sold leis out of the back of her station wagon when the steamship S.S. Lurline brought passengers from California in the 1940s. Today, Stacy sees it as her mission to carry on Sophia’s legacy. CityLab talked to her near the airport terminal.
What’s an average work day like for you?
We’re like Disney, here 365 days a year. The shop is open from 6:30 a.m. until 10:30 every night. I show up every day. It’s my shop, my responsibility.
I remember how my Gamma did it, so I like to start every day with a stock of all the traditional Hawaiian leis—puakenikeni, plumeria, maile, lokelani, ginger, pakalana, pikake. It’s like a Hawaiian food restaurant. All the local foods are on the menu.
What else did you learn from your grandmother?
I got my business sense watching her. She was very visionary. She had 36 grandchildren, was a staunch Mormon, and did everything—made feather leis, sewed costumes for May Days, quilting—all while running the lei stand and keeping the family going. It was just the way it was. Our grandmother taught us to work.
As a little girl, I’d go out into her big yard and pick the plumerias and then sell them to her. And I’d tell her “If these flowers die on your board at the lei stand, that’s your loss.” At ten years old I’d tell her that! About the flowers I’d just picked from her yard!
What’s most challenging about your work?
The flowers die every day of the year. You’ve got to sell them, because that lei’s not going to wait on you. It’s not like putting a can of Vienna sausage on the shelf, and someone will buy it eventually when they are hungry enough.
What do you wish your customers knew about the leis?
Traditional flower leis are just as important as the people and spirit of Hawaii. Receiving or giving a lei is part of our culture. You can get the same weather in the Caribbean or Mexico, but it’s the people who make this place. A lot of visitors get off the plane and expect a hula girl to give them a lei. So I think of it as, these folks came to see me.