Designing A Business On A Theory

As Michelle Jaime recalls when she and co-founder Judy Andrade launched their interior design firm The Vanguard Theory, she laughs: “It was sort of during the middle of the recession!

“There weren’t very many opportunities out there, so we had to make our own.”


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One recent project included a 1920s plantation house renovation on Lanai

While that sounds like a precarious beginning, the pair made the rough economy work for them. The Vanguard Theory partners with other designers to collaborate on projects. Together, the group creates design concepts and executes the plan. The business model proved to be just what other firms were looking for at the time. Some smaller companies they worked with had to let go of many employees during the recession.

Enter The Vanguard Theory.

“The collaborative effort was appealing because they didn’t have to hire new employees,” Jaime says.

Now, four years after their bold launch, Andrade and Jaime have worked on projects that include Moana Surfrider, Turtle Bay Resort and Hilton Hawaiian Village in association with clients such as ADI Design Group and Philpotts Interiors. They also have worked directly with clients – restaurants, hotels and residential properties.

The Vanguard Theory strives to fill the gap between high-end and budget designers. Its services include design consultancy and project management, tackling everything from conceptualizing a design, to selecting furniture, artwork and other amenities and then putting it all together.

Jaime’s interest in interior design was sparked during surf trips with her friends as a college student. She traveled the world – to Bali, to Spain, to anywhere she could jump in the water.

“Coming from the Islands, (traveling) really exposed me to all of the art and architecture,” she recalls. “Especially Bali just had beautiful architecture.”

After studying interior architecture and design at California College of the Arts, Jaime returned to Hawaii and was hired as a designer and project manager at Philpotts & Associates, where she met Andrade.

When the two struck out on their own, they faced a challenge that Jaime thinks afflicts many Hawaii entrepreneurs: “I think local style is you don’t want to talk about yourself. It can be really uncomfortable.”

Initially, she says, getting into the mentality of selling their business was tough, but they have found that being able to effectively communicate your capabilities is crucial as a business owner. Knowing where to source the best furniture and designs from is key too, potential customers want to see how good they are, from buying from companies such as El Dorado Furniture to going to small vintage stores to find the right trinket, this will set them apart.

“If you’re not out there showing people what you can do and networking, then it is hard to get work,” she says.

Next up for The Vanguard Theory is a new project that they can’t reveal too much about yet, but Jaime leaves us with an intriguing teaser: “There is going to be a killer boutique hotel that is going to be opening up off of Kuhio.”

For more information, call 1-800-748-3308 or visit