Our Community - Sami Blouin and Aida Graf - "The Production Girls of Paradise"

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 13, No. 25            July 3, 2003

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Sami & Aida

Women have come a long way from the days when they were only "allowed" to be housewives and mothers. These days, "career women" enjoy a variety of occupations and also take pride in owning successful businesses. This week, The San Pedro Sun is pleased to feature two self-made women who, for the past three years, have created their own way to make a living in San Pedro: Sami Blouin and Aida Graf, the proud owners of Isla Bonita Designs.

     Sami, born in Detroit, Michigan, discovered at an early age that she had a passion for dancing. Upon graduating from high school, she immediately became a dance instructor at the Arthur Murray School of Dance studio in Ann Arbor. Bored with the cold Michigan weather, Sami made a fateful decision to move west for a little fun in the sun.

    Pursuing a dance career in California, Sami also gained a real estate license and worked as a printer, eventually earning a Journeyman Printer's card. This last career choice and her love of travel led her to Hawaii and across the Pacific to Australia's Gold Coast. Meeting new people and experiencing life in different places brought out the "gypsy" inside Sami and she continued her travels. After four years in Sydney and on the Great Barrier Reef, Sami traveled to Cambodia, Thailand, Maylasia, Singapore, Bali and to Hong Kong, where she taught English. After dancing her way across Europe, Sami decided it was time to return to the United States.

    Ever the entrepreneur, Sami next established a sizeable interior decorating business - all the while selling real estate and immersing her extra energy in dance and theater. After a time, Sami longed for the excitement of the "big city" again and moved to the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, Nevada.

     While dancing in Las Vegas, Sami met Aida Graf. Aida, the youngest of four children, was born on the island of Puerto Rico. Moving to the US at the age of five, she was raised in the "city that never sleeps" - New York City. Following her schooling, Aida made a living as a professional hairdresser for fifteen years and raised two sons, Peter and Mathew. Her children grown, Aida made a complete lifestyle change and became the owner/operator of a small amusement park in southern Vermont. As the park was a seasonal business (April - October), Aida spent the remainder of the year at her "winter" home in Las Vegas. When she sold her business twelve years later, she packed up and moved to the Nevada city to pursue her hobby, as a dancer.

     In Las Vegas, Aida became very good friends with her fellow dancer, and eventually moved in with her new roommate - Sami. As the two women danced the night away and sold timeshares by day they grew weary of the traffic and stress of Vegas. Looking for an island to kick back on, Sami and Aida happened upon Ambergris Caye in October 1999. Like so many others before them, they "just fell in love with the caye."

    Returning to the US, it took less than a month for them to realize that San Pedro offered the perfect place for them to live. Leaving their jobs, Sami and Aida packed up and moved to Ambergris Caye. On December 7th,1999 - less than two months after their initial visit, the two friends arrived on "La Isla Bonita." They started out selling timeshares and made many friends along the way. More and more often, customers and friends complimented them on their flowery island-style "tie-on" pants that Sami had purchased in California. These comments turned into requests for the island wear, jokingly referred to as "2-second release" clothing. Not individuals to turn away when opportunity knocked, Sami and Aida borrowed a sewing machine and the two independent women created a fashion enterprise - "Isla Bonita Designs".

     Working out of their apartment, Sami and Aida labored round-the-clock, sewing during the week and selling to tourists (and locals) on the weekend. Developing a unique marketing concept, the two combined their love of dancing and meeting people with selling their product. Invited to promote the clothing at entertainment spots with live music or a lively crowd, the two friends donned their own creations, combined modeling with dancing, and sparked a demand for "tie-it-on" clothing all over the island. Packing a trunk full of designs, every Sunday Sami and Aida would travel to Casey's Palapa Bar or the barbecue at BC's Bar, where Charlene dubbed them the "The Production Girls".

   Greeted with much enthusiasm, gift shop managers (Eli Perly of Banyan Bay was their first client) began to request tie and wrap-around clothing for island resorts. A customer base established, Sami and Aida expanded their line to include dresses, pants, skirts, bikini tops and shorts. Supplying the demand, the next obvious step was to open a retail store.

    On July 1, 2000, Sami and Aida officially opened the doors to "Isla Bonita Designs" inside the Island Plaza on Barrier Reef Drive. Operating the store by themselves, the two women worked long hours both producing and selling the product inside their tiny store. They had succeeded in creating something from nothing on an island in the Caribbean.

    To supply an ever-increasing demand, The Production Girls hired their first employee, and within a year found it necessary to relocate to a space twice the size of their original store.

    Today, after three years in business, Sami and Aida operate Isla Bonita Designs "a little further up the street" on Upper Barrier Reef Drive in front of the new Belize Bank. Always expanding, the business currently supports four employees as well. The "girls" have added an entire line of ladies clothing as well as men's shirts, pants and "do-rags". True entrepreneurs, their store is unique to our island. "Handmade on the premises," customers may walk in, choose a style, pick a fabric, and have their garment custom-made in just twenty-four hours or less.

     When Sami and Aida are not working, they enjoy walking on the beach, feeling the breeze, and are always in the mood to go dancing. Aida attributes her success to her parents; "My parents would be so proud of me; my mom worked in a sweat shop' for twenty years and my dad was a machinist. I only wish they were alive and he could fix these !&*$@?' machines when they break down."

    Sami hopes that someday when her granddaughter Shara is old enough for college, her daughter April will leave her job as a surgical nurse and move to San Pedro to carry on the "legacy". Then the Production Girls can pursue more traveling or as Sami calls it "the get-goin' fever"!

     Sami Blouin and Aida Graf appreciate the life they live and all the folks "that believed in us," who helped them realize their dream of living on an island and becoming part of "a family" in San Pedro. Look out "Sachs Fifth Avenue," The Production Girls have outdone you in "Our Community."

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