Hawaii native's NYC design firm flourishes in the Big Apple

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK (HawaiiNewsNow) - Noa Santos, 29, was raised on the North Shore.

Now, he's running an interior design company in New York with a mission to make people feel better about the way they live and work.

The ?Iolani grad is a long way from Hau?ula and his days of surfing Pounders, but it's those very ties to Hawaii and his ?ohana back home that keep him grounded and have influenced his innovative approach to interior design.

"Home is not a matter of the things you put in a space you live," said Santos, who founded Homepolish just five years ago and has already been featured by Forbes. "It's actually a matter of the people that are there.

"My parents could frankly care less about where a chair is or a sofa is. I always go back home and their living room is in a different arrangement and I'm like why is the chair next to the window and it should be over here and my dad is like, 'Well, I need to look at the surf. How else am I supposed to do that? And I love that."

When Santos set out for New York City to pursue interior design, he had no idea he'd one day have more than 15 offices across the country and nearly 700 designers.

Homepolish makes it possible for interior designers to get down to business, being creative rather than getting bogged down by running a company -- and it connects clients to design partners who help make their home or office a place that they love.

"It really is a matter of designing a space that is for you to live in that is going to make you be your best self, and I think that it doesn't matter what color the fabric is," he said. "What matters when you walk through the door, is how does that space make you feel -- and that has been a really important grounding principal for the purpose of why we built Homepolish."

Santos' success is made possible with support by his fiancé, Ross Matsubara -- a fellow Hawaii native. The Punahou graduate, who was raised in Hawaii Kai, now manages clients as the vice president of a luxury publicist agency.

"New York was always that sort of unicorn that I wanted to achieve, I wanted to live there. The art, the culture, the food, the entertainment, the fashion," said Matsubara.

The pair say their shared Hawaii foundation keep them focused and fulfilled. They offer this advice to other local kids hoping to accomplish big things: don't forget your roots and be relentless.

"Just the aloha spirit -- about being gracious, being open minded, always treating everyone equally and with care and generosity and passion is so important and honestly it takes you so far," said Matsubara.

Santos added: "Work harder, longer, faster than anyone else and just keep at it. What's going to differentiate you from someone else is that you didn't stop when actually things got really tough -- you just pushed through."

Hawaii News Now is in NYC to cover Manaola's debut at New York Fashion Week.

Manaola Yap, the founder and designer of Manaola Hawaii, is making history as the first Native Hawaiian to debut an entire exclusive runway collection, complete with hula and other traditional protocols, at fashion week.

Yap isn't the first Native Hawaiian to appear at New York Fashion Week. Both Kini Zamora and Ari South presented pieces in a Project Runway show in the past. Both designers competed in the reality TV show and have been trailblazers in the fashion industry at home and around the world.

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