Once upon a time, Stu Soley ’08 and Billie Downing ’08 dreamed of getting married, moving to Hawaii and pursuing their art. Today, they’re living that dream.
Not long after graduating from Longwood, the couple loaded up their truck with their dog and a few possessions, and drove to California. From there, they put their pickup on a boat and their dog and themselves on a flight bound for Maui, where they hoped to put their Longwood degrees—Stu’s in photography and Billie’s in interior design—to work in a breathtakingly beautiful landscape doing something they love.
“My cousins were all born and raised [in Hawaii], and we visited them every year or so when I was growing up,” said Stu. “Then when I got into high school and college, I got to go surfing a lot at the Outer Banks. That’s when I really knew I wanted to land here after college.”
As in many stories like this, the dream wasn’t realized overnight. Stu’s initial job in Maui was at the popular restaurant Mama’s Fish House, where, fortuitously, the person who interviewed him was a surf photographer and connected him with that community. For several years, Stu took assignments on the side—real estate, family photos, commercial work. Then in 2015, he and Billie decided he should quit his job to pursue photography full time.
The couple stuck to that plan—even when three weeks later Billie found out she was expecting their first child—and today they are the successful owners of Soley Aloha, a boutique and gallery where they sell Stu’s surf and art photography (the latter of which can be found in private collections), merchandise bearing trademarked graphics he and Billie have created, and the handcrafted items of 40 other Hawaiian artists.
“Maui is such a magical place,” said Billie. “The joyful sharing life, connecting to the land and water, and being an active part of a community are all values of Aloha that I can relate to [and] where we found inspiration for the Aloha Shapes logo. When the logo was created, we made a few shirts for ourselves to wear. Immediately people started asking where to get them. We worked super hard to develop the brand.”
So what’s next for someone who wakes up in a tropical paradise every morning?
“I do look forward to traveling more,” said Stu. “I’d like to photograph some of the national parks on the mainland [U.S.]. And I’ve heard a lot about the beauty of Iceland.”