Small towns can be stifling, but they can also spark the imagination of those curious enough to wonder about the world outside.
Growing up in Niigata, Japan, Kayo Master was always intrigued by the rare tourists she spotted.
"Every time I’d see tourists in my town, I would say, ‘Hi! Do you want to be my friend?’ I was a weird kid.
"They would say something back but I didn’t know what they said because I didn’t speak English or Russian."
As soon as she was old enough to claim independence, she moved to the big city of Tokyo about 18 miles south of her hometown. "I couldn’t wait to get out of there," she said.
But perhaps she had let her imagination run too wild. When she got to Tokyo, she found that wasn’t big enough either, so she headed for New York. Soon afterward, she took off to see the world, with stops throughout Asia and Europe.
She’s traipsed through jungles and museums, exploring her love of nature, culture, history and the arts, then, of all places, settled on Oahu, where she worked as a paralegal before quitting her job to be a full-time mother about two years ago.
That’s when she started designing cute little T-shirts and onesies for her son, Tristan, to wear, starting by embellishing his ready-made clothing with her own felt applique designs.
"I was making it just for him because I couldn’t find anything original, and people always liked them when they saw them," she said.
Yet she wasn’t quite ready to go commercial until her husband started complaining about how much infant clothing — about 10 times more than her son needed — she had piled up in their bedroom. So, Mi Cielo ("my sky," "my heaven" or "my love," in Spanish and Italian) was born.
One of Master’s first designs was of a gorilla, and pretty soon she was creating images of "The A-Team’s" Mr. T, her nickname for her son.
Her creations reflect her quirky, playful imagination with colorful designs featuring cute monsters, wild animals, ocean creatures, and pop figures like Chewbacca, R2-D2 and Princess Leia from "Star Wars."
In a place where shoppers are enamored by what’s cute, Masters said she’s received many requests from moms to create adult shirts that would allow them to match their children.
"I get overwhelmed thinking about doing this as a business, but I love doing this, so I keep going."