A Life in Fashion

They do more than create apparel. They can see a bird and turn its colors into a fabric print. They can whip up costumes for an entire opera company. Meet the multitasking magicians we call fashion designers.


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Sig Zane uses a silk screen process to create fabric designs for his clothing line.

Photo: Olivier Koning

The Visionary

Sig Zane is in a celebratory mood. Despite the retail world’s woes, he’s happy to be commemorating the 25th birthday of his Hilo-based company.

Zane’s gift is turning the spoken words and conceptual imagery of Native Hawaiian culture into tangible visuals. Hula chants have a lot of repetition, Zane explains. “This redundancy allows us to interpret [the ideas] more maturely.”

His clothing often features silk screen patterns of endemic plants, such as koa, for example, or hapuu, a tree fern. Plants are important in hula, yet, he explains, “If you see a hula dancer, you don’t go right up close and inspect the lei.” His images allow the viewer to become intimate with the plant, even the specific part of the plant he wants you to examine.

An Oahu native, Zane didn’t set out to become a fashion designer. “I never had a plan. I wanted to surf and fish and dance.” He started silk screening as a way of creating unique gifts for his girlfriend, a dancer.

The wooing worked; he married her. Today, his wife, Nalani Kanakaole, is a kumu hula and Merrie Monarch judge, while the silk screening turned out to be Zane’s art form. 

Zane hand-cuts each image for the silkscreen, and his son, Kuhao, creates the pattern. The clothing is hand printed in Honolulu and hand sewn, as well. Zane likes the hands-on process. “It carries the energy farther,” he says, and he enjoys the tiny imperfections that come when something is crafted by a human. “Mass produced things, they have a gloss to them.” The average price for one of his dresses or shirts is around $80.

He’s increasingly turning to linear prints, such as 2009’s “Puumanawalea: Benevolent Hill” pattern. Every year he chooses a different theme. This year’s is “Hilo One” (literally, “the sands of Hilo,” but Zane explains it poetically means “being born from Hilo, coming from Hilo”). “It’s a map of Hilo,” Zane says. The streets are the webbing. I love to walk the streets of Hilo, they have become me. I have become that.”

 “If I want inspiration, I drive up Maunakea or to Volcano,” he says. “You don’t question the colors of nature—it’s real. What better teacher?”

Speaking of teachers, what advice would he give to young designers?

“Create. In capital letters, create.”

Where to Shop:

Sig Zane, 122 Kamehameha Ave., Hilo, (808) 935-7077, sigzane.com


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