Philanthropy: A Stitch in Time

Presented by Hawai‘i Community Foundation: Ellen Hamada’s passion lives on.


Ellen Hamada, Hawaii Community Foundation

Ellen Hamada pictured above. 

Ellen Hamada’s story reads like so many of her generation –a woman who worked hard, loved deeply, did good in her community, and made sure to leave a legacy that continues on after her death. 


Widowed at a young age, Hamada turned to sewing as her livelihood and her passion. She founded the Fashion Center of Honolulu in 1949, taking the craft she’d learned in Japan and bringing fashion shows, new styles, and the art of sewing to generations of students over the next six decades. 


When Hamada passed away at the age of 91, she made sure the art she loved so much wouldn’t die with her. Through the help of her long time friend and financial adviser, Hamada gifted her life insurance policy to Hawai‘i Community Foundation to establish a scholarship fund, making sure students looking to pursue a career in fashion and design could still benefit from her guiding hand. 


“She always said ‘Sewing is my passion, my love, and I want to help young generations keep it going,’ ” said her grand-niece Kim Asato. “We couldn’t be happier. This scholarship keeps her legacy going.”   


Kamalani Pico.

Kamalani Pico.

Moloka‘i native Kamalani Pico started sewing at the age of four, and thanks to Hamada’s generosity, she’s now studying fashion at Honolulu Community College with dreams of launching her own clothing line.

“She was such an inspiration, and she gave so much to the community,” Pico said of Hamada. “Now I want to do that too and use some of the money from my clothing line to give back, just like she did.” 


For Hamada, it wasn’t work; it was her love, her passion, and she believed it her duty to pass that on, even after she could no longer navigate the needle and thread. “Her employees told us once that if a student couldn’t pay, she’d say ‘that’s ok, we’ll make it work,’” said Asato. By establishing a scholarship for young designers, Hamada is still ‘making it work,’ keeping new fashion design and innovations right here in Hawai‘i. While styles might come and go, Hamada’s gift to students like Pico is a timeless classic, just as she’d want it to be. 


Hawaii Community Foundation

Did you know? Establishing a legacy gift is as simple as talking with your financial advisor and thinking about what matters most to you. HCF is honored to manage over 200 legacy gifts that continue the dedication and passion of individuals and families. 


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Honolulu Magazine May 2020
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