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How 7 Local Talents are Moving Hawai‘i’s Fashion Industry Forward

Dale Hope, Sig and Kūha‘o Zane, Lynne Hanzawa O’Neill, Ari Southiphong, Rona Bennett and Lan Chung talk about the past, present and future of Hawai‘i’s fashion industry.


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History of Hawai‘i Fashion 

Hawai‘i’s history of fashion reflects a colorful past with myriad influences ranging from missionaries and surfers through a host of creative and hard-working entrepreneurs. Before the arrival of woven fabrics from abroad, Native Hawaiian men wore malo, or loincloths, and women wore pā‘ū skirts, both made from tapa, a cloth made from bark. Ali‘i wore intricate feather capes.

Compiled by Lorin Eleni Gill



➸ Explorers and missionaries arrive in Hawai‘i, and royals adopt western dress immediately. Missionaries sew garments for ali‘i, while commoners continue to use kapa. The formal holokū dress is developed with a higher bustline for Hawaiian women. Checkered denim work shirts called palaka are worn by men.



➸ The aloha shirt is influenced by five ethnic groups, textile scholar Linda Arthur Bradley says. Early shirts are shaped Western-style, primarily made with Japanese fabric, constructed by Chinese tailors and worn outside the pants, a style tip from Filipinos. Hawaiian design elements are introduced in the ’30s.



➸ Commercial sewing is introduced at the Territorial Trade School, which joins with the University of Hawai‘i in 1964 and becomes Honolulu Community College in 1966.



➸ Local shirt maker Musa-Shiya uses the term “aloha shirts” in a June 28 advertisement. Tropical prints are popular among tourists, but not locals.



➸ Kamehameha Garment Co. and Branfleet (later to become Kāhala Sportswear) open factories. Their sportswear clothing is offered in finer department stores.

➸ Watumull’s East India Store commissions artist Elsie Das to create hand-painted floral designs on silk for interior decoration. Her clothing designs would come later. 



➸ Tailor Ellery Chun trademarks the aloha shirt and begins its mass production. His sister, Ethel Lum, designs motif stamps for fabric, creating a "Hawaiian print." Prints start to appear on mu‘umu‘u, making them more acceptable for everyday wear.








➸ Royal Hawaiian Manufacturing Co. opens. The brand is bought by Watumull’s in 1955.







➸ Many local people couldn’t afford sports- wear in the pre-WWII plantation economy. During the war, people adopted aloha attire because they lacked other options as U.S.-Hawai‘i shipping stalled.




➸ The Honolulu Chamber of Commerce appropriates $1,000 to study aloha shirts and prepare suitable designs for clothing businessmen could wear.



➸ The first Aloha Week commences in October, attracting tourists for cultural activities and celebrations. Aloha wear is donned at the Holokū ball, parade and Makahiki festival.



➸ Alfred Shaheen, of Shaheen’s Honolulu and Surf ‘n Sand, uses a unique method of silk-screening textile designs for mass production, making aloha attire less touristy and more fashionable.








➸ Hawai‘i Garment Manufacturers Guild formed to promote Island fashion.



➸ ‘Iolani Sportswear joins the fashion scene. Meanwhile, Frank Sinatra shows his aloha spirit by wearing an aloha shirt in the movie From Here to Eternity.








➸ Chicago apparel manufacturer Mort Feldman establishes Tori Richard in Honolulu. The company produces “resort-wear” and uses eye-catching prints with geometrics and stylized motifs. The designs range from traditional Hawaiian and tribal motifs to Asian and nature-themed prints.



➸ Reyn McCullough moves to Hawai‘i and joins Ruth Spooner to create Reyn Spooner. Their goal? Design business-casual aloha shirts for locals. The same year, Princess Ka‘iulani takes the mu‘umu‘u mainstream.



➸ The Hawaiian Fashion Guild promotes aloha attire for use in the workplace during summertime. The Guild distributes two aloha shirts to every member of the Hawai‘i state legislature as part of its “Operation Liberation” campaign.



➸ Hilo Hattie is founded on Kaua‘i, named after hula dancer/actress/comedienne Clarissa “Hilo Hattie” Haili, a local girl-turned-famous entertainer who toured the nation.







➸ Dave Rochlen opens Jam’s World, bringing bright “jams” surf shorts to the Islands. The brand shifts to resort-wear in the 1990s.





➸ Hawaiian Fashion Guild successfully promotes “Aloha Friday.”



➸ Honolulu Community College begins offering an Associate of Science degree through the Fashion Arts Department.



➸ The Hawai‘i legislature approves “Friday” resolution. Two years later, Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce proclaims “Aloha Summer” for business people.



​➸ Kamehameha graduate Nake‘u Awai (’59) returns home after a dance career in New York, Europe, Reno and Hollywood to make his mark on Hawai‘i fashion. His Hawaiian-motifed fabrics would soon inspire future designer Sig Zane.



➸ Tom Selleck wears aloha shirts in the Magnum, PI television show filmed on O‘ahu.









➸ Sig Zane Designs opens in Hilo. Shirt designs incorporate images of taro, hala, ‘ie‘ie, kukui and other plants valued by the Hawaiians. Local girl Danene Lunn opens Manuheali‘i, a Hawaiian quilt–inspired contemporary line.






➸ The Hawai‘i Fashion Industry Association debuts its “Made in Hawai‘i with Aloha” label and campaign on Nov. 29.



➸ Nola and Linda Nahulu acquire Bete Mu‘u, formerly Bete Inc., a popular mu‘umu‘u shop which was founded in 1959.



➸ Designers Rona Bennett and Lan Chung launch Fighting Eel, eventually opening three boutiques on O‘ahu. Sister line Ava Sky is created in 2012.






➸ Roberta Oaks Power introduces a modern take on fun ’60s-inspired attire. The brand expands to include menswear and a storefront in 2009.





➸ Hawai‘i Fashion Incubator is founded by Toby Portner and Melissa White to increase visibility, membership and impact of Hawai‘i’s fashion industry.




➸ Florencia Arias launches, bringing contemporary clothing inspired by an Island lifestyle.





➸ Hawai‘i’s own Andy South makes it to the season 8 finale of Project Runway, a reality TV show based around a fashion design competition.



➸ Former Kāhala Sportswear creative director and The Aloha Shirt: Spirit of the Islands author Dale Hope launches collection of vintage aloha shirts called Hope for Man.






➸ Allison Izu denim Chinatown trousers are featured in the February issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.



➸ HCC Fashion and Technology graduate Kiniokahokuloa “Kini” Zamora makes it on Season 13 of Project Runway.

➸ First HONOLULU Fashion Week.


Photo credits for fashion timeline: Courtesy of The Aloha Shirt, by Dale Hope; The Art of the Aloha Shirt, by Linda Arthur Bradley and DeSoto Brown; Aloha Attire: Hawaiian Dress in the Twentieth Century, by Linda Arthur Bradley; Harold Julian; Paradise of the Pacific archives; HONOLULU archives; CBS/Landov.                              


HONOLULU Fashion Week  

➸ Want more local fashion?
Join HONOLULU Magazine at Hawai‘i’s first official Fashion Week, which includes designer runway shows by world-renowned fashion producer Lynne Hanzawa O’Neill. You can buy limited-edition collaboration pieces hot off the runway, visit beauty bars for tips and makeovers and shop new Hawai‘i designer fashions available exclusively during HONOLULU Fashion Week, Nov. 6–9 at the Hawai‘i Convention Center.

➸ The partners include:  
HONOLULU Magazine, Japan Fashion Week Organization, Hawai‘i Fashion Incubator, the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, Hawaiian Airlines, Bank of Hawai‘i, Neiman Marcus, Mercedes-Benz of Honolulu and  INspiration Furniture.

➸ Hawai‘i Fashion Month:
Designed to promote Hawai‘i as a fashion destination and strengthen the local industry, Hawai‘i Fashion Month marks its second year with a month-long calendar of events to promote and elevate all aspects of Hawai‘i’s fashion industry including design, manufacturing, education, art and retail. Find out more at hawaiifashionmonth.com.


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