Buy These Aloha-Inspired Shirts From Western Aloha for the Paniolo in Your Life
Hawai‘i’s rich culture and historic paniolo lifestyle spur inspiration for Paul Sullivan’s on-the-rise brand.
Photos: Courtesy of Western Aloha
As a kid in a ranch-heavy area of Maryland, Paul Sullivan dreamed of exploring wild destinations, including Hawai‘i’s majestic mountains and vast ocean. His dream came true when he moved to the Big Island in 1993. In 2018, he created an alohawear collection that pays tribute to the lifestyle of his past and the culture, landscape and people of his present. Western Aloha blends classic cowboy styles with vintage and original Island-inspired prints. In just a little over a year, the label has wrangled a following of ranchers—and city slickers—from all over the U.S. Here’s how it started, Dale Hope’s role and how kids are in its future.
When I first read Dale Hope’s book, The Aloha Shirt, I was fascinated by how much history and depth there was to the print designs. That got me hooked, because I love a great story. Our first batch of original prints was based on things I love about the Big Island, including a pattern that showcased my love for outrigger canoe paddling—it features paddlers riding a huge wave in the ‘Alenuihāhā Channel. And now, Dale Hope is our art director and he’s helping us get the rights to some classic, vintage print designs from the 1940s and 1950s.
Western Aloha started selling products in January 2018. I began working on brand and design ideas almost six years ago, and it took three years of development to get the manufacturing process set up.
Our original prints feature motifs that tell stories about different places, people or things here in Hawai‘i. For example, we released a print this year called the Lū‘au Tree, which tells the story of the lū‘au prior to everything getting on a table. And our chambray shirts have an ‘ōhi‘a lehua embroidery on the cuff. The patterns are often inspired by textile designs from many cultures including traditional Japanese katazome, minimalist Scandinavian and batik designs.
Getting quality printed fabric is the trickiest part of the manufacturing process. Our specialty fabric is woven at a factory in southern Taiwan that’s known for its environmentally sustainable process. It’s a cotton-rich blend that’s similar to fabric traditionally used for western shirts, which means it’s easy to care for, functional and durable. It’s also lightweight (including our palaka version) so it’s cool and comfortable, but also tough and versatile enough to wear in the mountains with a base layer under it.
Western details that are part of each shirt include pearl snaps, front and back shoulder yokes, and two front pockets with flaps. The western shirts also have a slimmer [modern] fit because cowboys didn’t want their shirts snagging on barbed wire and brush while they were riding their horses.
We definitely plan to do a kids collection. It’s just a matter of time, hopefully next year since we’ve had a lot of people asking about that, which is great. We’re trying to make a shirt that can be worn from Waimea to Waikīkī by everyone. It’s a good feeling to see someone wearing something we made.
Visit westernaloha.com for a complete list of local and national stockists.