These Two Hawai‘i Colleges are Tailoring Fashion Design Students for Success

Fashion 101: A look into how UH Mānoa and Honolulu Community College nurture fashion programs.
HCC Edmar Villa
HCC design student Edmar Villa takes a finale walk on the runway.
Photos: Gregory Yamamoto


As Hawai‘i continues to evolve into a fashion center in its own right, homegrown design talent is more important than ever. We checked in with the faculty of UH Mānoa and Honolulu Community College to learn how their fashion programs help produce award-winning designers and where each is headed. 



UH Manoa model
A look from the UH Mānoa Fashion Show.

Fashion Design and Merchandising at UH Mānoa is an evolving, four-year program, with 100 students now enrolled. A new computer lab allows students to design interior retail spaces and avatars (virtual fashion models), allowing them to see how garments will fit and whether their patterns will work before putting needle to thread in the sewing lab.


Associate professor Andrew Reilly points with pride to recent accomplishments: Five enrolled students have won first-prize awards at the International Textile Apparel Association and American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences competitions.


But Reilly admits the program needs more physical space: “This is true of the university as a whole, and it’s a question of funding, but I hope that it’s something the university can address since students need appropriate facilities.”


The annual UH Mānoa fashion show, which celebrated 50 years this summer, highlights the school’s talents. Graduating design students showcase their collections and collaborate with the merchandising students who produce the show. Everything from selling tickets, finding a location and hiring models is the students’ responsibility. 


Reilly says the dedicated faculty are a strength of the program, because they have real-world experience in apparel production, boutique management and other key areas of the fashion industry. “Many of our students graduate to find good jobs in the real world,” says Reilly. “There is a great diversity in the program that gives students a well-rounded education.”



The Fashion Design program at Honolulu Community College has earned the spotlight in recent years with successful graduates on TV’s Project Runway, including standout designers Kini Zamora and Ari Southiphong (who designs under the Andy South label). Along the way, the school has been upgrading its tech, providing students cutting-edge Gerber digital printing and designing tools—the same software and hardware used by industry pros. The program also offers challenging elective courses that include tailoring, swimwear and bridal wear design, embellishment and alterations. Department head Joy Nagaue says students often return to take these electives to update their fashion skills. “Some students don’t ever want to leave, because we constantly offer a new elective once every other or even every third year,” says Nagaue.


Founded in 1929, the HCC program today comprises about 85 students and four faculty members. The two-year degree focuses on design alone, so HCC collaborates with UH Mānoa to transfer credits for students who want to pursue a bachelor’s degree. Like Reilly, Nagaue is hoping for more funding to increase space and update equipment. But she’s proud of what they’ve accomplished so far. Several work for notable fashion giants including Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton, while others have opened their own local boutiques, such as Danene Lunn, co-founder of local fashion powerhouse Manuheali‘i, which last year celebrated 30 years in the business.


“Many people say there are no jobs in the fashion design industry, but that’s not true,” says Nagaue. “I tell my students you have to start someplace and if you stick to it, you can become successful by using the skills they learn here.”


Join us at HONOLULU Fashion Week, a three-day event spanning Nov. 10, 11 and 12 at the Hawai‘i Convention Center. The event is free and open to the public. Visit for more details.