Photographer: Bo Montalvo; Makeup artist/hairstylist: Ry-n Shimabuku; Model: Brittney Baker; Dress and jacket: Kojo couture by Koa Johnson
Maui’s hyperlocal fashion scene is hip, hot and hands-on. Here, being stylish doesn’t mean buying at chain stores. Rather, it’s an art form expressed through the work of local designers, your own DIY-cut shirts and shorts to the way you tie your pareo. Though it’s hard to imagine, fashion is more than bikinis and coverups, though in this heat, who wants to wear anything else? In this year’s fashion issue, we’ve decided to look at the island’s most prolific style-makers. These are the scene stealers who’ve crimped and cut their way through cloth and metal to bring us truly unique made-on-Maui styles. These designers tell us what local fashion means to them, where they shop and even dish out a few insider tips for the fashion-forward.
Koa Johnson lives and breathes local fashion. To his Kojo Couture line, fashion is a form of escapism, not imprisonment. This is what he teaches as an instructor at the UH Maui Fashion Technology program. There, he creates using off-the-wall materials like Ti-leaf, trashbags and wire screen, but prefers using evening wear fabrics–satin, velveteen, chiffon–for his gown creations. This kind of fashion is art, and every piece he designs includes an emotional connection. He works constantly on new looks with his muse Brittney Baker and hairstylist and makeup artist Ry-n Shimabuku. Together they create stunning visuals in his photo shoots. In Kojo Couture, fashion is all about constant change, with a keen focus on artistic couture and avante garde, creating the diversity of form that Johnson craves.
Sara Plesset started Indie Attire in 2010, making all the bikinis in the collection by hand in Makawao. This isn’t surprising, given that her philosophy is pretty much “Sewn here, not flown here.” Indie Attire would like to bring local, handmade and upcycle to the forefront of fashion on Maui, hoping that people will understand the need to change the fashion industry. She scrounges materials at local second hand stores, sometimes using gently used but often brand-new swim items, which she cuts up, creating unique one-of-a-kind bikinis. Her reason is simple–she says the new fabric made in China harms the ecosystem. In contrast, her upcycled fabric is a source of inspiration, reduces her carbon footprint and is worth her customers money. Upcoming looks from her will include high-waisted, lace-up bikini bottoms and pieced-together bandeau tops. To shop local, Plesset recommends Rainbow Attic and Elise consignment stores.
You can build your own accesories at Sophie Grace’s jewelry bar, just one of the ingenious embellishment concepts you’ll find at the Paia store. People were buying the jewelry dangling around founder Jamie Shepherd’s neck while she was working at Maggie Coulombe’s Whaler’s Village store, until Coulombe eventually asked her, “Why don’t you start your own line?” Shepherd says Sophie Grace started on a wing and a prayer, but her beautiful shop in Paia says it’s more than a hobby. Shepherd’s philosophy is that “It’s hard to have a bad day in an amazing outfit.” She says she likes to feel like she’s lounging by the pool, even if just answering emails. “As a local designer, one purchase can make the rent,” she says. “Sometimes buying local can be more expensive, but that artist or business owner has probably put enough love behind it to make it worth the extra expense.” For local shopping, her go-to list is Pink by Nature, Otaheite and Theluckyhoney.com. Shepherd’s styling tip: “If you are not sure, Pinterest it. I had a pair of boyfriend jeans I wasn’t sure how to style. I looked it up on Pinterest and found eight different looks based on items I already had.”
Hawaii Red Fashion Blog; Hawaiiredstyle.com
Moran’s Hawaii RED blog originally started in 2008 as a lifestyle and culture magazine. But within two years she refocused on Honolulu street style, designers and fashion events. At Hawaiiredstyle.com, she connects Hawaii and fashion with posts once a week and daily Instagrams. This year, she published the pictorial book Honolulu Street Style. As for her own fashion sense, Moran says she can’t live without earrings and a lot of dresses. Her favorite local places to shop are Roberta Oaks (Robertaoaks.com) and Muumuu Heaven (Muumuuheaven.com). Moran offers this vogue tip from local stylist Jade Rabut: Always dress with a smile and confidence – they don’t go out of fashion. Moran has a keen eye for spotting fashion on the street and isn’t afraid to ask for a shot to post. She says don’t get stuck without great footwear. “This happens a lot when we are shooting street style or covering an event,” she says. “We see someone in a great outfit, but then they have slippers on. It just kills the outfit. Even though I love my Havaianas, I think it’s best to always keep a pair of ballet flats or heels in the car for when you go out!”
ARIE stands for Art Remains In Everything, and it shows through ARIE Bikini’s luxurious and unique swimwear collection. Ariana Hornkohl came to Maui from the Southwest determined to create beachy bikinis. She attended UH Maui’s Fashion Institute, learned sewing and basic design skills and worked for WINGS Hawaii as a seamstress, all the while gaining valuable experience and credibility as she worked to build her own company. Her 2014 collection embraced both her desert background and love of lush jungles and sandy beaches. For her next collection, she says dark plums, new limited prints and deep neutrals are just some of the things she’s working with. Her signature suits feature seamless reversible designs that are effortless, durable and chic. She says her favorite spots to shop are Nuage Blu and Biasa Rose.
I Love Hana Marsha Sabourin says the ocean is her muse, which helps her create clothing from cotton that’s relaxed, ageless and timeless. She says all ages can appreciate the apparel and natural fabrics in her Siganka collection. Likewise, her style tips focus on the natural body: eat organic food, make a daily ritual of movement, moisturize, adorn yourself and laugh. Her fashion insider tip is all shop talk: “Forget worrying about ‘size,'” she says. “Buy the item that fits, the piece that conveys how you want to look and feel. If a ‘sizing’ label bothers you, just cut it out of the garment!” Her local shopping recommendations are Holiday & Co and Pearl Butik.
Buy: Tiffanychou.com (see This Week’s Picks for her Saturday pop-up at Seabury Hall)
Tiffany Chou has been designing jewelry in her self-titled line since 2010. A Maui girl (and Seabury Hall alum) who moved to New York, she says her muse is the little mermaid. It makes sense then that this year saw the debut of her swimsuit collection. Chou classifies her aesthetic as clean with a touch of unexpected. She says she steers clear of trendy and goes for timeless. Her closet covets white tees and layers. Her style tip: “Accessorizing completes an outift,” she says. “If you feel like something’s missing, throw on a few rings and/or necklace and earrings. Make sure hair compliments the outfit and/or jewelry. If you’re wearing a showy pair of earrings, make sure you hair is up so everyone can see those bad boys.” Her favorite places to shop on Maui are Alice in Hulaland and the Four Seasons Spa.
JOE WILMOT & JODY CURTIN
Buy: Mahina Boutiques, shopmahina.com
Joe Wilmot and Jody Curtin opened the first Mahina in 2006. Today they have boutiques across Hawaii. The fashion culture at Mahina doesn’t follow collections, trends or seasons–new stuff shows up on a weekly basis. Wilmot explains when they opened, they noticed that there were a lot of boutiques for visitors, but none for locals. Their philosophy was to focus on local needs, tastes and budgets, and then everything else would work itself out. Curtin swears by Mahina fashion, insisting that 99 percent of her wardrobe is Mahina. They recommend Imrie and Nuage Blue in Paia for shopping. Their biggest fashion advice? Fit, fit, fit and fit, and pick colors complementary to your hair and skin tone.
Geri Emata of Sailbags Maui created her company when she learned that the kite surfing sails ultimately end up in landfills. She developed a way to upcycle the kites, transforming them into unique Sailbags. Emata is in the process of finalizing a kickstarter campaign to fund more product development, hardware, equipment and an updated website. She’s also working on expanding windsurfing sails to her upcycling resources. Right now, she works with Naish to get her recycled kites. Her collections fluctuate with the inventory she gets, and offers kiters a free bag with a kite donation. Emata is also working on a backpack design. She says everyone should have a Sailbag tote–after all, a girl can never have too many bags.
Christine Kobzeff says she started her blog as a makeup blog, eventually getting more and more comfortable on camera. She moved to Maui in 2000 from Oregon, but she and her husband Michael travel often. Her wanderlust inspires a lot of her look, and as well as thrifting and do-it-yourself projects. She started her YouTube vlog where she does a lot of DIY fashion, upcycling, thrifting tips and healthy living. You can catch her videos on how to dip-dye thrifted shorts or 18 ways to tie a pareo (all include a blog post of how-to’s). Kobzeff says her fashion forecast for fall will be tribal patterns, layers and ethnic inspirations, but you can follow along with her bohemian beach flair online. Her tip for dressing is to go nude–that is, have at least one pair of nude shoes since they match everything and make your legs look longer. For shopping local, she loves The Enchantress.
CHANDA LABRADOR & DANIELLE BOAZ
Buy: Honey A Sweet Boutique (105 N. Market St., Wailuku); Honeysweetboutique.com
Chanda Labrador and Danielle Boaz decided to take their passion in art, jewelry and fashion and turn it into a chic boutique in Wailuku called Honey A Sweet Boutique. Boaz is a licensed/practicing esthetician and mother of three while Labrador is a practicing registered nurse, but their partnership fuels their store, which features Hawaii-based designers, artists and jewelers. They want shoppers to explore Hawaii’s contemporary apparel, beach-inspired jewelry, art and lifestyle with them. They’re excited about Indah’s Joie De Vie fall collection and the exclusive color and patterns with Khush clothing, the wearable art on Tara B’s hats, hand-crafted jewelry and Samudra clutches. For styling tips they say, ”Always pick one sexy! If you wanna show legs, keep the cleavage modest, and vice versa.” Oh, and if you’re in a bikini, always throw on a cover-up when in public and not at the beach.
Teri Edmonds opened her local shoe store, If the Shoe Fits in 2001 and began developing her own line of shoes, the hot biskit in 2006 to fill the niche for extra wide and large sizing. By 2010 Edmonds procured more equipment and opened her shoe repair business under the same roof, and started the Maui Shoe Academy, exploring leather craft and shoemaking. Her latest line of shoes features hand crafted upcycled materials, completing her goal to be 100% Maui made. She utilizes materials like naturally tanned upcountry deer hides for shoes and handbags. This year she has layered her creativity into her blog at the Secret Life of Shoes, adding segments like Shoes 101 demonstrating the basics of shoe repair and design. She also contributes to Hitched on Maui, the online wedding app, with how-to’s for wedding shoes. This October she plans to launch her new improved site at Wailuku First Friday, and post at new gilded crafts blog mauiartisan.com. Her insider tips include Natural hair and makeup, for all-time ease, coral lip gloss for easy after-beach spruce up, and A small heel to lengthen the leg.
For more photos on these desigers: