Maui is full of creative types, but does that translate into high fashion? The burgeoning group of fashion movers and shakers dedicated to furthering the island’s industry says yes. But not all of the makers are dedicated to being commercial–in this year’s Fashion Issue lineup, you’ll find designers committed to their vision, which for some ventures into the avant garde. Here’s our look at some of Maui’s boldest designers.
Koa Johnson, Kojo Couture
Koa Johnson resets the bar for glam on Maui. His six-piece collection for the Mamo Wearable Arts was inspired by iwi (native Hawaiian bones), the significance of the discovery of bones and how they are treated. The looks were sewn in sheer black mesh and solid lycra, showing a new side of Kojo Couture. Johnson has surrounded himself with his own fashion team, stylist Ry-n Shimabuku and photographer Marie Jalayahay of Marylane photography, designing, styling and photographing looks–including the MauiTime newspaper gown on the cover.
“I believe there is a very small window of the fashion industry here on Maui, but I also believe there’s a huge group of creative individuals who contribute to the ‘Fashion scene’ here on Maui,” says Johnson. “In my six years of doing fashion here on Maui, I’ve created my own scene and existence of fashion. There’s a huge ‘boho chic’ look that Maui is very known for with earth tones, bathing suits and beachwear, but I never wanted to fall into that look, so I created my vision of what fashion should be here on Maui, which is filled with glitz, glam, high end couture.
“I’m currently doing a bridal collection for a bridal boutique on Oahu named WhiteHot Hawaii with the owner Daisy Merto. Daisy reached out to me through Instagram and social media. She loved my bridal designs and enlisted me to create a bridal collection for her store. I’m creating a six-piece collection called OPULENCE by KoJo and the collection is filled with a lot of crystals, ball gowns, fitted and flared dresses and accents of effortless detail. My bride would be described as someone who desires rich and lavish style when it comes to her wedding. Everything in the collection will be pure white with luxurious glitz and glam. The show will debut on Oahu at WhiteHot Hawaii early October.”
photos by Marie Jalayahay of Marylane photography
Ry-n Shimabuku, makeup artist and stylist
Ry-n Shimabuku’s makeup and hair can be witnessed on the cover of this year’s and last year’s fashion issue, as well as the catwalk at this year’s Mamo Wearable Art Show. His clientele and makeup talents are diverse and conceptual. For the cover look he knew he wanted to do the model’s hair in an undo, to balance the volume and elegance in the shape of the dress. The makeup idea was extreme cat eye. Shimabuku’s tools of the trade always include his custom eyeshadow palette from Makeup Forever. To that he added a Jordana cosmetics super fine brush liquid liner. The matte burgundy lip is trending right now, so he used a new color from M.A.C. cosmetics called “Sin.” To see more of Ry-n’s work, go to Ry-shimabuku.com or call 808-283-5131.
“I find that most makeup trends each season can be broken down into four categories: clean skin, a pop of color, a bold lip and some sort of graphic liner,” says Shimabuku. “One current trend that was seen last season that i’m loving now is metallic textures. The easiest way to metallics is on the eyes, but I’ve recently played with sheer, metal textures on the cheeks and lip which was really fun. Recently at New York fashion week, models were sent down the runway at Givenchy with lace and crystal face masks. It’s not practical at all, but was the most fun makeup look I saw. I translated it with vintage jewelry on myself for a masquerade party and photo shoot.”
Marie Jalayahay of Marylane photography
Samantha Howard, Wings Hawaii
A stop at the Wings Hawaii shop is like a visit to a Maui fashion incubator. Owner and designer Samantha Howard opened a small shop with her business partner Melody Torres in the Pauwela Cannery and they’ve been rolling out some of the most innovative and authentic Maui beach glam looks ever since. With several appearances in national magazines, including the coveted Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue over the years, they’ve exalted their grassroots gem couture. Today they have a beautiful Hana Highway Paia shop where they carry their extraordinary collections.
Right now, their pau hana short and tank sets made from Vintage Aloha Prints are hot, as are their beaded necklaces, pearl and crystal jewelry. Howard also recently designed a hieroglyph-inspired enamel set of bracelets rings and necklaces. In the next month, she’ll launch a new dress and tank shape that Wings Hawaii is really excited about.
“My fashion philosophy? One day at a time,” Howard says. “After 10 years, we have still held strong to our grassroots concepts of producing as much we can by our own hands, from jewelry to our clothing lines. I’m obsessed with pearls, heshe beads, crystals, ammonites and hieroglyphic designs. There are like 20 different artists in our store–they are all made on Maui, curated by us. The designs I’m making come from such a different place than just the superficial surface that it transcends trends. My shell jewelry is seasonal, depending on what I find. I’m always full of ideas.”
Photo courtesy of Samantha Howard, Wings Hawaii
Sharon Clemons, Elisharon
Eli and Sharon Clemons are the married dynamic duo behind the label Elisharon. Their customer is cool, hip and classic, and wants to be noticed. They’re currently developing their second line under the label THE ODD CPL, which features a modern twist on matching aloha wear with coordinating outfits for women and men in graphic black and white cotton and linen. Find them at Elisharonofficial@gmail.com.
“Our designs are pieces that can be seamlessly integrated into an individual’s wardrobe,” says Clemons. “We work with classic silhouettes that way you’ll have clothes you’ll love and want to wear season after season. We want to pump up the basics in your wardrobe. It’s what we call, ‘elevated basics.’ We want our customer to feel special and know that they will be wearing something that won’t be seen on hundreds of people. Instead of producing for the masses, we will be making limited runs–no more than 25 pieces–of each garment we create. We also want to keep production local.”
photo by bo montalvo
Stanette Kirchhof, Free To Be Me
Kirchoff designs the Free to Be Me jewelry line with new upcoming trends that are unique and edgy. She likes to use 14k gold, sterling silver, precious metal, stones and Tahitian pearls in her bold, layered pieces. She began designing as a young girl, taking apart her own necklaces and customizing them. In 2012, she took her skills from hobby to full time. Find Free to Be Me at The Mercantile, Designing Wahine, By The Bay, Emily Grace Esthetics, Enchantress, Hale Zen and The Lucky Honey. You can also check them out at Freetobememaui.com.
“My muse comes from my dreams,” says Kirchhof. “It’s that time of day I’m relaxed and able to create freely. Before going to bed, that’s when my imagination takes over and outfits and designs are visual and real. My best designs come from my dreams.”
Audrey McShane, ReMused Clothing
Remused Clothing is a remarkable line of repurposed denim that has one-of-a-kind prints that are hand-bleached by designer Audrey McShane or her boyfriend Marcelo Souza. McShane’s style is indicative of her 14 years as a Henna artist: she’s attracted to the ornate and floral. She says her favorite design is the mandala on long pants–each one unique as a snowflake. Find ReMused at The Enchantress in Wailea, Nectar in Paia and on Etsy, Instagram and Facebook as ReMused Clothing.
“I believe my customers love to be different and support local artists,” McShane says. “I have a lot of returning customers from the Mainland of all ages who are hair stylists and artists themselves. My favorite client is Steven Tyler so, I guess I have one rock star fan. My designs are like tattoos that can change with your mood.”
Gillian Adamo, Gscout Hawaii
G Scouts leather handbags can be soft and supple, fringed, raw or black and bold. Adamo’s designs are varied to appeal to the lifestyles of her customer–the free thinker, an individual with a passion for life and art. Her daughter Cheyenne Jagger assists as a metalsmith, creating the hand-pounded silver rings used in the bags. Adamo learned how to make her signature leather braids on a trip to Nepal, and has never looked back.
“These bags are made from deer and cowhides,” says Adamo. “My design ethic is one of the utmost respect and love for the animals that I work with. Animals have given me comfort, awe, love and laughter throughout all the seasons of my life. I honor the life of every animal, including each one that is a part of the bags I create.”
Sara Plesset, Indie Attire
Plesset is passionate about upcycling. She says her customers care about where their clothing comes from. Was it made in a developing nation for pennies by an exploited worker and then shipped around the world? Or was it handmade from start to finish right here in Makawao? Indie Attire people know how important it is to support local, handmade clothing–items not just designed here, but sewn here, too. Her bikini designs reflect comfort, durability, functionality and flattery of the various shapes and sizes of the female body. Keep an eye out for upcoming one-piece swimwear. The Mercantile in Makawao carries her upcycled one-of-a-kind bikinis and The Bikini Market in Kihei carries the standard swimwear collection. Also available online at Etsy.com/shop/indieattire.
“The fashion industry is unsustainable and harmful to ecosystems and human life,” says Plesset. “I believe that it needs to wake up to all of the destruction it’s causing, not only in the environment but also by perpetuating inequality throughout the world and causing women to have negative body images. By supporting local designers who are creating handmade clothing and sourcing upcycled fabric, we can start to change the fashion industry. The best way to change things is by voting with your dollars: stop supporting big chain stores that sell shirts made in China for $3. They with fall apart in three washings anyway. Shop for local and handmade clothing. When that isn’t possible, shop for handmade clothing on sites such as Etsy.com.”
Lisseth Figueroa, San Lorenzo
Liseeth started San Lorenzo bikinis while in college at the University of Hawaii. Today, the Brazilian cut bikini brand has stores all across the state and will soon open a third Southern California location. They’re also carried in Nordstrom and Revolve. The suits offered at Sanlorenzobikinis.com are extensive, and the brand is focusing on becoming a global name for swimwear with her top designs like the Braided Hipster Strap, Braided Thong, Cut Out Wrap, Interlace One Piece and Crop Hipster.
“I’m a true world trotter, beach chic entrepreneur to the core,” says Lisseth. “And our design aesthetic comes from traveling and being inspired by what surrounds us. I’m always looking for the trendiest designs that are full of life. I pride myself being from South America, and our fabrics are one of the best out there. Most of our collections are designed with different parts of the world in mind, such as our “Vintage Aloha” collection, which is inspired by traditional Hawaiian culture, or our “Mind Bali Soul” collection, which is inspired from Balinese culture.”
Pam Street, Zella Jewelry
Zella Jewelry’s designer Pam Street credits the ocean floor as being the muse from which her distinctive old world-meets-modern look is influenced. Street likes to mix metals and Argentium silver with 18 and 22 karat gold, using a technique called granulation. Her signature is a bit of gold in every handmade piece. Some of her favorites are symbolic like the Angel Wing Freedom Pendant with Argentium silver, 22k gold and diamond, which represents freedom from her marriage. Find her bold hand-forged chains, bangles, gemstone shields and granulated hoop earrings at the Mercantile in Makawao.
“As a child, I was in awe of my mother’s jewelry box,” Street says. “I could spend hours looking at all the beautiful stones and shiny gold. I’ve always been interested in beautiful jewelry, so five years ago I took my first metalsmithing class at the Hui No‘eau Visual Arts Center. I was hooked after the first 10 minutes. I’ve been creating jewelry ever since. Learning new techniques and being around creative women and men inspires me. I’ve been very fortunate to have learned from some great masters at the Hui.”
Anna Kahalekulu, Kulua
Anna Kahalekulu aims to please her customer, which she describes as anyone who has a love for Hawaii. She designs pieces appropriate for special occasions, but also taps into everyday life looks for the office, nights out to dinner or coming home after the beach. Her current collection, called Kulua, uses her two favorite materials–silk and lauhala–satisfying her organic aesthetic. They also walked the catwalk at the Mamo Wearable Art Show. Kahalekulu will launch a small collection in the next month that will focus on her go-to silhouettes: the maxi; shorter, flirty dresses; a comfortable jumpsuit; and mixable separates. Contact her at KuluaMaui.com or at Facebook.com/kuluamaui.
“I fell in love with conceptual design and storytelling through fashion at the Fashion Technology program at UH Maui College,” says Kahalekulu. “Overall, the industry has gotten away from the craftsmanship and thought that used to be inherent in how we adorn our bodies. A majority of what is offered for consumption is fast fashion that has very little environmental conscience but a lot of short term emphasis on aesthetics and trend. My aim is to prioritize eco-friendliness and craftsmanship while infusing my background in hula and Hawaiian culture into the pieces.”
photo by Anna Kim, courtesy of Anna Kahlekulu
Brittany Esposito, Wanderlust Fashion
Brittany Esposito describes her Wanderlust brand as a simplistic Bohemian beach vibe. Her wire-wrapped sea glass, agates, crystals, hemp macrame pouch pendants and geode dream catcher fringe necklaces exude an appreciation for roaming wherever your heart takes you. Her newest designs include more macramé, neutral tones and two-piece sets for layering. Buy them at Cafe Cafe in Lahaina or online at Wanderlust-Fashion.com. Appearances at Maui Swap Meet are in the works.
“My designs can be dressed up or down,” Esposito says. “You can wear them barefoot in a bikini and cut-off shorts or pair them with a lace top and heels. You can be wearing them on a hike through the bamboo forest or prancing around the streets of L.A. People that wear my jewelry appreciate the stories of the shells, stones and sea glass. They are travelers and adventurers who appreciate the outdoors and the ocean, but also enjoy a night in the city. You can find them around the necks of beach bums, surfers, festival goers, moms, grandmothers, high schoolers, college students and chic city fashion bloggers.”
Michelle Lou Lan, MeshYoga
Michelle Lou Lan wants to make the best yoga pants in the world. She says her special extra-thin fabrics make pants that can go from the mat to evening wear. Lan is a shopaholic, her inspiration came in owning every brand of yoga pant out there, and believing in her own designs. Her customers are girls who love yoga, shopping and the beach. Find her yoga wear at her Paia store and studio or online at Meshyoga.com.
“If you look on the tags of our clothing line they say, ‘Dreamed on Maui, Made in NYC’ and it’s true,” says Lan. “I credit Maui for most of my inspiration and creativity. I want everyone to believe that we have the comfiest yoga pants in the world. Lighter, thinner and more beautiful than ever before. When you wear beautiful things, you want to exert that beauty in all that you do. That’s what I hope for each girl who wears my designs to feel and be beautiful. I want to bring Mesh to the masses.”
Ashley Leahey, Maui Thing
The Maui Thing shop on Market Street has been shaping local Wailuku style in a big way with fashion shows, second Saturday keiki art events and First Friday activities. Designer Ashley Leahey credits their graphic island knit looks to the “good things” on Maui. She says the fauna and florals of Maui influence their designs, as do the people, local businesses, culture, food, stories and myths. Their iconic Shell Poncho, Ua Mau tanks, Wailuku Bridge and Stuck on Good tees can be spotted island-wide and make great gifts. For year number eight on Market Street,, Maui Thing plans to freshen up the store interior and bring in some solid dress designs of their own. MauiThing.com.
“The Maui Thing girl is empowered,” says Leahey. “She earns her keep and doesn’t rely on getting things the easy way. She thrives on challenges. She’s an independent thinker. As a leader of integrity, she listens and is always respectful. She’s resilient; when things go bad, she’ll bounce back and learn from it, always turning a negative into a positive. She’s thoughtful, though, strong and independent. She’s extremely conscious and considerate of those around her and how she affects others.”