fashion

HIKI NŌ
Episode #824

 

This special edition of HIKI NŌ highlights some of the best stories from the spring quarter of the 2016-2017 school year. The outstanding HIKI NŌ stories in this compilation show include:

 

“Mochi Pounding” from Maui Waena Intermediate School in Kahului, Maui:
The story of a Maui family who continues their annual New Year’s tradition of mochi pounding, despite the recent passing of the family matriarch.

 

“Tough Vice-Principal” from Ewa Makai Middle School on O‘ahu:
A classic “don’t judge a book by its cover” story about a vice-principal whose tough exterior belies her heart of gold.

 

“Fashion Entrepreneurs” from Sacred Hearts Academy on O‘ahu:
Two Honolulu-based fashion entrepreneurs mentor young local designers who are trying to break into the business.

 

“Tie-Dye Artist” from Kalani High School in East Honolulu:
Inspired by 1960s cultural icons like The Beatles, a Honolulu teenager launches her own line of tie-dye clothing.

 

“Diabetic Athlete” from Waiakea High School in the Hilo district of Hawai‘i Island:
A star high school athlete faces his toughest opponent off the court: Type 1 Diabetes.

 

“Pedestrian Walking Flags” from Wai‘anae High School in West O‘ahu:
A woman takes it upon herself to sew red flags that are held up by pedestrians as they cross the notoriously dangerous crosswalks in Waiʻanae. The red flags go a long way in alerting drivers that there are pedestrians crossing in front of them.

 

“The Fact of You” from Kaua‘i High School in Lihue:
A personal essay about identifying one’s authentic nature and remaining true to it.

 

“Ukrainian Student” from Nānākuli High and Intermediate School in West O‘ahu:
The story of a foreign exchange student from Ukraine who embraces and reciprocates the Aloha Spirit she finds in Nānākuli.

 

This special compilation show is hosted by Moanalua High School student Camryn Tabiolo, who will be entering her school’s HIKI NŌ program in the fall of 2017.

 

This program encores Saturday, July 1, at 12:00 pm and Sunday, July 2, at 3:00 pm. You can also view HIKI NŌ episodes on our website, www.pbshawaii.org/hikino.

 

POV
Iris

 

Meet Iris Apfel, the quick-witted, flamboyantly dressed 93-year-old style maven who’s had an outsized presence on the New York fashion scene for decades. Albert Maysles’ film shows a woman with an inspirational enthusiasm for fashion, art and people.

 

HIKI NŌ
Episode #819

 

TOP STORY:

 

Students from Kapolei High School on O‘ahu present a story on the Hawai‘i-themed artwork engraved on the columns of O‘ahu’s rail project. The column art was designed by local architect Daniel Kanekuni and, according to HART spokesperson Bill Brennan, adds a sense of place and local identity to the rail project. Rail proponents and opponents alike feel that the column artwork is a good thing. However, some rail opponents, such as UH Professor of Civil Engineering Panos Prevedouros, feel that the real eye-sore will be the elevated rail stations. Says Prevedouros, “How much lipstick do they think they can put on that pig?”

 

ALSO FEATURED:

 

–Students from Maui Waena Intermediate School show how a Kahului family’s mochi- pounding tradition continues, despite the recent loss of the family matriarch who had been the heart of the event.

 

–Students from Hawai‘i Technology Academy in Leeward O‘ahu show us the proper way to pack a military care package.

 

–Students from Konawaena High School on Hawai‘i Island profile a Konawaena graduate who went on to form the internationally renowned heavy metal reggae band Pepper.

 

–Students from Moanalua High School on O‘ahu profile a lesbian couple at their school who work to spread the joy of diversity and the message of tolerance for those who are different.

 

–Students from Maui High School profile a star athlete who had to sit out the football season because of a heart condition but continued to inspire his teammates by volunteering as an assistant coach.

 

This program encores Saturday, May 27, at 12:00 pm and Sunday, May 28, at 3:00 pm. You can also view HIKI NŌ episodes on our website, www.pbshawaii.org/hikino.

 


Tales from the Royal Wardrobe

 

Examine the significance of the royal wardrobes of English monarchs over the last 400 years. Learn why most kings and queens have carefully choreographed every aspect of their apparel and why, for those who haven’t, the consequences have sometimes been calamitous.

 

INDEPENDENT LENS
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

 

This is the first feature-length documentary to explore the Black Panther Party, its significance to the broader American culture, its cultural and political awakening for black people and the painful lessons wrought when a movement derails. Master documentarian Stanley Nelson goes straight to the source, weaving rare archival footage with the voices of the people who were there: police, FBI informants, journalists, white supporters and detractors, and Black Panthers who remained loyal to the party and those who left it. Featuring Kathleen Cleaver, Jamal Joseph, and dozens of others, the film is a vibrant chronicle of this pivotal movement that gave rise to a new revolutionary culture in America.

 

Burt Wolf: Travels & Traditions
Florence, Italy

 

Burt, travel expert Steve Perillo and Burt’s son Nicholas, spend a week in Florence. They visit the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum and discover why Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, Sophia Loren and Julia Roberts wore his shoes in their movies. They find out how product placement influenced the artworks of the Renaissance and tour the great tourist attractions of the city.

 

AMERICAN MASTERS
Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect and the Painter

 

From 1941 to 1978, the husband-and-wife team of Ray and Charles Eames brought unique talents to their partnership. He was an architect by training; she was a painter and sculptor. Together, they are considered America’s most important and influential designers, whose work literally helped shape the second half of the 20th century and remains culturally vital and commercially popular today. Ray and Charles Eames are, perhaps, best remembered for their mid-century modern furniture, built from novel materials like molded plywood, fiberglass-reinforced plastic, bent metal wire and aluminum – offering consumers beautiful, functional, yet inexpensive products. Revered for their designs and fascinating as individuals, they have risen to iconic status in American culture, but their influence on significant events and movements in American life – from the development of modernism to the rise of the computer age – has been less widely understood.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Nake’u Awai

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Nake’u Awai

 

Original air date: Tues., Sept. 7, 2011

 

Designing Timeless and Unique Island Wear

 

Leslie Wilcox talks story with Nake’u Awai, a Kalihi-based clothing designer renowned for his timeless and unique island wear. Nake’u initially pursued an entertainment career that led him to Broadway and Hollywood. Eventually he returned home, where he found his calling in fashion design. For three decades, Nake’u’s creative Hawaiian prints and equally stunning fashion shows have wowed clientele throughout the islands.

 

Nake’u Awai Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I used to often tell my mom, How come we can’t go shopping in slippers and wear shorts? And was, No, any time you’re Downtown, it’s pants and shoes. Well, all the Haole tourists wear slipper and shorts. But, yeah.

 

It’s a long way from Kalihi to New York, to Hollywood and back, but it’s the journey of a man whose life has been dedicated to entertainment and design, from a big city to a little shop at the foot of Kamehameha Heights. It’s Nake‘u Awai, on Long Story Short.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this edition of Long Story Short, you’ll meet a Honolulu man who’s had a fascinated—well, careers, really. After graduating from Kamehameha Schools with an interest in drama, Nake‘u Awai went on to take his shot in the bright lights of the New York theater scene. Later, he appeared in network television shows in the heyday of live TV production.

 

But these are careers that few in Hawaii really know much about, because since he returned home, he’s made a name for himself as a fashion designer. To have a Nake‘u Awai design in your collection is to have a dress or shirt that will never go out of style.

 

Where did you grow up?

 

I grew up in Punchbowl.

 

What was that like?

 

Sidewalk skating. Golden Wall Theater—swim and tap at the YWCA down on Richards Street.

 

Tap, as in tap dance?

 

Tap dance; Mrs. Barnes. My first try at dancing, and swim, it was mainly swimming, and I got interested. Oh, I want to take tap, I want to take tapping. And then, I snuck into Alice Keawekane’s, some of her classes, and that’s Alicia Smith, Loyal’s mother is Alice Keawekane. And Loyal and Alicia, I mean, they’re all connected, Loyal and Alicia. And she taught hula. And because, when you’re waiting for your parents to pick you up … Come on, keiki, come join. So I snuck into some of her hula classes. So that was my early exposure to dance, which I would use later on. Golden Wall Theater, lot of my background comes from the movies, from the time we were little, during war years when blackout was part of our living. I don’t remember that part of it, ‘cause I was a baby. But Mom would take the kids and she, so it was brother and two sisters, and we’d go to the Golden Wall. And she’d come out and it would be all dark, and she’d hold me as the baby, and everybody would grab around her skirt, and we’d make it home.

 

And Golden Wall showed the latest Hollywood movies?

 

All and one day, I thought maybe if I had enough money, I’d bring back Saturday matinees. It was where all the kids came. And ee screamed our hearts out, because it was all the Westerns, and they would have serial chapters where at the end, the guy would be falling off the cliff. Next week—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—follow through what happens. And when he fell off the cliff, he grabbed a branch, so he was saved, yeah.

 

Do you remember how much it cost to go to those matinees?

 

No.

 

What did you have for snacks?

 

I wasn’t too much of a snacker, but popcorn, I guess. And they had seed mui in bags, the paper bags. I mean, they dug it out like this, and that’s how you got it.

 

Influenced by all those afternoons at the movies in the Golden Wall Theater in Nuuanu, Nakeu Awai began to see a future in art and design, eventually merging theater and fashion.

 

But you’re a visual person, so movies—

 

But this helped—

 

—were preferable for you.

 

Yeah. This helped me, yes. Yes. And then television came after that, from black and white into color. Yeah. So a lot of things that I create today because aside from fashions, it’s putting fashions into visuals that is I enjoy that more.

 

More?

 

More.

 

So putting fashions into, say, musical revues?

 

Yeah.

 

And … shows.

 

I enjoy—

 

Fashion shows.

 

I enjoy that. I enjoy that the most. And using other people’s—you know, so I will use my clothes as well as the other people and do shows. Because drama was what I majored in at University of Washington.

 

So the shows are more important than the clothes that you have designed?

 

I feel that. The segments that I do are universal emotions that we all experience.

 

Have you thought of doing other than your fashion-related shows as musical revues?

 

I’m open to, I’m always open to being creative. I’ve already started my Christmas show this year. I’m thinking about next year up at the Waikoloa. You know, Pili Pang’s haula in Waimea.

 

So you’re that generation that sort of—you were before the Hawaiian renaissance. You didn’t speak Hawaiian.

 

No. In fact, we grew up speaking only English.

 

And Kamehameha insisted on it when you were a student there.

 

And Kamehameha had a Hawaiian language teacher. His name was Reverend Judd. But I felt so bad, and I guess I wasn’t strong enough to stand up against my peers. But it was after lunch, and the movie The Blue Angel, where the guy becomes taken advantage of, where he plays the dummy in the club, and all these horrible things happen to him. In the movie The Blue Angel, with Marlene Dietrich, yeah. So the same thing I thought about this man. See, so I relate back to when I saw this man. After lunch, kids brought straws back from the dining hall and was doing spitballs at him. And this old man was going, Oh, ooh.

 

And he was the Hawaiian teacher.

 

Yeah, language. And so, did we learn the language?

 

What did your parents do for a living?

 

My dad was a land abstracter.

 

What’s a land abstracter?

 

Well, he worked at the Land Office, and it was reading land deeds and stuffs, and translating them. So on his own, he helped a lot of Hawaiians find land that was due them, that they weren’t aware of. He’d ask them, Where were you born, who’s your parents? And he’d go do research kind of stuff. And my mom was an educator. And every weekend, my dad because see, we grew up without cars, because Mother and Dad never drove. We’d get on the taxi down at Aala Park. The kind that had all the extra seats, and go to Haleiwa because—

 

Is that a jitney?

 

Huh?

 

Was that a jitney, with extra seats?

 

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, but it was called the Waialua Taxicab, and it drove you to your homes in Haleiwa, Waialua. And then it’d come back and pick you up. But we’d spend weekends there because he’d work up in the taro patch. Every weekend, he was in the loi, because—and by himself. And loi and kalo, as kalo people today will know, it’s hard work

 

It’s very hard work.

 

And you have to keep working at it. You can’t let it go by, because—

 

So he worked five days a week, and then he goes to the taro patches—

 

Yeah.

 

—on the weekends?

 

Yeah.

 

That’s not a weekend. That’s not a break.

 

But he enjoyed that. And he would bring back a bag of taro, and he would cook, we would have to peel.

 

That’s what he did it for, a bag of taro?

 

And he also sold. He started selling some of his kalo to Chun Hoon’s Market, the old market on Nuuanu. So we had fresh poi. It was lumpy. I preferred the factory poi, because it was smoother, but we’d peel. Oh, and I still have his boards somewhere in my shop, the poi boards that he used and pounded poi.

 

Did you tell him his poi was too lumpy for you?

 

No.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

‘Cause he’d just strain it, yeah. And so, I mean, it was fine. It was fresh. But, after you get spoiled by having some factory made poi.

 

What was your mom like?

 

Mom was a hard worker. She believed in education, so she pushed all of us. After I graduated from Kamehameha School, I really wanted to get out and get into the working field. But, No, you gotta to go to college. So she pushed for that. Hard worker, a woman that wore the same pair of shoes until it kaputsed, then she got a new pair of shoes. So she gave up a lot. But then she wanted to see the world, so my first year after University of Washington, she wanted to see America. And Father hated traveling. So she ployed me into going, and so we saw America on Greyhound. From Seattle, we went straight across the northern route to visit friends and upstate New York, and then went down south, and came back across. Yeah.

 

Was she still very frugal?

 

Yeah. As she got older, because see, I was the last one. Everybody was—the two sisters were on their own, Brother was on his own, so maybe she felt a little more freer to do these trips. Because then she and Dad went to China, with Char’s Tours. I still remember that, because it was such a negative thing.

 

After graduating from the University of Washington, and seeing North America by bus, it was time for graduate school. Catholic University in Washington, D.C. was a fine school; but for a young man from Hawaii in the 1950s, D.C. was not quite the place to study theater. Where would Nake‘u Awai head next?

 

So I told my parents. What are you going to do? I said, Live. Pause, pause. And they hung up on me, click. Next episode. So I moved to New York. But, I went all over New York. And when you’re young, you’re really kinda daring, so I looked up every conceivable rental. The nice thing about New York is they have rentals by price. So you can look for what you want to spend, and they’re right there. Well, I went Bowery, I went Harlem, I went all over New York. And after when I settled in New York, I said to myself, I would never, ever go back to all the areas that I went into. But one wintry morning, I was in Brooklyn Heights, and this woman in—you know, they have brownstones. She opened this tall black door. And she had a place, and it was within my price range, and it was a … so everytime I watch TV, they have those steps going up into the brownstones, and to the side they have these two steps that go underneath. I was there. It went from sidewalk, all the way to the back of the house. It was long rental.

 

And did you think you were gonna be a lifelong New Yorker at that point?

 

I wanted to. Because New York will always be my happiest years.

 

Why did you leave New York?

 

Winter.

 

[CHUCKLE] How many winters did you get through?

 

Four. And the last winter, I had electric blankets. But when you’re sleeping, you go, [GRUNT]. Just slight turning. It was freezing. And I had moved, how you move around, you find a better place. So my last rental was on the fifth floor of this walkup. Wonderful. I wish I still did that. Overlooked the—you could see the Statue of Liberty, and the lower rivers before they split off the Hudson, and the Hudson and the other river, and subway and stuff, and stuff, and stuffs. Yeah, but New York, the energy, there’s no city that has the energy that keeps you, keeps you going.

 

Did you feel your Hawaiianess in New York?

 

Yes. I have some pictures somewhere that we’ll see Rowena Akana and I, and this Filipino guy doing a Hawaiian revue down in Atlantic City for Tutasi Wilson. She was a woman that lived in Florida, and would come up and do these big Hawaiian conventions in Atlantic City. And that was the only time I did Hawaiian. I never really studied Hawaiian. There was a Hawaiian restaurant that all the Hawaiians gathered, but I quickly stayed away from it, because even back then in the 60s, the Alamihi Syndrome … Hawaiians—

 

Explain that.

 

The alamihi is the black crab that goes crawling up, yeah? And as it gets up to the top, another one will come and grab and pull them both down. So, I didn’t want to be part of the Alamihi Syndrome.

 

Definitely not. The ambitious Nake‘u Awai had a lot more that he wanted to do, and he kept on his path, a path which eventually led him back to Kalihi. But first, there would be a stop in Hollywood.

 

I keep expecting that you’re gonna say, And then I became a costumer and a design person. But you’re not saying that.

 

No.

 

When did that come along?

 

Not until my years in Hollywood. Because then, after the last winter, I came home, and got right into My Fair Lady with Linda Ryan. And the choreographer who came from Vegas saw that I had potential, so he pushed me to get the role of Carpathy the Hungarian. So besides being a dancer, I played a secondary part. And so I did that. While I was doing that, the people that I worked with in Atlantic City, Flower Drum Song, were being hired for this show in Reno. Direct from Japan, Hello Tokyo. We need another guy. Well, there’s Joel Awai, he lives in Honolulu. So they called me. I got hired to go up to Reno. And the three male singer dancers were myself, Jimmy Borges, and Bob Ito. Now, Bob Ito … Quincy. Remember that show? It was where he was the mortician.

 

Right.

 

His assistant was this very well spoken Japanese guy, Bob Ito.

 

I remember him. Okay, that’s Bob Ito.

 

And he spoke so well. See, Bob Ito is a Canadian, so of course, he will speak very well.

 

And that’s where you met Jimmy Borges?

 

And that’s where I met Jimmy Borges.

 

What was he like then?

 

Well, like all the dancers, they make fun of the singer’s walk, Jimmy.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

In other words, the same leg and the same arm swing. Instead of opposition, yeah? That’s the natural walk. They walk da, da, da, da. Yeah.

 

So he was definitely a singer, the way he walked.

 

Yeah, but the three of us had to do singing and dancing. I stayed in West Hollywood until I found my own place. Then I started going to auditions, and I started dancing on television. So that is the next nine years of my life.

 

Nine years dancing on television and other venues. What kind of dancing did you do?

 

Jazz; modern dance. Back then, musical specials were big, so I performed like the Jack Benny Special, or the Petula Clark Special, or Elvis had a special I was a part of.

 

Now, you said you weren’t an extraordinary dancer, but it sounds like you’re getting some good roles. You’re getting hired.

 

Well, so maybe I was better than some of the others. But I mean, I don’t consider myself a solo dancer, because I worked with a number of people who were great solo dancers, like in the Elvis Presley Special.

 

So what was it like? Did you actually encounter Elvis? You saw him on the set?

 

Well, Elvis was a very quiet, timid fellow who was like a school kid. And when he tried to relax and socialize, the moment Colonel Parker came in Elvis.

 

How old was Elvis then? Was he out of the Army?

 

He was out of the Army, yeah. I don’t know. Because this was in preparation for him to go to—because Elvis performed, then he went to movies, then he went into the Army. Now he’s out of the Army, and he’s gearing to go back to— because then he made a big—after television special, he went to Vegas, yeah? I think Elvis and I would be about the same age. I don’t remember. Do you know how old he is, or would be?

 

No, I don’t know how old he would be.

 

Okay.

 

So did you have any interaction with him?

 

No. No. Because he didn’t socialize with us, because he was under wraps, or when he did come in and the Colonel would come in, he would jump up and he would disappear. Yeah; so dancers, they’re like cattle. They’re just kept in some room until they need them. And the thing with television, which is really junk, is you don’t have time to really warm up. So we call it the warm up special. We’d come to work, go get our face done. So you go to make up, get your face done, then we greased up our bodies with um, Bengay. Because then—

 

You didn’t want to hurt. [CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah. No, because then when you got up to dance, you would be all warmed up. Because Bengay would get your muscles and bones ready for performing. Because you never knew; sometimes you would wait hours before they’d call you. Dancers! So like when these musicals started to dwindle, the first people they got rid of were the dancers. The second people they got rid of were the singers. The last people they got rid of were the actors. That pecking order; yeah. So I worked with a lot of big names. Bill Cosby was one, his special. I came back to do Don Ho’s special, because the dancers were hired in LA, and so we came back when he did his special. And I still remember getting flown, a few of us getting flown to Lahaina to work with the children at the elementary school there, where they did this One Paddle, Two Paddle, walking down Front Street. And we were like guides, yeah, or aides or guides, I mean, as dancers. So that was Do Ho’s special.

 

It was in Lahaina, during the shooting of a Don Ho television special, that the germ of the idea of a career in fashion design finally took hold in Nake‘u Awai. Remember those photos of jumpsuit Elvis, macramé’d beaded belt flying? That was his handiwork.

 

While I was there, I was fortunate to have a close friend from Japan teach us how to do macramé. And because all Japanese children grow up learning knots, what the sailors do, the art of knotting. And so he taught us how to do macramé. And so this other fellow from Hawaii and I decided to go into business doing macramé belts. This was before the hippies then got hemp and were doing macramé baskets, macramé wall hanging and stuffs. We did belts and accessories. So I sold these belts to stores in Beverly Hills, to fur shops in Beverly Hills, to designers like Bob Mackey, where I still have some drawings. ‘Cause Bob Mackey was a good artist, and that’s how he started before he got into fashions. He was an artist who drew for designers. And so, he gave me some sketches of macramé that we did for Carol Burnett and stuffs and stuffs, where we did the macramé, and he did these sketches. Because he could make the drawing look like Carol Burnett. And so I got to meet designers besides he, Jean Louis, which is the old film that Lana Turner did, her gowns by Jean Louis. Jean Louis, who was a French designer who also, for a long time, did the uniforms for United Airlines, long ago. Well, he had a factory in Beverly Hills. And what’s interesting, half of his factory were Japanese, and the other half of his factory were Haole. And you could tell the difference, because the Japanese factory was zz, zz, zz. The Haole factory, [GIBBERISH]. So, I became aware of clothing design there. My Black choreographer mentor, Claude Thompson, felt that I could do it. So he gave me this job where I was doing costumes for Sammy Davis’ girls, because Claude was choreographing them. And he wanted me to do the costumes, so I was given this wonderful budget to do costumes for six girls. And that was my first try at clothing.

 

What did you do for them? What kind of costumes did you come up with?

 

I had fun. I was very creative. I went downtown LA and found all these places like where you could buy leather. And I bought chamois. The stuff you clean cars with? I bought skeins of chamois and cut them into—left parts of it rough, because the edges of chamois uncut, and did a wrap blouse for them, and sewed and hung beads on them. And then I got scarves that they did what the Blacks do, a do-wrap, the tight um, head wrap with a knot here, and bought a whole bunch of scarves, and did a scarf skirt. So I asked friends of mine, Well, if I want a scarf skirt, how do you do it? Well, you hang the scarf point-to-point, you sew from point to this point, from point to that point. And so, as long as I knew the construction, then I could pass it on to a seamstress. So they had these scarf skirts. So when they stood … would be all scarves hanging, but when they spun, it didn’t split apart, it connected. And with that, I had these big clunky boots.

 

And it worked.

 

Yeah. He loved it, and Sammy loved it too. So on a couple of times, I met Sammy and his wife Altovise, who was one of his dancers that he ended up marrying, and Sammy’s little black poodle, who I hated, because he’d run down from the house, and he’d straddle your foot, and shee all over you.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And I’d go … [GAGGING]. [CHUCKLE]

 

When you look at your career, and you’re still going, how do you describe it?

 

Well, it’s something that I look forward to every morning. It’s not like I don’t want to go to work. I get ready, I get up at five-fifteen, I do my things.

 

What’s in your shop? Tell us about your shop.

 

My shop is a collection of my fashions, and a collection of things that I like, and have cluttered my shop with. Like I have these blown-out Portuguese man-o- war [CHUCKLE] that Colleen Kimura did. So it’s like this blue spacey thing, and it has all the tendrils hanging down. And I have an old wreath that Noelani Pomroy did when she came from Kauai. I have an old, old, old, old wreath that Amelia Bailey brought to the shop many years ago, that’s still hanging up there. So it’s like going in a Chinese shop full of all kinds of—I mean, people come in, and they’re like [CHUCKLE]—the look is … Or they’ll come in, and they’ll take a long time, because there are too many textures and colors, and blends, and things to look at. I mean, yeah. And I like it. Everybody says, You need a bigger shop. No, I’ve gotten used to it.

 

At the time of this conversation in the summer of 2011, Nake‘u Awai continues to create and design, an icon of Hawaiian fashion. From his overflowing shop in Kalihi, he continues the dance of life, inspiring a new generation with his timeless textiles. For Long Story Short, and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

When you see Elvis and he has these gyrating hips with these belts with beads on them, those were the belts that we did for Bill Ballou was the designer. A lot of things, as I look back, I’ve done stuffs that people didn’t understand what I did, and why I was doing it until later, and then you see them doing it and understanding it.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Mamo Howell

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Mamo Howell

 

Original air date: Tues., Nov. 6, 2007

 

Hawaii Fashion Designer

 

If you know the name Mamo, it’s probably because Mamo Howell is one of Hawaii’s most successful fashion designers and retailers. Quite an accomplishment for a woman – half Hawaiian – who started her business in her 40s.

 

But that’s not where Mamo’s story began. As a teenager she danced hula in Waikiki to help support her family and later became a high-fashion model, strutting on runways in New York and Paris. Hawaii’s first top model.

 

Mamo Howell Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Aloha! And mahalo for joining me for another Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. If you know the name Mamo, it’s probably because Mamo Howell is one of Hawaii’s most successful fashion designers and retailers. Quite an accom- plishment for a woman – half Hawaiian – who started her business in her 40s. But that’s not where Mamo’s story began. As a teenager she danced hula in Waikiki to help support her family and later became a high-fashion model, strutting on runways in New York and Paris. Hawaii’s first top model. That was 50 years ago. Let’s catch up with her today.

 

We know you today as Mamo Howell, the designer, the business owner, the retailer. But in the 1950s, Mamo Howell was known as a high fashion model, all over the papers.   And you were even described in one caption as ‘Polynesian Goddess.’

 

I was?

 

Must have happened a lot to you because you were just the slinkiest, most beautiful model. And you’d already had three children.

 

Oh yeah; mm. I’m in reverse. My life is reverse. No, but—

 

How did all that happen?

 

You know, I was dancing at the Halekulani Hotel. I was a dancer before I became a model. And I was seen dancing and offered a contract to go to New York to model. And when I got there I accepted it. It was a very good contract. And when I accepted it and went there, they insisted I lose weight. And I thought I was all right. You know, I thought I was hot stuff, huh? I don’t have to worry. No, no, no. So I could only eat—they watched my diet. I could only eat, you know, melon and foods that were not full of calories. And I got down to—I mean, my goodness. Today I’d be a size four. At that time it was a size eight.

 

How did the size of the models then compare to the size of the models now? We keep hearing models get skinnier and skinnier and skinnier.

 

Well no, we were skinny then. We got skinny then. But it’s just that it wasn’t called—a size four today was a size six or an eight then. That’s the difference. Somehow, the numbers changed. And I don’t know why. If it’s because it makes women think they’re thinner by the size being smaller; but actually you know, it’s the same. It’s just the numbers changed, you know. And that’s how I got into modeling, was really through dancing, through hula.

 

You got discovered.

 

Yeah, I guess so. But I was already married and had my three children. I was very, very young.

 

That must have been really unusual at the time to go away to New York to model, and your three kids were home.

 

Well, yes, but thank God for my wonderful family and my mother. You know, mothers, wonderful mothers. And then I took them with me from time to time. They would come fly with me to New York, and especially summertime. Then come back here, and my family took good care. My husband was here, so it all worked out very good.

 

You’re half-Hawaiian.

 

Half-Hawaiian.

 

And in New York that constitutes being a woman of color at the time.

 

I guess; yes.

 

Were you the only one?

 

Yes, I was. I was. All the other girls were from throughout the country. But there were—there were no Black models then. You know, that I don’t remember any Black models at all.

 

You didn’t just model in New York; then you hit Paris.

 

Well, yeah; then I was discovered there, and I was sent to Paris. And off I went there. And I loved it. It was like — I liked the language too, because I’d had a lot of that in school. You know, French nuns in Sacred Hearts Academy.

 

In Kaimuki.

 

Kaimuki.

 

And you never lost yourself when you were a high fallutin’ high fashion model in New York and Paris.

 

No. No, no, no, no. Never. I always came right home here. This is my home. And not that there aren’t in many you know, temptations all over the place. No, I always came home. It’s the place to be.

 

And went to your Hawaiian roots, right back from Paris.

 

Right; right.

 

Did you wear real avant-garde or scanty clothing on the runway?

 

Very. Clothing I’d never seen before. I mean, the chiffons and the beautiful velvets, and what have you. Very, very high, high fashion. I was working for a company called Nettie Rosenstein at the time. She was like the Coco Chanel of America. And she was famous for her little black dress. And she did a lot of poir du soir. That’s what she loved. Poir du soir was her thing. And so we did a lot. The lines were pretty big, large. Like we had four models, we did showroom shows every day at ten and another one at two. And the buyers from all over the country would come. But it was very high fashion. We did a lot of the shows at the Pierre Hotel and the Waldorf. It was fabulous. It was a great, great experience for a girl coming from Hawaii, who’s only who’s got as far as Kona. You know what I mean? So it was — it was quite an experience.

 

Hawaii’s first high-fashion model. The first Polynesian to go global in the fashion industry. That was in the 1950’s. Amazing. From that heady start, Mamo Howell reinvented herself to become a leading Hawaii designer and entrepreneur. We’ll find out how that came about – next.

 

How do you go from model and hula dancer to fashion designer, business entrepreneur?

 

Well, you know, you’re much like a model, dancer. Much like an athlete. There’s just so much time you have. The time span for a dancer or a model is very — it’s really short. It’s not a long span.

 

Does somebody have to tell you, or do you know?

 

No; I knew. I wanted to start before they stopped asking me. So I was talking to David Eldredge at Punahou. And he offered me a job during the summer to do an enrichment course for summer in the fashion thing and the modeling. And so I did. And I just kind of transitioned right there to maybe having a course now, and then I looked around the market and decided that what we had on the market was not of our culture – the prints and everything. They were lovely, but they were not of our culture at all.

 

They were just florals or …

 

Mm hm. And then I thought what they don’t have on the market is something I grew up with, and that was a kihei pili – which all Hawaiian mothers made for their children. The little blanket with the flannel on one side, and that.

 

Mm hm.

 

There wasn’t any on the market. So I designed on those. And I really started with that baby blanket, that’s what. I had a hard time selling it too. It took time. And then with that – and oh, the quilt – the Hawaiian quilt. That was another thing I didn’t see on the market at all, which is our, you know, the art of what Hawaiian women were doing. My mom, my grandmother; they were all quilters.

 

And you started when you were in your fifties, right? That’s when Mamo really took off.

 

Just about; yeah. About mid-forty, forty-five. Right; yeah. Which is crazy. Nobody starts that at that age. But then you have to, because again, you can’t go on dancing and modeling forever. It’s a young woman’s profession. You have to think something else. I didn’t want to be a, maybe a clerk in a store, ‘cause I didn’t think I’d be happy doing that. And so I went into designing. But I did have the background, which you know, with Nettie Rosenstein and Dior. So I had that background, which is what pushed me on. And then I’d been modeling here—

 

Mm hm.

 

–in Hawaii for all the — most of the manufacturers in town, you know.

 

So you knew the market.

 

So I knew the market. Shaheen’s; you remember Shaheen’s?

 

Alfred Shaheen.

 

Alfred; did a lot for him. And all — Kahala Sportswear, Nat Norfleet; I worked for him for a while in his office, as well as his model, showroom model. And so I was — I’d been in it for quite a while, you know.

 

You didn’t start with dresses at all; you started with blankets and quilts.

 

Blankets. Dresses were not even in my head. Started with the quilt blankets and all of that. And before you know it, I had a hard time selling that. So …

 

So things aren’t going very well.

 

Not the — things are not flying. No. So then I thought, well, what I have to do, then you know, it’s done; the print was done, the screens were done – of two prints that I had, of the quit. So what do we do with it? I decided, well, I’m gonna make a muumuu with it. Okay. And that’s when it started. That’s when it happened. The muumuu. Carol & Mary, Nancy Lang — you remember Nancy Lang?

 

Mm hm.

 

Well, Nancy was really the first one to buy my muus. She bought two. And then Carol & Mary right after that bought some also. But Carol & Mary told me with my blankets — they bought the blankets too. They said to me, we’ll take your blankets, your kihei pili, if you give it to us first, and you give it to us, we’ll have it for three months before you give it to anybody else. Well, what they didn’t know was that I’d been out there trying to sell, and nobody would buy it. So I said, Oh, okay, you can have it first. And I had to make an appearance on the floor, and help customers, and put it in the paper. That’s what happened. It started with that. But I really had no intention of doing dresses at the time. It just evolved that way.

 

And your concept was high fashion muumuu, and nobody really thought of muumuus that way.

 

No. No. No. And they still don’t, really, you know. I find today that not too many women are wearing muumuus too much.

 

Oh, there was a newspaper article one day that said, you know, if you want to be taken seriously as a businesswoman, nix the old muumuu.

 

That’s right. That’s right. So when I came on the market, I did two regular muumuus. The regular, you know, the non-fitting fitted ones. And then I decided, you know, there’s so much more to fashion than just the muumuu. And I gleaned some of the — my thoughts and ideas from Dior and Nettie Rosenstein and some of the big designers, and put them into fashion. Made skirts and tops, and different things. And that’s where we are at now. Because really, you don’t really see a lot of muumuus being worn. You know? But it’s more the older people wearing muus.

 

So as you continue with your business, you can’t continue to concentrate on muumuu, long muumuu, traditional style.

 

No. We will never stop making the muu. We always will. We’ll still do that. But we progress with style and fashion, and how things are going. And I subscribe to a magazine that’s like the Bible of the industry, Women’s Wear Daily out of New York. And you see the trends that are way before, you know, six months ahead of time. But even so, Hawaii is still different from the mainland. I mean, they may say green is in there, but it’s not green—I mean, it’s not in here in Hawaii. Hawaii is different. We’re totally kind of by ourselves.

 

What are some of the other ways we differ from mainland buyers?

 

Well, the mainland buyers are more gutsy. They take chances. They’re right out there. They’re demanding something new, demanding something different. They don’t want the same thing. Here, they want kind of the same, safe things ‘cause their heads are on the block. Doesn’t sell, they’re in trouble. But that’s the big difference I see in the buyers here and the buyers on the mainland.

 

Did you ever have a huge flop in terms of a dress design?

 

Oh, sure. Oh, yeah. There were a couple of things we’ve made, I thought, Wow, this is going to be really hot. And it’s not. But there again, you know, people who come into the shop to my shop, they still have this idea that we are just Mamo muumuu, and this kind of unfortunate stigma that’s with Hawaiian wear, that it somehow is just not quite up to par, it’s not quite good enough. Some of our broadcasters don’t wear Hawaiian wear on Fridays. I think you might know who, a couple, some of the—

 

I know a few of them.

 

Some of those. Yeah. But that’s okay. That’s how they feel. It’s not dressy enough, it’s not it’s just too casual.

 

I heard one say, ‘How can I report on the war in Iraq when I’m wearing flowers?’ That was one of the comments I heard from a newscaster.

 

Yeah. I think that’s ridiculous. See, we’re in Hawaii. I mean, what do you do in New York? I mean, if you’re gonna be living in New York in December, of course you’re not gonna wear the flower stuff. But in summer, why not? Well, we are in Hawaii. I think that’s the main thing. That’s where we are. We’re Hawaii; we should be with something of our islands, of our culture, of the coconut trees and the beautiful oceans and the colors, and the flowers. And how can you not, you know, be wearing something of Hawaii. I can’t see it.

 

Look at you in your slinky black tee-shirt.

 

Oh, thank you.

 

You’re well past conventional retirement age. I’m sure most people don’t realize that, but—

 

Oh, aren’t you nice. Thank you.

 

You’re closer to eighty than to seventy.

 

Soon; soon.

 

So how long do you go on working in this very challenging and dynamic business?

 

Well, you know, if I didn’t love it so much, I think I would be gone already, long time ago. I do love it. But I do. I do feel that I have to start thinking realistically. And I’ve never taken a vacation. And I’m thinking — and even my doctor says, You know, you have to start taking off and don’t go in every single day from nine to five or whatever. And he’s right, because I do think that there’s a lot of stress going on. And if I didn’t love the business so much, oh, I’d be in — what would you say when we were kids? We’d be in Room 13 in Kaneohe.

 

I remember that expression.

 

In Room 13. Remember that? That’s where I’d be.

 

That’s a reference to the State Hospital on the Windward Side of Oahu. Coming up next, Mamo Howell shares stories about adversity, success and legacy – and perhaps how she’ll start planning her first vacation.

 

One of our PBS Hawaii viewers remembers that you had humble beginnings, and wonders, ‘Of all the obstacles you’ve had in your quest to achieve, what’s been the toughest adversity to get through?’

 

I think the toughest is convincing the buyers that our culture is not to be pushed aside. I think – I mean, I’ve been battling for like five years, when I first came out with my designs, with like Liberty House. I couldn’t get into Liberty House because the quilts. They never saw that before – they didn’t want that. So I had a hard time convincing any buyer I went to at first. It took me five years before I could get anything on the market at all.

 

Was it your product, the type of product, or was it the fact that you’re a former hula dancer, model, woman?

 

Well, I think all of that. But mostly the product. But I think all of that. They didn’t take me seriously. You know, hula dancer, you know, things and the model, and you know, the frivolous kind of thing, and that also, my designs weren’t what they thought would sell. And it did not seem — see, it was too different, so the buyers have to be safe. They feel they have to be safe.

 

Well, how did you convince them? Or was it that one — Carol & Mary saying, ‘Yeah, I’ll take it.’

 

Well, that one Carol & Mary thing did start me off with the blankets. Exactly right. And I got going there, then Nancy Lang. But the really big start was with a fellow by the name of Fred Hasegawa. He was at Liberty House. And he was, I think, he was a rural manager or one of those. Anyway, he came and he recognized — local boy, part-Hawaiian, Japanese. And he recognized what I had. And he came to my home. He came to my house.

 

And you had seamstresses at your home, right?

 

Only one. I had one seamstress, one cutter, and me, you know. And he came to my home, and looked around, and that’s— that’s how I really — I mean, the orders really came in big. I mean, I was really doing, wow, you know. So that’s what happened. But that was my toughest thing – was trying to get us out on the market. We had a hard time. When you’re up against the big boys, you’re up against the Hilo Hattie’s and the Tori Richards, whom I used to model for when I was young. And all of them – Iolani and all the big companies, you know.

 

And then you became so successful, you had to worry about knockoffs here and there.

 

Well, the interesting thing about that is I was so naïve, I didn’t know about knockoffs. I didn’t think about it. One of the buyers — she’s no longer there – she’s retired long time ago. But she said to me, ‘Do you know, Mamo’, she said, ‘What you should do,’ she bought my stuff. She says, ‘Oh, I love it.’ She says, ‘What you’d better start thinking of doing is knocking yourself off.’ I said, ‘Well, what does that mean? What do you mean by…’ She says, ‘Because you’re gonna be copied. You’re gonna — people are just going to – there’ll be like an avalanche coming down.’ And I said, ‘Really?’ And she was right. Because everybody after that came out with a quilt. It’s on every hotel and stationery, and it’s everywhere.

 

You know, in any business, but particularly I think the fashion business, you can’t just start and everything goes along. You always have to sustain the business by reinventing it as you go along.

 

Always. You have to keep going. And somebody said that to me once a long time ago, ‘Mamo’ — my blankets, you know, she says. I said, ‘Oh, thank God.’ She says, ‘No, no,’ she says. ‘You have to keep going.’ I said, ‘Oh yeah, I guess so.’ I didn’t think about it.

 

Find something else, do something differently.

 

You have to. Or you’re dead in the water. Then quit.

 

Have you ever felt dead in the water, or like you should quit?

 

Never. I think that’s another thing about — if I wasn’t so positive I wouldn’t let anybody talk me out of anything. I mean, they said, ‘What?’ They said, ‘You’re gonna compete with the big boys?’ ‘I’m not competing with the big boys; I’m coming out with something that nobody’s doing, no one has, no manufacturer or designer out there is doing my look, quilt, the Hawaiian—nobody is. So I’m not competing with them at all. I’m bringing something on the market that’s brand new.’ And that was part of my problems too, ‘cause that’s when they all got on the same bandwagon, you know. But you can’t let anybody – you have to be focused and stay there. Yeah.

 

Do you have a succession plan for the business?

 

Well, you know, I did. My daughter was supposed to take over. Now she’s on the mainland, she can’t. But you know, something very interesting has just happened recently. My grandson who’s out of college, he’s with a company on the mainland called Cerbae, C-E-R-B-A-E. And he’s been there with them for three years, and he’s learned an awful lot. And what he’s interested in doing is fusing some of my kind of looks with that look, and doing another label. His name is Tautua. And he was here for a little while, talking with me. And it’s very, very encouraging, because this is where he, I — it’s going to him. I think I think he’ll do a good job with it ‘cause he’s enthusiastic. He loves — he loves it. And he’s an artist. He’s young.

 

And he’s family.

 

And he’s family. And he’s handsome. And I think — I think that’s what is gonna happen with him. So that makes me feel a little better ‘cause I need an exit plan. And I have to start to thinking of it now. You know, as age comes on, I have to start thinking — it’s gotta go on. And I want my legacy to be there, and I want this to continue. I want the — our culture and Hawaiian prints and all that to, to go on. Because I don’t want to do the hokey Waikiki corn things that’s on the market. A lot of it is on the market now and has been for years. That’s not Hawaii, that’s not Hawaiian culture, that’s not where I’m coming from. And I think that’s where Tautua will take it – into the cultural side.

 

So what if your grandson takes your designs and makes them into something that you would never put up with?

 

Well, that would be interesting.

 

And you’re out of the company by then.

 

That’s gonna be interesting. But he’s already shown me some things that he’s done, and I think he’s — I think he’s on the right track., I mean. But that would be interesting, wouldn’t it? ‘Cause you know how these kids are. You don’t know what they’re gonna do. I mean—

 

I think you’d be one unhappy tutu.

 

Yeah. I have faith in him. I mean, it’s gotta be something that’s gonna sell. You know, it can’t be so far out. But the company he’s with is a very good company and they might — he’s thinking of probably some kind of a merger maybe. That’ll be very good. I’ll be very comfortable with that. ‘Cause it’s a tough business to handle by yourself. Not easy.

 

You know, you’ve done so much in your life, and you’ve accomplished a lot. You helped to support your family when you were a teenager by dancing hula when you’ve raised children. You’re a world traveler. And you mentioned legacy. Of all the things you’ve done, is there one particular thing you’re most proud of and would like to be remembered for?

 

My design. I think the fact that I’m bringing out the culture of Hawaii in our motifs and all of that. I’m proud of that. But starting very young and earning money – I remember dancing, yes, and helping my mom. Because you know, when my father died, he was only forty-two years old and left her with seven children. Us. So when I was dancing I remember making two dollars and fifty cents a show and coming home and giving it to my mother. And that was good for me. You understand things then.

 

Tough to lose your dad at such a young age. How old were you?

 

Oh, I might have been eleven. And I was the youngest in the family. So you know. And you know, all families have something going on. My mother moved to the Big Island and we went over with her – my two brothers and I. We were the youngest ones.

 

Went over on the Humuula. We went steerage. [The future model was in steerage.

 

In steerage. But you know what? It was — we had more fun on steerage ‘cause we could run all over the place. Go into those little rooms, claustrophobia time. No, no, no. That’s what we did. Then you get to Kailua-Kona and then they have to send the boats out to take you in, I mean. But it was nice. It was a nice time.

 

So your whole life, you’ve just kept going. No matter what hit you, you kept going, and you kept believing in yourself.

 

You have to. Yes; absolutely. You have to keep going.

 

How do you know you’re right?

 

Well, you know, if you let too many people steer you, you won’t — you’ll never — you have to just go straight ahead. I mean, this wandering around – somebody will tug you this way, somebody will tug you thisther way. And you can’t – I mean, you should believe in yourself all the time. Not that you always – not that you’re always right. You make mistakes. You make wrong decisions sometimes. I’ve made many. You know, the thing is you just get back on track as fast as you can. And go on.

 

And she keeps going. This daughter who helped support her widowed mother as a teen…this mother of three who traveled through Europe as a high-fashion model… this designer who started a business in her mid-40s. Mamo Howell keeps charming us today. Mahalo to Mamo – and to you – for joining me for another Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou!

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Anne Namba

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Anne Namba

 

Original air date: Tues., Feb. 2, 2008

 

Fashion Designer of “Kimono Couture”

 

Anne Namba is the creator of a fashion line blending vintage Japanese fabrics and contemporary fashion, “kimono couture.” Her brand, Anne Namba Designs, is being picked up nationally by Nordstrom’s and is featured in other select Mainland stores. Anne graduated from Kalani High School and went on to the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. After stints in the garment industry in New York and L.A., Anne started her own business.

 

Anne Namba Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Aloha no, I’m Leslie Wilcox welcoming you to another episode of Long Story Short. This one is a little different. Usually I’m getting to know the guest at the same time you are. But this time, our guest is someone I happen to have grown up with. Used to hang out at her home with her family, saw her go through school, boyfriends, marriage, major career moves. So I already know her— and I also know she’s full of surprises. Anne Namba is the creator of a fashion line blending vintage Japanese fabrics and contemporary fashion, “kimono couture.” Her brand, Anne Namba Designs, is being picked up nationally by Nordstrom’s and is featured in other select Mainland stores. Anne graduated from Kalani High School and went on to the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. After stints in the garment industry in New York and L.A., Anne started her own business.

 

When I met you, you were in third grade; I was in fifth. And you showed up at Aina Haina Elementary School with your sister—wearing an—you were so exotic, because you were carrying your books in a bag and the strap was on your forehead. It was a woven tribal bag. And everyone took about five second looks, if you can do such a thing.

 

Yeah. Okay; exotic would not be the correct term. I was like nerd. I was like weirdo. That’s ‘cause we had just come back from living in Thailand. And those were like our little book bags. And they were actually these ethnic bags from Thailand. And my mother was like, These are perfect to carry your books in. So that’s how you carried ‘em, was on your head, so you didn’t get shoulder, you know, aches or anything. So we did that. Oh, my god.

 

I can’t remember the year, but we were young, and you and I took sewing classes together. Your first formal sewing class.

 

That’s right. Yeah; that was—I think it was yeah, it was soon after. I know I wanted to learn how to sew, and so Nodie came too.

 

Your sister.

 

My sister, Nodie, and you were there and Tammy Higa was there. And yeah, you guys were terrible; I remember that.

 

I don’t remember that part; not at all.

 

Oh, you were terrible.

 

Well, you were about twelve. And is that—did you discover that you were so much better than the rest of us?

 

Well, I just loved it. I loved it, and it came natural—you know, very natural—

 

Did you know before that, that you’d be good at it?

 

Well, I think my mom will be horrified by this story. But it’s true. Because I was the second daughter, I got all of my older sister’s hand-me-downs. And I never had my own clothes. So the only way to get my own clothes was to actually make them, which is why I wanted to learn how to sew. And so I remember my grandmother died, my Japanese grandmother died, and she had one of those really old fashioned sewing machines that you pumped the pedal and it would go. And so I just started fooling around. I found some fabric, and I made this little outfit, not knowing what I was doing. And my mother saw that, and she was like, Oh, maybe you need to take sewing lessons. I’m like, Oh, yeah, I’d love it. So that’s when I started doing it. And Nodie started wearing all of my clothes, so everyone thought that they were her clothes, and I was still wearing her hand-me-downs. So then I started renting them to her, which was my whole entrepreneurial start, so—

 

How much did you charge her?

 

I can’t remember, but it was in high school. ‘Cause I’m going, That’s not fair. I buy the fabric, I make the outfit, and then you wear it like it’s your clothes, and everyone just assumes that I’m wearing your old clothes.

 

Well, I remember at a certain point in that class, I was trying to follow the lines of my Simplicity pattern. And I looked over at you and you weren’t even using a pattern. You were just free-forming it.

 

Yeah; I remember you would pin everything, like every inch apart. I was like, Oh, my god.

 

And you would just be done. Like, what’s she still working on? And you would design your own clothes at that point.

 

Yeah; I started off by just like altering a pattern, or you know. And then I used to go to India Imports and buy the bedspreads there, and—you know, ‘cause that was the hippie days, and make, you know, our long sort of muumuu things. And then people started asking me to sew it for them, so that’s when I started doing that and charging money. So I started way back when.

 

Was that natural for you, the idea of the—you know, the creative part and the commerce part?

 

Oh, absolutely. I was like, I’m not doing this for free.

 

But tough, right? Because so many people asked you to do favors, and Anne could you help me with this.

 

Yeah. I still to this day have a hard time saying no.

 

Your family was very supportive of you in this business.

 

Yeah; yeah. They always—you know, when I announced that I wanted to be a fashion designer, it was like, oh. But they supported me all the way, and you know when I think back now, my parents, you know, they had to scrape together money to send me away to New York to go to school. And you know, back then, you just think, Well, that’s what I want to do, of course they’re gonna pay for it.

 

Because your father was a professor, he believed in higher ed.

 

Right.

 

Would he have liked you to have been a scientist like he is?

 

Oh, they knew that that was never a possibility. In fact, they saved some of my old reports cards. And my kids were shocked. They’re all like, Mom, you got Ds? It’s like, but look at Art; it’s A’s.

 

Picked the right job.

 

Yeah, right.

 

So you went away to New York, and was that like for you?

 

I remember um, when I first landed in New York—and nowadays, you know, parents take kids on college tours, and they set them up. I just got there, and got out of the train station with all my suitcases, and some man comes up and said, Do you need a cab? And I’m like, Yeah. And he picked up my bags and just took off through Madison Square Gardens. And I’m following him; he takes me to the curb, and he hails a cab for me. And I was like, Oh, I thought he was a cab driver. And then he asked me for a tip. And I was just like, Oh; what? And then the cab driver starts yelling at him for doing that, ‘cause he was scamming me. So the cab driver and this guy then start fist fighting on the street. And then I’m just watching in horror. And then he yells at me; he says, Get in the cab. So I get in the cab, and I’m just like going, I just want to go to FIT, you know, just to the school. I was in shock. I was like, Oh, my god, this is New York. And then I got there and decided I was gonna go—there was a bagel shop, and I wanted to get a sandwich. And everyone’s in there, shouting out their orders, and I’m politely standing, waiting and waiting. And finally, the bagel guy looks at me and he goes, You gonna order, or what? And I was like, Oh, I’m sorry. So that was my very first hour in New York City.

 

You realized, I’d better ratchet up my—

 

I was like, Oh, wow.

 

–confidence level here.

 

Yeah, right.

 

Well, by the time I visited you—and this was in the 80’s—you were working in the fashion industry, Radio City Music Hall. Right?

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

You were costuming the dancers

 

That’s right; that’s right.

 

I remember thinking, What’s happened to Anne? Because you walked—

 

Oh, I know.

 

–about five times faster than you ever had, and we were just walking. We weren’t going to any particular place.

 

I thought, Where are they?

 

You talked faster, and you were very proactive in dealing with people. You know, just combative, as a matter of fact, as I recall.

 

Yeah; back—oh, back then—well, especially in fashion, and in school too, it’s really a super competitive field. So you have to— you can be intimidated; you gotta just get out there and—

 

Did that come naturally for you?

 

No. I was shy. Remember? I was really shy as a kid. So yeah, I don’t know what happened along the way.

 

But was it hard, or do you just remember thinking, This is what I have to do, therefore it’s what I’ll do?

 

No; it was hard. I remember feeling like a country bumpkin when I first got up there, and not being sophisticated, not knowing anything, not being fashionable, not being able to buy the latest you know, fashion.

 

Did you think you were gonna cut it? Did you think you might not make it?

 

I never thought that I wasn’t gonna be a fashion designer; I always thought that’s—you know, I’m gonna work in fashion. But I never thought I would be where I am today. I didn’t have that in my fantasies.

 

What did you think you would do with your degree once you got out of this prestigious fashion school?

 

I thought I would just be probably designing for you know, companies in New York City. And that someday I might be able to, you know, design for, you know, one of the big—you know, Calvin Klein or something like that. And to me, that would have been like, wow. But then, you know, of course, I burnt out of the city and and left, so—

 

What did you think when you were leaving the city? Did you think—

 

Whew.

 

Oh, you were glad to go?

 

I was like, Oh—

 

And what next?

 

Well, I moved to L.A. because I thought there’s a good fashion center there, so I moved to LA. And then at that point, I still did not want my own company. So I moved there, and I wanted to get into costuming again. But it’s so tough; that industry is really, really a hard industry to get into. And I fell back into the garment district, into the—actually producing overseas. So that started a whole ‘nother interest in overseas and producing over there. And then naively thought, you know, Oh, my bosses are a bunch of jokers, they don’t know what they’re doing. You know. I just thought, pff, I’m doing all the work here, I might as well open my own business and—you know, very naively. Because running a business and designing stuff is completely—it’s a lot more than just designing pretty clothes. And so I moved back to Honolulu, because I thought, Well, at least if it doesn’t work out, I have a roof over my head, and I know that my family will feed me. So I moved back to Hawaii, and worked here for about a year, just to sort of get the climate, figure out resources, and how it all works here, which is a lot slower.

 

Yeah; I noticed you started walking more slowly again. And talking more slowly.

 

And then I started my business. And it’s been great.

 

And you did literally start your business under your parents’ roof.

 

Yup. I got the old bedroom, and I updated the—my grandmother’s sewing machine, though. And just—I was a one-man show. I did everything myself.

 

Anne launched a boutique in 1989 and Anne Namba Designs was born. Despite being what she terms a “one man show” during those early days of the business, Anne credits family members for their unwavering support. More on that as our conversation continues.

 

Must be a thrill to hear when somebody is wearing an Anne Namba.

 

The first time I heard my name used in that way, like, Oh, I wore my Anne Namba, and I’m like, Wait, that’s me. What do you mean you wore my Anne Namba? You know. And now, you know, I’ll just say, Oh, I’m gonna wear an Anne Namba. And so I’m very used to it now.

 

I remember your dad liked to help you pick the models.

 

That is my dad’s main objective with all my shows.

 

And your mom is very long-suffering. Kind of rolls her eyes, and smiles.

 

No; all the models know that if my dad doesn’t like them they don’t get hired again. So they all make sure to say, Hello, Dr. Namba, whenever he comes to my shows.

 

You had to find a niche for yourself when you got back home.

 

Yeah.

 

How did how did Eurasian clothes get to you? How did that idea get planted?

 

Well I think a lot of it had to do with the influence of always traveling, seeing different cultures, seeing different fabrics which—I love Japanese fabric; love the kimono, the culture, the food, everything. And so I was very taken with the fabric and the kimono, but you can’t really wear a kimono, ‘cause either you look like you’re wearing a costume or a bathrobe. And so I decided, since I had the background of fashion and how do to, you know, Western contemporary style clothing and flattering lines, that I would incorporate the two. And it’s nothing new; people had been doing it before. But you know, I have a different sort of take on it than—you know, everyone has their own sort of individual take. You know, and then slowly got into doing my own prints, because I’m running out of kimonos.

 

I was gonna ask you; where did you get all the kimono that you used, and how was that taken in Japan? Are they wild about you cutting up kimonos?

 

Actually, they’re starting to do it now.

 

Ah.

 

You see a lot more of it happening.

 

Were they doing that at the time you started?

 

No; no, not at all. In fact, they would be just like, Why are you using that old stuff? And they would not themselves buy it, because it’s almost looked upon, back then, as you couldn’t afford new clothes so you had to remake one of your old kimonos. Nowadays, though, again, you see a lot of the younger generation. I was shopping some of the stores the last time I was there, and you’re seeing Japanese labels, jeans with kimono pockets and patches on it. So things are changing. I have a lot of Chinese influence too, and some of my prints are Chinese inspired, as well as styles. I did one whole collection once for a showing that I did that was all based on Chinese different dynasties. And I researched it and did that whole thing.

 

That must be fun, the research. Historical research.

 

Oh, yeah. Yeah; yeah. It’s a lot of fun.

 

Now, you said you’re getting into prints too.

 

I’ve been doing prints for a long time, actually. If you have your own fabric, then you can mass produce the styles. So I started doing that, oh, gosh, quite a while ago. And right now, that’s my main wholesale collection.

 

Who designs your fabrics?

 

My nephew. He started—that’s Nodie’s son. And he started when he was like fifteen; he’s really talented artist, and so I started having him do some artwork for me. And nowadays, it’s all done on the computer. So you know, we’ll discuss ideas, and I’ll look at things, and you know, if I don’t like a color, you know, he presses a button, it’s, How’s that? It’s much different today.

 

And he designed the fabric you’re wearing now?

 

Yes; m-hm.

 

Wow.

 

Yeah.

 

What are women most concerned about when they dress, in general?

 

Well, my mission statement is to make every women look taller, thinner, and I just added younger, now that I can relate.

 

How do you do that, though? Just the cut of the—

 

The cut, yeah. You know, you don’t want dowdy cuts. You know, you try to keep it modern, but wearable for people that don’t have the most—you know, the perfect body. And it’s funny that, you know, if you have a certain flattering style on people, and you know how to achieve it, then when they put on the garment, they’re like, I love it. And they don’t know particularly why, but they love the cut.

 

It must be frustrating, ‘cause sometimes you probably want to design for fashion model types who can wear anything. And you have to be realistic and design for people who are regular folks.

 

Actually, for me, I—mostly because I’m not built like a model, I always design with myself in mind. Like, what would I want to wear. And naturally, you know, I want to look taller, slimmer, younger, so I’ll do that. And when the models put it on, I just see that as like, you know, icing on the cake. It’s just like, oh, well, they’re just so tall and thin. So I don’t design for model figures at all, and I never have. And it’s just when they throw it on and it’s that much better, then you know, that’s great. But you know, I’ll have women that say, Well, of course it looks good on her, she’s six feet tall and size, you know, zero. But I’m like, No, it’s not true. If you put it on—it’s actually too big on her, but you know, that’s her job to make it look better. And put it on, ‘cause it’ll look good on you too. And I was just approached by another store for—to do plus sizes. So now I might expand into that.

 

Literally?

 

Not personally.

 

Yeah. So is there a new area of the business you’re going to be moving into, or are you gonna be at this level for a while? How’s it working?

 

Well, at this point, for me to expand in my wholesale division, that’s the easiest, ‘cause I contract everything out. So the hard part is designing the fabric, designing the collection, and then getting it produced. Once I do that, I can up my numbers. And so I could say, Cut 50 of these, or cut 500. It’s just adding more numbers.

 

That could be an exponential move then.

 

Yeah; yeah. And it wouldn’t be that much more for us to do; it’s just upping the numbers when we order things. So we’re looking at that. Aother division of mine that is just going gangbusters is my bridal division. And that started out as you know, client coming in; Oh, my daughter’s getting married, why don’t you make a dress. And well, 500 people came to her wedding, and they all—you know, it was great advertising. So now we’re going gangbusters with our bridal.

 

What do women look for in bridal dresses when they come to you? What do they want?

 

They want the Asian, you know, influence look. A lot of the girls want to have that. Different fabric, something you know, some of ‘em, you know, it reflects their heritage. Just something—you know, a lot of times, they want something simple, but really different. And so when they come to us, then you know, that’s what they get. We custom make all of our gowns for our brides.

 

So I understand you’re gonna be appearing across the nation in a particular store. Something new is happening?

 

Yes; yes. I am, well, I’m participating in the new Nordstrom store, so we’re just going gangbusters getting all the collections ready for them. And of course that goes nationwide. So that’s big.

 

That’s huge. How much do you think that’ll add to your business in percentage?

 

Gosh; you know, like I said, I got a D in math, so I don’t know; that’s why I have my husband. Marriage is a business.

 

Another family member helping—

 

Yes; yes, yes.

 

–in the business and being a resource.

 

Yes; so we do and I’m using my daughter as a model now. So yeah. So we have lots of nepotism.

 

And it works for you.

 

Yes.

 

What do your kids take away from your running a business and being a fashion designer, do you think?

 

Well, I hope that they don’t think that life is all about stress. That’s really what I hope they—you know, they don’t do. ‘Cause you know, I worry that—a lot of times, I’m like, Mom’s had a bad day, I’m really stressed. And I don’t want them to think that’s what running a business is about. So I try to watch that, but a lot of times, I know I’m, How was your day, Mom. It’s like, [GROWL]. I think I—well, I constantly remind them that it is a business, so it can go up and down. And in fact, I’ve tried to get—my daughter has done a little bit of her own business. And this is just—you know, I’m trying to get her to have an entrepreneurial spirit, and to realize that if you work hard, and you know, you try to use your head about things and you know, if you have a little bit of talent and you just figure out how to take advantage of it, you know, that you can make money. And so she’s been making money off of little things too. And so I think she’s gonna be able to—and she wants to go into fashion and into business, so I think she’s gotten that from the business, and she really enjoys that part of it. She’s a great salesperson too, so—

 

Were there times where you wanted to rethink the whole business, or when it was really difficult to decide where to go next with it?

 

No. Actually, once I started, I never thought—I mean, before I started, I thought, well, you know, no guts, no glory, right, and I can always get a job. So—why not? And started doing it, and I never once said, I want to give up, or this isn’t working, or I rather work for somebody. Never, ever. But then I’ve just been really lucky, and things have been going really well for me. So—

 

And you’ve seen other fashion businesses lose their way.

 

Yeah. Yeah; come and go. But you know, I’ve been able to sort of market my look, the image, and you know, create a good image. And just keep on top of things. Although my body’s starting to revolt.

 

Speaking of that, you’ve done triathlons.

 

I know; that was like, my daughter calls it my midlife crisis. So she just said, All of a sudden, Mom decided to do triathlons, so—

 

Well, was it all of a sudden? I mean, were you ready?

 

Yeah. Yeah; no, I just thought, Oh, I can do that, that sounds like fun. And so I did it. And of course, now I have arthritis in my knees and tendonitis in my arms and—

 

And now you don’t do those three events anymore?

 

No; I—yeah, I had to give up running. So then I started swimming and biking, and then now I can’t swim anymore, so today I’m gonna try and do a spinning class. And I walk in the mornings, and I used to make fun of people that walked for the exercise, and now that’s what I’m doing.

 

Several times now, I think you’ve paddled to Kalalau along the Na Pali Coastline of Kauai, which is rough, there are no lifeguards around to save you if you get into trouble. It’s about a 27-mile paddle from the beginning to the end.

 

Well, we’ve done that now every year for, oh my goodness, maybe five, six years. And it’s my spiritual renewal. And it’s where we go and we sleep on the beach, and we have to pump our own water, and we look and you know, bathe in the waterfall. But we hike every day, and for me, that is just getting back to nature and realizing that in this world, you are very small. And then all of a sudden, it just doesn’t really matter that the color was slightly, you know, too yellow—or you know.

 

And the main fashion garment is the pareau, right? Because you can wear it, you can towel off on it.

 

Yes. You sleep on it. You can—yeah. You can do everything with it.

 

The wilderness trips, the camping; that doesn’t jive with your image as this fashion designer who’s just perfect at your shows.

 

I know. I remember when one year we came back from Kalalau; and this was after being a week on the beach, right? And we came direct from the beach to the airport. And as I was checking in, the guy looks at my ID and he starts to laugh, and he goes, Hey, you have the same name as the fashion designer. I went like, Oh, yeah. And another time, I was up at a waterfall, and I don’t know how it got out, but this guy there that works for advertising found out that I was there. And he goes, Oh, Anne, I always to meet you, and so I was a little embarrassed of the way I looked. So I thought, I’m just gonna be cool, like I’m cool, you know, I’m in nature, and so what if I look like this. So I was like, Oh, yeah, and I was doing my whole, you know, I’m nature too, and all that. And then all of a sudden, I’m talking to him, and one of the lenses from my sunglasses popped out and fell on the ground. And then I completely lost it. And I was like, Don’t tell anyone you saw me here.

 

Do you think your position number two in a family of four kids—you know, they always talk about birth number being important somehow.

 

Yes. I think I was ignored as the middle child. Because—

 

Well, we know about the hand-me-downs.

 

Yes, Leslie. And you know, my older sister, she got all the new stuff, and she got to do things first. And then my younger brother was the baby, so he got babied. And the middle child always gets ignored.

 

But it seems to have worked out for you.

 

Yeah. I just like to use it.

 

The middle child has done very well for herself. I’ve overheard women saying with pride ‘I’m wearing an Anne Namba.’ Anne’s clientele has grown to include Elizabeth Taylor, Aretha Franklin, Hillary Clinton, Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi and many women throughout Hawaii. It was fun sharing stories with this successful Hawaii entrepreneur, creative force, and good friend – Anne Namba. But, as always, we have to keep this long story short.   Mahalo for joining me. I’m Leslie Wilcox with PBS Hawaii. A hui hou kakou!

 

We lived in Thailand and Iran, and then just—

 

You lived in Iran when you were a kid.

 

Yes. That’s right.

 

What was it like?

 

You know, it was really fun back then ‘cause it was the Shah, and you know, we rode horses, and we went to a private little school and it was great fun; international school. And it was great back then.

 

Your dad was a professor from the University on sabbatical.

 

Right; and you know, he was basically, you know, looking for different experiences to do, and we went as a family. And so we all sort of got the travel bug and just curiosity in other cultures. I think it was just sort of you know, you grow up around it.

 

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