Native Hawaiian Dezigns by Kamohoali‘i channels the ancient art of kapa-making.
Models wearing Dezigns by Kamohoali‘i on the streets of New York City, where the brand was invited to present at NYFW last year. PHOTO COURTESY OF DEZIGNS BY KAMOHOALI‘I
Dezigns by Kamohoali‘i’s (dbkamohoalii.com) graphic prints and textures on its popular line of mens-, womens- and childrenswear are more than just pleasing to the eye. They come from a long line of family history with the Hawaiian art of kapa-making. Kapa is a Hawaiian bark cloth that was the primary source of clothing until the introduction of modern fabric to the islands in the 1800s, after which the making of kapa became a lost art. That is, until families such as that of designer Kumu Micah Kamohoali‘i revived the practice in the early 1900s.
PHOTO COURTESY OF DEZIGNS BY KAMOHOALI‘I
Micah comes from an old Hawaiian family from South Kona with a long legacy of carrying on the Hawaiian traditions of kapamaking, ʻohe kāpala (printing with a carved bamboo stamp) and kākau (traditional Hawaiian tattoo). “We honor the breath of life from our kupuna (elders) by perpetuating, preserving and retelling our stories in the designs we wear on our clothing,” he explains.
Micah’s family has been printing ‘ohe kāpala continuously since the 1920s, and Micah paired the kapa-making skills he learned as a child and the sewing skills he was taught by his father with his love for graphic design to start Dezigns by Kamohoali‘i in 2005. Earlier this year, the brand debuted two new brick-and-mortar locations in Windward Mall and Pearlridge Center.
“The Island of Hawai‘i is powerful, alive, raw, intense, inspirational, dangerous and gentle at the same time,” Waimea-based Micah says of the way his home island has inspired his designs. The brand looks beyond the kitschy flower and pineapple prints that decorate so many aloha shirts and instead embraces truly authentic Hawai‘i with Hawaiian knowledge and symbolism embedded in each design. “Let’s break down the walls of generational stereotypes, inappropriate, commercialized exploitations of our culture and give people what is real,” he insists. Patterns of overlapping symbols, line work and tribal elements adorn the fl owing dresses and button-down shirts that have proved to be a hit in the islands and beyond.
The brand’s newly opened location in Pearlridge Center showcases the best of its designs. PHOTO COURTESY OF DEZIGNS BY KAMOHOALI‘I
Word of the story and culture behind Dezigns by Kamohoali‘i made its way to the executives of New York Fashion Week, who invited the Hawaiian brand to hit the runway in September 2021. The brand’s emotional performance celebrating Hawaiian culture and history received a standing ovation. This year, Dezigns by Kamohoali‘i will be heading off to Europe, presenting on the runways at London, Milan and Paris Fashion Weeks in September. “Our company is authentic and rich with history and story. But it really is not about the clothes. It is all about the story that we are wearing.”