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Kama' aina Classic - 'Iolani Sportswear



Casual, tropical resort wear for men & women.

KAPA sat down with ‘Iolani a little while ago at their boutique shop at the ‘Iolani center on Kona street. We stopped by for a quick chat about the company and their mission.

‘Iolani is celebrating 66 years of aloha and fashion this year and we just had to catch up with them. We spoke with Sarah Noyle Kawakami who is head of merchandising and retail management at ‘Iolani. She is also the wife of Alx Kawakami who is the Director of Development and the grandson of Edith and Keiji Kawakami, the founders of ‘Iolani!

Sarah walked us through the process of how ‘Iolani first started back in 1953. Aloha shirts were yet to take off in Hawaii, let alone the world. Keiji and Edith Kawakami started the company with a small crew of designers and manufacturers. They would eventually level up to a warehouse across the street from the Iolani Palace. Proud of their history and the Hawaiian culture they named their company after the Royal Palace.

Having helped pave the way for some of Hawaii’s iconic looks, they have done nothing over the years but grow! Lloyd and Carla Kawakami took over the company with the close attention of Edith and Keiji. Now, with the third generation running ‘Iolani they are thriving and are helping to bring local fashion into the spotlight for the rest of the world to see.

‘Iolani garments are quite diverse; Infamous Aloha shirts to rompers to womens’ dresses to fun styles for keiki; you can find day to night looks and fashion staples that should be in every locals’ closet!

‘Iolani has always been proud of the Hawaiian identity and all of the values that come from the culture. The clothing reflects this value and ‘Iolani has always done their best to keep locals comfortable while feeling sharp at the same time! “We are comfort based! You can leave an ‘Iolani dress or dress shirt in the back of your car while you’re at the beach. And then have it ready to be worn that night” Said Sarah, “Easy and accessible!”

The company has begun to use a polyester spandex material for some of their styles. I know what you may think about polyester yet with this material being used for dresses, skirts and even rompers, clothing is breathable, sturdy and does not wear down easily. The fabric is more resistant to shrinking and wrinkling. It resists fading and holds up well to repeated washing and wearing. Because it is less absorbent than cotton, it is also less susceptible to stains. There is no need to sweat through a thick but nice aloha shirt anymore.

Island life is laid back and beautiful, ‘Iolani wants to showcase that with their garments. “Beauty shouldn’t have to hurt!” Said Sarah. While ‘Iolani also has the classic cottons and rayons in their factory, they are constantly looking for ways to keep good quality fashion easy for us locals, such is their mission! Sarah told us pride had a lot to do with the motivation behind ‘Iolani.

“We feel so good when we see people walking around in on of our garments. That was made here, for you a local, by us, more locals!’’ Said Sarah when asked about why she does what she does. “It meant so much to Edith and Keiji, and it is important to us that we continue that legacy of “By Hawaii. For Hawaii.”

That being said, ‘Iolani has done a marvelous job at reaching out to other companies and other outlets for inspiration and at keeping current and up to date on what is being worn around the world. While the trends of the mainland or fashion houses of Milan do not directly or specifically affect the designs of ‘Iolani, other countries have taken a liking to their work. Japanese customers love ‘Iolani designs and take loads of it back to Japan.

The trends of the aina are making their way over the seas one aloha shirt at a time! With all garments manufactured here in the islands, ‘Iolani has always offered local sales and deals and partnerships with other locally owned boutiques and aloha wear shops. With the loyal and stunning work of their designer, Grace, ‘Iolani has always produced high caliber designs and casual to classy clothes. Grace has been with ‘Iolani for 36 years and has a special place in the heart of the company.

“It's very exciting to see this next generation fill the shoes of those who were here before us. We can take what they did and just try and make it better.” Said Sarah.

‘Iolani is growing with the rest of the island. They have added some new clothing items to their line up, like a jumpsuit for example with a modern yet traditionally styled print. This upcoming year ‘Iolani is looking to network more locally in the islands. Local magazines for example are one platform they love to utilize to show off their fabulous clothes, as well as partners and collaborators. They also plan to bring back some designs from the 60’s and 70’s this upcoming year so keep your eyes peeled for the throwbacks. In addition to new projects, designs and networking, ‘Iolani also plans to reprint some of their first kama’aina prints and patterns.

Here at KAPA we are wondering which of our kupuna may still have some of their old school ‘Iolani classics in their closets? And which of you are yet to go see the ‘Iolani center’ or ‘Iolani boutique’ inside of it.

Located at 1234 Kona Street Honolulu, drop by and see what they are up to.

Personally here at KAPA we look forward to what they will do next and where their inspirations will take them.

A very special thanks to Sarah and Alx for their time.

Feel free to call the store with any questions you may have (808) 593-4520. Also visit their website

Until next time KAPA readers~

Mahalo and A hui ho!


Photoshoot: August 2019

Location: Ward Avenue

Make up:

Hair Stylist: Shawn Rodriguez

Photographer: Michael McGarvey

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