Manaola Yap brought Hawaii to the Big Apple on Friday.
Just two years after founding Manaola, Yap made history as the first Native Hawaiian designer to launch an entire runway collection at New York Fashion Week on Friday. During the 90-minute show, Yap wowed a crowd of about 200 people -- from premiere fashion critics to family and friends -- as models walked the runway donned in his authentic Hawaii designs.
"He just took us to the next level," said Manuhealii owner Danene Lum, one of the attendees. "We're never going to be considered the little island that just makes clothes in bright colors and Hawaiian style. We're what people look to for their inspiration and he just let everyone know we have a good story to tell and it's meaningful."
The show kicked off with traditional Native Hawaiian protocols -- from 'oli and hula to a dressing ceremony known as Kakua Pa'u.
"It only makes sense that we start there and we start with something ancient and traditional where we vest and we speak the words where we recite our kupuna through these chants that honor adornments for the body," said Manaola.
Yap had just weeks to prepare after being invited to attend New York Fashion Week.
Organizers and longtime New York Fashion Week producers said this was a fashion show unlike any other that has ever been presented in New York City -- and that's why it was one of the hottest tickets in town with RSVPs from some of the industry's premiere fashion critics like InStyle, Vogue, Elle, Harper's Bazaar and Forbes.
Manaola's younger sister, Asialynn, participated in both the pa'u ritual and performing two kahiko numbers.
"It's everything to us because it really helps us stay true to who we are as Hawaiians. Hula has definitely been the foundation for our artistic mediums, so bringing that sense of culture in there really helps to keep us strong too, you know spiritually and that's what I feel makes the designs so much more," said Asialynn.
The fashion show -- like the brand -- was a true family affair. Manaola's mother, Nani Lim Yap, and aunt, Lorna Lim, both Na Hoku Hanohano Award winners, also sang. The 'ohana says they are extremely proud of what 30-year-old Manaola has already accomplished, and they were extremely excited about the future for all Hawaii's fashion designers.
"Although he is young and he is making a statement for himself -- really, it is for all of Hawaii, because the eyes will now look at Hawaii as a place that honors. We have fashion here, we have something to share in this industry. It's going to be wonderful for everyone," said Nani.
Manaola says success for him was making sure that he did his ancestors justice.
"I know they're smiling," he said after the show. "I could feel my grandmother's essence with me. It's been pretty intense being in this space and having my ohana with me."