From Waimea to the runway, a Hawaii designer is about to take on NYC

Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 3:49 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 20, 2021 at 5:25 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kapa artist, kumu hula and designer Micah Kamohoalii of Waimea comes from a family of kapa makers.

His clothing company, Dezigns by Kamohoalii, launched in 2005 with his traditional kapa designs on modern fabric. His brand is popular among the crowds particularly at the Merrie Monarch Festival along with various pop-up shops.

But on Sept. 9, his designs will launch to a new platform as he prepares to share the stage with international names at New York Fashion Week. He’s said to be the first Hawaii designer on Runway 7 in Sony Hall in Times Square.

Other Native Hawaiians who’ve taken part in New York Fashion Week include Kini Zamora and Manaola Yap.

Kamohaolii says the invite came out of the blue and fashion executives told him they had him on their radar for several years.

“It started with an email and I actually threw it away. I tossed it in the trash of my email and then something told me I should go back and look at it,” Kamohoalii told Hawaii News Now.

Kamohoalii says during his first zoom meeting with Fashion Week executives, he was swamped with Hawaii events.

“I was cracking some jokes and I think it took a while for them to open up to me. They are very New York so it’s very business,” said Kamohoalii.

“I’m just too slammed right now. There’s so much things going on. Big festivals. I really can’t comprehend this conversation. Can we do this next week? And they just started laughing. They said nobody ever tells us that, but we love you,” he added.

They called again and that’s when he got the official invite.

“Very overwhelming. Exciting. I started to get emotional. Just being invited to something like that scale,” he said.

Kamohoalii says his designs tell stories of his family, Hawaii island and the environment.

“Our fashion is not just coconut bras and grass skirts, but show deep connection that our clothing is spiritual. It tells stories. It’s meaningful,” he said.

He says his fashion designs first started garnering attention when he made a custom dress for his cousin who went to the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards.

“Velvet on the top. Kapa on the bottom and people went crazy for it. They loved it so I started to transfer those designs from kapa designs to modern fabric,” said Kamohoalii.

Before Fashion Week, Kamohaolii needs to raise at least $60,000 to cover even fees, along with airfare to take his all-star family members to New York City. His entourage includes cousin Amy Hanaialii, designer Nita Pilago, his aunty, and team of Hawaiian models.

He’s also working on a website revamp in anticipation of new orders.

“I’m like yes. We are ready. We are working on it. All of that,” said Kamohaolii. “Partnering with Hawaii and taking all of Hawaii with us,” he added.

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