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Our story began in old Hawai’i when life was simpler and there was time to walk barefoot and dream. The vision to share the beauty and style of the islands through fashion came alive while Edith and Keiji Kawakami sat side by side on the beach watching waves crashing on the shore. The year was 1953, and our IOLANI became a reality.
The first factory, a rickety old shack with dirt floors, was nestled just above ‘Iolani Palace. The Kawakami’s thought to honor that location and the history of the Hawaiian monarchy by naming their company IOLANI Sportswear. They then drew from their own ancestors’ ethic of hard work, honesty, and a commitment to excellence. To this mix, they added their dream and their journey began. Today, IOLANI is one of the oldest and most respected clothing companies in Hawaii. We proudly commemorate more than a half-century of made-in-Hawai’i island fashions.
At the outset, IOLANI was known for its original “Kabe Silk” kimono print men’s shirts. Brightly colored fabrics were printed in Japan and imported to Hawaii where they were cut and sewn into “Aloha” shirts. Today, many of these original IOLANI shirts are prized by shirt collectors around the world. One such shirt is proudly displayed in the IOLANI Factory.
In the early 1960’s, men’s designer Jackson Morisawa joined the IOLANI ‘ohana. A trained graphic designer, Jackson applied fine stitch work, lace, flocking and embroidery to solid bodies. These details became recognizable trademarks for IOLANI. Each style of shirt was given a name, such as the Hapa Jac, the Beau Tiki, the Don Ho, the Wedding shirt and the Executive. The IOLANI shirt soon became the shirt of choice for dignitaries and movie stars.
Designer “Kiyomi” Hirose developed the women’s line for IOLANI. She was educated at the Parsons School of Design in New York, and later trained in New York under legendary couture designer Pauline Trigere. Upon returning to Hawaii, Kiyomi joined the IOLANI ‘ohana and the “Kiyomi” dress quickly became known for its beauty. Even today, her designs are considered timeless and elegant.
Keiji and Edith, Kiyomi and Jackson have long since retired. We have a new team of designers and a third generation of Kawakami’s at the helm. The basic IOLANI business philosophy still holds fast but this younger generation adds new innovations and style. Contemporary looks and directions continue to carry us onward.
In an effort to explode the comfort zone for men, we offer “IO-SPORT.” The IO-SPORT shirt uses our newly developed high tech fabric for a cool comfortable “beach to boardroom” approach to life. “Kamalei” is inspired by hula. The “Kamalei” dress offers grace, beauty and sophistication while addressing the comfort and needs of the hula dancer. IOLANI is still our flagship label as we bring new designs and fabrications to both the women’s and men’s line. Most recently, we have taken new directions with our really adorable Keiki (children’s) line “Rolling Lava Rox” and we are proud to honor the plus sized women as we present “Kapiolani.”
Today, decades after the first stitch was sewn, IOLANI proudly holds its place of honor in island fashion. Yes, that dirt floor has been paved, and high rises block our views, but we still work hard to create the look of IOLANI and we try our utmost to have fun while we do it. So, whether your paradise is in the middle of the Pacific or simply in your heart, we hope you’ll understand why we say~ “at IOLANI shoes have been optional since 1953.”