Q&A with Hawaiʻi Fashion Designer Micah Kamohoali‘i
After a groundbreaking debut at New York Fashion Week in 2021, Dezigns by Kamohoali‘i put an international spotlight on Hawai‘i fashion.
Descending from a long line of Hawaiian artisans, Micah Kamohoali‘i is a renowned kumu hula (hula teacher), traditional kapa (bark cloth) artist and fashion designer. In 2005, he launched Dezigns by Kamohoali‘i, in which he weaves traditional Hawaiian designs into modern styles. Following his September 2021 show at New York Fashion Week, Kamohoali‘i opened two stores on O‘ahu and recently put Hawai‘i’s fashion on international stages in London, Milan and Paris.
What was your first introduction to clothing design?
I feel like it’s been a part of my whole life and that’s because my family comes from kapa people. My great-grandmother was a part of the group of people responsible for bringing back the art of the bark cloth—kapa. When silks from China and cottons from America made it to Hawai‘i in the 1800s, less and less kapa was being produced and eventually it just disappeared. But my great-grandparents were still making it. They were one of the last kapa families and it’s been passed on in my family. I learned to do it when I was young, and it was my introduction to fabric.
Along with being a kapa maker, you’re a kumu hula. How long have you been a kumu hula?
I started dancing when I was about 3 years old. My grandparents on my father’s side are the kapa people, and my grandparents on my mother’s side are the hula people. It worked out because kapa is the fabric of the hula community. My mother’s side were kumu hula for many generations, even tracing to King Kalākaua’s court dancers. When it was time for the next generation to take over the hālau, my grandmother chose me. I was young, I was only about 19 years old when I took the hālau over, so, it’s been about 20 years.
How does hula influence your fashion designs?
Being a hula dancer opens your senses to the rest of the world. You look at rain, land, wind and water very differently. Everything becomes very inspiring. Through the lens of hula, it allows a person to become in tune with their surroundings.
You not only brought your family to New York Fashion Week in 2021 but also put them on the runway in your designs. What was the energy like at your show?
I brought my own models because I needed Native Hawaiian models in every shape, size and age. I wanted the world to see what Hawai‘i has to offer. When my 70-year-old auntie walked down with her gray hair, everyone stood up because the queen was in the house. When you watch fashion week, the audience just snaps their fingers. When we hit that runway, people were screaming like they were at a football game.
To shop Kamohoali‘i’s collections, visit dbkamohoalii.com. His stores are located at Pearlridge Center and Windward Mall.
This story was originally published in our 2022 Fall issue. Buy a copy here.