Shop Wearable Kapa and Learn Native Hawaiian Culture with Pūkoʻa Studios
This business uses a traditional Hawaiian material to create wearable art.
Not many people are familiar with kapa (Hawaiian bark cloth), but designer and artist Page Chang is turning that around. Chang is the owner of Pūkoʻa Studios, a business that sells kapa as fine and wearable works of art. Through prints and fashion accessories, Chang is revitalizing this traditional artform.
The mixed-race Hawaiian artist was born and raised in Washington D.C and growing up, Chang recalls a minimal connection to her Indigenous background. She felt tied to her Hawaiian heritage only on occasional visits to the Islands or when subjected to stereotypes of Hawaiian women on the mainland. When Chang moved to Oʻahu as an adult, she immersed herself in Hawaiian culture in hopes of making up for what she didn’t learn during her childhood.
“Most of us who are Hawaiian and raised away from Hawaiʻi, we are so hungry for the culture and knowledge—especially native knowledge, Indigenous knowledge,” Chang says.
That’s how kapa came in.
Chang began learning the craft when she took on the task of creating an art project for her family reunion. During this time, she taught herself how to make natural dyes from foraged plants. Of course, Chang needed a canvas to display them. With a friend also interested in learning the art of kapa, Chang found a kumu (teacher) and the rest is history.
Kapa is made from the skinny, but resourceful wauke (mulberry tree). Chang now grows hundreds of the slim trees in her backyard in Waimānalo on Oʻahu. With about four variations among 500 trees, Chang can keep producing kapa for generations. And Pūkoa Studios is a perfect reflection of this longevity.
The business is titled after Chang’s Hawaiian name, Pūkoʻa. Her father gave her the name when she enrolled in a Hawaiian language class in her twenties. “Pūkoʻa means a coral reef that grows slowly, but eventually takes root and becomes an island with the proper means,” Chang explains. “So, I was thinking of trying to create a space that was conducive to helping other people grow.” It’s this goal that motivated Chang to not only share the art of kapa, but create a flourishing studio environment where artists can also learn from each other.
From jewelry to decorative hat bands, Chang’s products reflect contemporary fashion but are grounded in the traditional process and practice of kapa making. Each piece of kapa is given a Hawaiian name, just like Chang herself, which is inspired by the handmade pattern that is either stamped or hand-painted with natural dye on the bark cloth.
“It’s just so amazing to not only make the art and come up with the imagery and patterns, but also do it from the ground up,” Chang says.
Everything Chang incorporates in her artistic process is completely sustainable. From growing butterfly pea flowers for dyes in her backyard to carving her own iʻe kuku (wooden kapa beater) with the help of her husband Geoff, Chang connects to her art on a deep level.
In addition to selling products online, Chang also facilitates educational workshops on Oʻahu that teach residents and visitors how to create their own pieces of kapa. From choosing a trunk of wauke to pounding the bark with Chang’s handmade tools, participants are involved in every step.
Through her business and ongoing research of kapa, Chang hopes to contribute to a more sustainable future in Hawaiʻi. “[I’m always wondering,] how can we have kapa moving forward with the times, with our culture, honoring the process and the plant,” Chang says. “Also, how can we take it to a place where it becomes a sustainable resource that we can actually use and it can replace something in our lives.”