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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, June 19, 2001

Island Style
Riding high on fashion

By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer

These designs are from Split USA's fall 2001 collection.

Split USA's take on must-haves for summer fashion

White, white, white, whether for bottoms or tops

Gold, because it goes well with a tan

Preppy styles, such as ribbon belts and tiny, fitted polo shirts

A denim mini skirt

Low-rise, slim, boot-cut jeans

A muscle T-shirt

Dual functions (as in a tank with a built-in bra)

No one who knows her is surprised that 24-year-old Jessica Langley, a 1995 Punahou School graduate, is already a designer for an up-and-coming garment company. It's all she has ever wanted, and she is a young woman of considerable energy and drive.

Langley has fashion in her genes. Her paternal grandparents, Joan and Nort Langley, opened Casual Aire women's resort wear shops in Honolulu, in 1958. Her parents, Linda and Larry Langley, ran Casual Aire until it closed in 1998.

Jessica learned to sew from her maternal grandmother, Lucille Niemitz, and was known for making aloha shirts, halter tops and bell bottoms for herself and her friends while in high school. During her teen years, she went along on buying trips for Casual Aire.

"Even then she had a flair for what was right and what was wrong," said her father, Larry Langley.

Jessica Langley attended Oregon State University and graduated in 1999 with a degree in apparel design. Her senior internship was with Split USA, a 12-year-old company based in Southern California specializing in surf, skate and snowboarding clothes for ages 15 to 24. Her college graduation coincided with the introduction of Split's new girls' line, and she slipped into a job as the in-house designer for the line.

As lead designer, Langley said, she has to come up with 100 new garments and accessories each fall and spring.

Where does she get her ideas? "I don't surf because I'm always at the office (in Santa Ana, Calif.). But I people-watch at the beach and in high schools to see what our actual consumers are wearing. I understand that they are always a little bit behind, so I take that into account," Langley explained.

She reads all the fashion magazines. Her favorite is Lucky, but she regularly checks out Surfing, Surfing Girl, Women's Wear Daily, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Teen Style, Mademoiselle and Marie Claire. She also gets inspiration from Japanese teen magazines such as Cutie. "It's totally weird but very fashion forward," she said, chuckling.

Television is also a source of inspiration. Langley watches E! and the Style Channel. "But it's behind sometimes. 'Sex and the City' is huge," she said. "I watch MTV to see what Britney and the pop stars are doing. And 'Friends,' of course."

She makes trips to New York twice a year with designers from other Split lines, but not for the Bryant Park fashion week extravaganzas. She stays in Soho and hits the streets there. "We check out all the Soho boutiques. If we see something we like, we buy it and borrow the ideas for details."

She visits Miami, also a big market for Split and one that she said is similar to Hawai'i. In addition, the company's sales managers talk to shop owners carrying the line to get feedback on what's selling and why.

Langley gets valuable insights from focus groups held twice a year with young women. "We give them pizza and show them the line, and they react to it," Langley said. "They tell us what they like and don't like, and what they would wear or not wear, and why."

For example, a focus group attendee may say she likes a denim mini but doesn't care for the front pocket. So Langley takes off the pocket.

Surfer Rachel Spear, left, a Split USA team rider, does the girly thing with the company's girls' line designer Jessica Langley, who was born and reared in Honolulu.
"What will sell? That's the bottom line," Langley said. "You work for someone, so you have to always answer the question: What will sell? Just because I love coral doesn't mean you'll see it in the line. The secret is to make it work and get it out before anyone else does."

Split sizes are based on the young body: sizes 1 to 11. Tops run from small to extra-large. Prices for tops range from $17 to $21, with bottoms running $38 to $50. Split USA can be found on O'ahu at Local Motion, Town & Country, Sera's Surf & Shore and Hawaiian Island Creations; on Maui at Honolua Surf and Hi-Tech; on Kaua'i at M. Miura Store and Deja Vu; on the Big Island, Big Island Surf.

Split's fall line, which is to arrive in Hawai'i stores this week, will feature grafitti on muscle tees (a trend attributed to Louis Vuitton) and a little punk influence with a Harley Davidson spin. Langley also designed clothes with a Western look: a flannel shirt and a cowboy style complete with pearl snaps. There are also a tuxedo top and low-rise pants, featuring a velvet strip on the sides for holiday.

Russ Inouye, Hawai'i sales manager for Split USA, said Langley's girls' line is doing exceptionally well here. "Sales are great. During the last six months there's been a fantastic response."

The competition? Roxy, Billabong and O'Neill, among others. "We don't have the same look, but we're in the same stores, so we compete with them," she said.

But her proud father isn't worried. "The company's on the way up," said Larry Langley, "and so is she."