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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 4, 2010

Still in fashion


By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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One of my favorite things about this job has been discovering and reporting on emerging Hawai'i designers. For my final style column, I thought it would be fun to revisit four of the designers I have covered during the past 15 years, to see what they're doing now.

FIGHTING EEL

From living room to Elle, Lucky and New York Times

I first met designers Rona Bennett and Lan Chung at agnes b. boutique (an old fave of mine), where they worked together. When agnes b. closed, they decided to pursue their dream of designing. I interviewed them as they cut a dress on the living room floor.

The vibe: Sexy, simple dresses and tops.

Accomplishments: Fighting Eel creates seven collections a year, each with 12 to 15 pieces mainly dresses, but more separates and tops have been developed recently; cardigans too. The clothing is available all over Honolulu at Nordstrom, Second Skin, The Butik, Becca Beach in The Kahala Hotel & Resort and Mary Z's in Kailua, as well as 250 boutiques across the Mainland; www.fightingeel.com.

What's new/next? The partners will open a flagship store on the corner of Pauahi and Bethel streets in Chinatown. Their entire line will be sold there, as well as a bridal collection and hand-picked accessories by other designers. Next door, they'll have a T-shirt shop called the TeeTee Bar. They plan to do more keiki clothes in addition to mother-daughter dresses, rompers and beach cover-ups.

ROBERTA OAKS, 31, 'ĀINA HAINA

From beachside sales to an international clientele

We first met Roberta when she was guerilla retailing, selling pretty frocks from racks on North Shore beaches. I remember helping her set up a tent at a surf meet, only to be asked to leave by the event organizers. We packed up and moved to another beach and before we could set up, women were flocking to buy dresses with cash in hand.

Her vibe: She's all about playful, fashionable, ethical alternatives to mainstream clothing companies.

What's new: Oaks opened her own boutique at 19 Pauahi St., where she often hosts other emerging designers such as Sierra Dew and she loves the energy and creative collaborations that go on in Chinatown. She's open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, and until 9 p.m. on first and third Fridays; robertaoaks.com.

Accomplishments: Roberta Oaks designs are now sold in more than 150 boutiques in Hawai'i, on the Mainland, online and in Japan, Canada and the Caribbean. She creates two main collections a year about 10 styles in three colorways each with sub-collections introduced monthly. This year she will introduce holiday and prom designs.

What's next? Japan! She has been discovered by the Japanese media, so she plans to go to a trade show in Tokyo (in lieu of Las Vegas) in August to explore the market for her designs.

IOLANI SPORTSWEAR

Always about the 'ohana

The 57-year-old company was perking along, doing well with sales but in a bit of a creative rut until the third generation of the Kawakami family, Nick, brought his energy to the firm, catapulting the men's wear into the 21st century with the line I'o. Then model Sarah Noyle got involved, inspiring fresh, youthful women's designs under the label Kamalei.

The vibe: Island wear with a firm foothold in the past but a view to the future.

What's new: This month, Iolani is opening its first retail store, in the same location as its manufacturing plant, 1234 Kona St. In Kawakami family style, the shop will carry things made exclusively in Hawai'i by friends and family. Kitty Wo's blingy bags, photographs by Ric and Zac Noyle, Wishing Bridge jewelry and omiyage from Kaua'i Kitchens are a few of the offerings.

The shop is designed to provide a glimpse into the company's past, as well as offering a history lesson about clothing in Hawai'i since 1953, when the company was founded by Edith and Keiji Kawakami. There will be history panels regarding the aloha shirt and how a textile design is created.

Accomplishments: Iolani Sportswear is sold in Macy's, Hilo Hattie and the Navy Exchange.

What's next? Iolani will introduce a plus-size line as well as a children's line. The other family business, Mānoa DNA, will debut its third CD in late June, coinciding with the opening of the store.

ANDY SOUTH, 23, WAIKELE

On the brink of fame

When I first wrote about him in 2007, Andy was a student at my fashion alma mater, Honolulu Community College. Shy and soft spoken, he was respected by all of his peers as well as his teachers.

His vibe: A consummately talented designer, South creates couture in its purest sense.

What's new: He auditioned for "Project Runway's" eighth season and we are betting he will be the first Hawai'i resident to get in. We know he has the talent to win.

Accomplishments: Until recently, Andy was creating costumes for 24-VII Dance-force, where he learned how to make dramatic costumes that could move with the dancers. He was also assistant to Mahchid Mottale of Baik Baik, where he learned the business side of design. Now he's ready to focus full-time on his collections two a year.

His current, six-piece collection is inspired by Asian everyday clothing such as Japanese farmers' jackets and Thai fishermen's pants. His spring/summer 2011 collection is inspired by the Buddha Park in Vientiane, Laos, his ancestral home.

What's next? Designing, designing and more designing. "I want to put all my eggs in one basket." E-mail him at a_southiphong@yahoo.com.