Cushion Couture

Images by Jonas Maon

Images by Jonas Maon

On June 27, Virginia Paresa will be one of 19 local designers presenting at HI Design Commune, a fashion show meets marketplace at Kaka‘ako Agora (and it’s free!). Learn more here.

In Virginia Paresa’s backyard, there is an old payphone hooked up to empty air. Nearby is a trail that leads right up the mountain. Within sight of the front porch, where she and her boyfriend occasionally barbecue, one wave curls cleanly, framed by lush treetops. Two longboards rest on the grass. In Hau‘ula, Honolulu seems merely a bad dream. It’s hard to conjure a life here that isn’t full of afternoon naps and hours-long surf sessions, the smooth way time can fly by in a small island town. But in the front room with windows looking out at the view, where fuchsia Mylar balloons proclaim her recent birthday, “3-0,” Paresa spends nearly every waking hour that she’s not at her full-time job as assistant store manager at Kahala Sportswear in Hale‘iwa laboring to create a brand taken seriously not only in Hawai‘i, but beyond.

That, however, is still a dream, albeit one very much within reach. Paresa got her degree from University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa in apparel product design and merchandising and shortly after moved to New York City, where she worked for KaufmanFranco as an assistant patternmaker (their couture dresses often appear on the red carpet) and Qi Cashmere as an assistant designer. Afterward, she returned to Hawai‘i and worked at Nordstrom and Saffron James. In her spare time, she launched projects like necklaces that made their way into the pages of Lucky Magazine and a T-shirt collaboration with her sister, artist Dana Paresa. But in 2014, when she formally established her self-titled company, she found it headed not to womenswear, but in the direction of what she calls “home”—cushion covers, pillows, throws.

“I started with home because I had redecorated the house a while back, and people were asking me about it,” she says. For the makeover, she had gone on a hunt for new rattan cushion covers, but, finding nothing she liked, made her own. Now, they are available in all of O‘ahu’s Don Quijote stores. (In January, she was wiping the sweat off her brow after filling an order for more than 300 pieces.) Each is made through The Cut Collective, a fashion incubator-factory hybrid company based in Mānoa, which coordinates the manufacturing locally.

NMG_VirginiaParesa-24“Some of the prints are safer,” Paresa says. “I try to give a traditional one and then challenge people with more of an outrageous one just to push it. I want people to understand that the brand, especially the home stuff, is about a different kind of print.” She handpicks each fabric, sourcing from India (courtesy of hours of Google searches) and the streets of New York City (analog style, with a splash of haggling).

Paresa learned to sew at the tender age of 9, when she decided she wanted to make a pair of shorts and asked her mom for help. “OK,” her mom said in response. “Teach yourself how to make some.” After what we can assume was a bit of pouting, she confronted her mom’s sewing machine armed with its manual, some old fabric, and a few books. She made Christmas stockings, shorts, and a skirt.

By the end of this year, Paresa plans to introduce womenswear to her brand. But she’s not rushing it. “I take it very seriously, which is why I wait a really long time before I release something,” she says. “If I’m not 100 percent behind it, I’m not going to do it.” She dreams of a style involving less print and more structural design than her home creations. Beyond that simple print on a long dress, she wants to create something that can be worn just as easily in New York City as in the islands.

“I’ve always cared about fashion, even from when I was way small,” she says. “As I got older, I’ve always been interested in the manipulation of clothing and how it interacts with people. Like, what you wear, what you look like in high school, how it defines who you are possibly, who you hang out with, or how people treat you.” While she discusses this, she reclines on rattan cushion covers that are a bold red with a busy pattern, one of those prints she selected to challenge people.

“Now, because it’s my own company, it’s just translating my point of view on clothing and [seeing] how that affects the way someone feels. … I think about those things when I’m making something. Does she see that number value in the item, is she willing to trade six hours of work for a dress?”

Across the living space, a three-cushion couch below windows looking out on the backyard is set aside for Alvin, the resident dog. Two nearby rooms are reserved for her boyfriend, Aren Souza, who along with having a yard maintenance business, glasses surfboards and records music. They seem to rarely cross paths, she says, since they are both so busy. To her, this mutual independence is empowering to them both. “I feel like your job as a person is to push yourself as far as you can go,” she says, “to really reach your full potential.”

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