In the span of eight months, three local fashion brands will have gained much under the guidance of the Creative Lab Fashion Immersive Program, a segment of Creative Lab founded in 2012 by the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism’s Creative Industries Division. In its inaugural year, the program, managed by The Cut Collective, a boutique design house located in the Mānoa Innovation Center, has transformed how budding Hawai‘i designers accelerate their companies, emphasizing growth in both the national and international markets. “We are so thrilled to be able to give support to all our talented local designers,” says Georja Skinner, the chief officer of the Creative Industries Division. “The creative labs will help put Hawai‘i on the map, encouraging growth in our community.”
After a five-day intensive workshop in July, founders behind three selected companies—menswear brand Salvage Public, jewelry brand A.Wattz Dezigns, and swimwear brand Peace of Paradise Creations—prepared for the L.A. Fashion Market, where they presented new lines and spoke with industry experts to explore investment and sales opportunities. Afterwards, the participants returned to Hawai‘i to attend mentoring sessions, and to create a final presentation debuting at booths during Honolulu Fashion Week.
In 2009, A.Wattz Dezigns began with then-30-year-old Amanda Watkins, a New Jersey-born massage therapist, looking for her next adventure upon moving to the islands. In the years since, her jewelry line has inched its way from her studio in Kaimukī to display cases of popular boutiques around the state, including Fighting Eel, Owens & Co., and Mikinola. During this time, and consistent with Watkins’ Gemini nature, her designs have taken on a dual personality: minimal and sleek, everyday and fun. Utilizing both metals and beads, Watkins makes clean and simple jewelry that is still eclectic enough for anyone looking to make a statement. “Just like O‘ahu, there are two different sides, the beach and the city,” the artist explains of the inspiration behind her jewelry style. “A lot of what I’m doing now is expanding on that.”
In addition to filling orders, Watkins works diligently on new creations, such as her complete line for spring/summer 2016 that debuted in October 2015 at the L.A. Fashion Market. Since being selected as one of the designers to take part in the Creative Lab Fashion Immersive Program, Watkins has honed in on a new approach to her business. “At first, I thought that I needed to make everything myself—that jewelry designers needed to,” she says. “But, what I’ve learned is that it’s not sustainable. You either have to let go of your big dreams or just go with it. For me, I’d rather have someone right here in Honolulu making something I trained them to do, keeping the integrity of the brand intact.”
If there’s one brand that has taken traditional surf style and made it contemporary and wearable, it’s Salvage Public. You may have seen their soft organic-cotton T-shirts with bold lettering like “SURF HNL” on the fashion set who peruse boutiques, including Oliver Men’s Shop, Rebecca Beach, Owens and Co., Clips Hawaii, To the Sea, Greenroom Hawaii, and Specialme. The brains behind this Honolulu menswear brand are Nāpali Souza and brothers Joseph and Noah Serrao.
Salvage Public was born in 2012, when Joseph moved back from Los Angeles, where he worked in commercial real estate, in order to pursue his dream of starting a modern aesthetic surf brand. He recruited high school friend Souza, who was now an attorney in Kailua, and his brother Noah, who was working for a renewable energy company in California. T, the trio—intrigued by typography and imagery, and inspired by their childhoods spent surfing in Waikīkī—worked together to infuse old memories, emotions, and experiences into the brand. “This is who we are as individuals,” Souza says. “For a lot of people, you go astray, you do things because you’re led down a certain path. But, underneath it all, there’s this hunger for creative expression, beauty, and fun.”
Along with a fresh new crop of T-shirts, Salvage Public’s summer 2016 collection will see a complete look inspired by the south shore of O‘ahu, including long-sleeve button-up shirts, nylon board shorts, and hats. Under the direction of the Fashion Immersive Program, the trio utilized their time in Los Angeles to meet with buyers, investors, and manufacturing sources. “So far, it’s been a good kick in the butt, and a great launching point for us to be like, ‘We’re here, and we’re hoping to make a full menswear collection,’” Joseph says. “We’re stoked on it through this whole time.”
Four years ago, Brooke Hauguel was browsing the racks at a Honolulu boutique, frustrated to find nothing in her size. “There were no options for plus-size women,” she recalls. It wasn’t the first time she had left a shop empty-handed—or disappointed. “Shopping should be retail therapy,” she says. “No one should walk out feeling depressed.” With the average dress size in the United States being a size 14, Hauguel was perplexed at the scarcity of plus-size fashions. That’s when she decided to take matters into her own hands. The only problem, recalls Hauguel, who was working as a medical assistant at the time, was that she had no idea how to do it.
But she had received a sewing machine from her grandmother, along with several boxes of material, so she turned to the internet to teach herself. After a period of trial and error (which included a few bloody fingers and a trip to the emergency room), Hauguel discovered she had a natural knack for fashion design—and, much to her surprise, a talent for making swimwear. The budding designer made a few suits for herself and some of her friends. After she set up shop on online marketplace Etsy, requests began to pour in from all over the world, and she decided it was time for a career change.
Four years later, Hauguel designs and makes custom swimwear and activewear by hand for sizes 0 to 22-plus under her line Peace of Paradise Creations, which offers more than 100 styles to choose from and patterns available to suit every taste. The crowd favorites this season? Pineapples and cats. Her eye for design has not gone unnoticed: She’s racked up her fair share of awards, and debuted her latest collection at the L.A. Fashion Market. “There are big things on the horizon, but my business will never lose its custom aspect,” she says. “I want anyone who wears my suits to feel peace—and feel free to be themselves.”