Designer Matt Bruening is a born-and-bred product of Hawai‘i. He was raised in Mākaha on O‘ahu’s west side, where miles and miles of warm white-sand beach set the backdrop of his childhood. He answers the phone with a hearty “Howzit?!” He goes to the ocean to meditate. His calf sports a tattoo of a palm tree. For Bruening, who is part Native Hawaiian, the Hawaiian Islands are not a stereotyped form of paradise—they are home.
Consequently, with his eponymous named clothing line, Bruening’s designs pay homage to the world in which he grew up—a world of contrasts, where outside perspectives differed from his everyday experiences. As such, structured tops are fitted with an asymmetrical ruffle resembling the curve of a wave; jumpsuits, long and lean, imitate the fluidity of the ocean; knits and surplus jackets emblazoned with the words “Feel no waves,” a play on the Drake song “Feel No Ways,” reflect the calm, collected attitude Bruening takes when hit with life’s ups and downs.
As a child, Bruening recalls weekends spent at the beach, camping at Mākua Beach with his family. “My dad would pack the buckets, we would catch fish, throw net, pick uni,” he says. “That was our Disneyland. We couldn’t afford to go on any trips, but that was way better. … Yes I grew up in a so-called ‘rough neighborhood,’ but to me, it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth, our little slice of paradise.”
Growing up “deprived of privileges other people had,” as Bruening says, only pushed him more. Television, the Internet of the early 2000s, provided the budding creative with a window to the world. The glittering lights of the fashion industry beckoned, like those that shone on endless runway shows playing on Style TV. “A big influence for me was the lines that emerged from hip-hop culture,” he says. “What I saw them wearing, we couldn’t get here in Hawai‘i.”
Designing for need as well as function is a concept that continues to inform Bruening’s aesthetic today. In addition to developing his own clothing line, Bruening is also the creative director for Salt Liko, a resort-wear line specializing in unique prints and casual everyday wear. “What I present is what a modern-day Hawaiian would do, which is use craft to benefit society,” Bruening says. “My craft involves dressing women … so I want to address the needs that people see everywhere else in the world, but tailored to people here in Hawai‘i.”