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OHA’s mediation efforts help turn a controversy into a beautiful collaboration between Italian fashion designer REDValentino and Native Hawaiian fashion designers.

Sometimes, a little aloha goes a long way.

In July, Italian fashion brand REDValentino announced that three Native Hawaiian designers will be featured in REDValentino’s submission to a prestigious London arts festival this September, as part of an ongoing collaboration between the Italian luxury fashion brand, Maison Valentino, and the Native Hawaiian community.

The Native Hawaiian designs will be featured on REDValentino’s special capsule collection dedicated to London’s prestigious annual floral art show – Chelsea in Bloom, part of an ongoing partnership between the renowned brand and the Native Hawaiian community.

The Native Hawaiian designers are Kēhaulani Nielson of Kahulaleʻa; Manaola Yap of MANAOLA; and Kini Zamora. They will each produce a specially designed textile pattern to be incorporated with REDValentino’s ready-to-wear collection. The collection will debut in REDValentino’s display at the Chelsea in Bloom Festival in London.

“It’s exciting to have our culture and art featured alongside some of the most respected and famous fashion designers in the world,” Zamora said. “The opportunity to showcase our work at the Chelsea in Bloom Festival raises the profiles of Native Hawaiian designers as well as the growing fashion industry in Hawaiʻi. Hopefully, this will open more doors for us internationally and inspire other young Kānaka to chase their dreams.”

The Chelsea in Bloom Festival features a renowned floral art competition among the affluent area’s hotels, restaurants, and retail stores, which includes some of the most influential international fashion brands.

With the theme of “Extraordinary Voyages,” this year’s festival is scheduled for Sept. 20 through Sept. 25. The Native Hawaiian designer project has the full support of REDValentino. The brand is Maison Valentino’s contemporary line, which was founded in 1960 by Italian designer Valentino Garavani.

REDValentino and the Native Hawaiian artists collaborated on the designs to be featured at the Chelsea in Bloom Festival. In addition, the final Native Hawaiian designs will be sold at REDValentino’s Ala Moana store and through the brand’s eCommerce.

This ongoing collaboration between REDValentino and the Native Hawaiian community stems from a controversy with the Italian fashion company’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection. In late February, REDValentino released images on its social media of one of its new designs that featured a well-known Native Hawaiian ʻulu (breadfruit) quilting pattern, without acknowledging its origins.

The Instagram post received hundreds of comments accusing REDValentino of cultural appropriation.

Shortly thereafter, REDValentino reached out to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) to initiate a dialogue with the Native Hawaiian community. REDValentino also removed the ʻulu design from its online store but left the Instagram post in the spirit of transparency and accountability.

OHA’s first move was to connect REDValentino with Aunty Vicky Holt Takamine, a highly respected kumu hula, force of nature, and the leader of the ‘Īlioʻulaokalani Coalition, a political advocacy group of kumu hula and other cultural practitioners. The coalition has been a leader for more than two decades in protecting Native Hawaiian intellectual property rights.

The three designers were invited by Takamine, who is also the executive director of the PAʻI Foundation and the producer of the annual MAMo Wearable Arts Show – a showcase of Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners – to participate in this collaboration with REDValentino.

Photo: Hawaii Themed Clothing

Over the next few months, OHA helped facilitate discussions between the ʻĪlioʻulaokalani Coalition, Native Hawaiian quilters and designers, and REDValentino.

“For decades, the Native Hawaiian community has fought to protect our traditions and culture from commercial exploitation by some of the largest corporations in the world. From the start, it was clear that this incident was going to result in a positive resolution because REDValentino wanted to make this pono. They were honest and not only said the right things, but did the right things,” Takamine said, adding, “After Chelsea in Bloom, we are working to launch another collaboration between the Valentino team and Native Hawaiian quilters.”

OHA’s Community Outreach Manager Davis Price and Public Policy Advocate Olan Leimomi Fisher were key players, along with Takamine, in bringing both sides to a successful resolution.

“Basically, OHA helped to bridge the gap between REDValentino executives and the Native Hawaiian artist community by helping to facilitate and guide discussions in a respectful and productive way,” Fisher said. “I am so proud of everyone at OHA for allowing REDValentino the opportunity to apologize and make amends for their mistake – instead of just calling them out for cultural appropriation and then walking away.

“Overall, this was a great example of how accountability and forgiveness can make way for amazingly unique and beautiful collaborations and creations by people of extremely different cultures and points of view. This story started with a big oversight and mistake, but with true accountability and humility, it led to forgiveness, understanding, and eventually respect, making space for an unlikely and wonderful partnership.”

Price was philosophical as well.

“REDValentino’s quick acknowledgment of their mistake and willingness to take corrective action was a major factor in finding a positive outcome,” he said. “Too often, entities that misappropriate Hawaiian culture or intellectual property fail to acknowledge their mistake, fail to give proper credit, and ultimately challenge the claims of the Hawaiian community. When the offending party acknowledges and apologizes, it opens the door for collaboration like this.

“REDValentino’s response to their initial misstep should serve as a model for all companies, internationally and locally, on how to respectfully engage when seeking to utilize something that belongs to the Native Hawaiian culture. The best first step is to meaningfully engage and include Native Hawaiians.”

“It has been a real extraordinary voyage towards appreciation and knowledge,” said Alessio Vannetti, chief brand officer of Maison Valentino. “Collaborating with Native Hawaiian creatives was not only a way to foster creativity, but also a means to raise awareness over a mesmerizing and intriguing culture; giving the right recognition, voice and the right meaning for a mutually beneficial exchange.

“Crossing cultures, meeting halfway to create a superb collaboration. This capsule collection is a dialogue made of common respect – a new language made of the traditional and the contemporary that can definitely be positive and enrich our souls.”

Designer Yap said that involvement in the project is due in part to the goodwill of REDValentino in making things pono with the cultural community.

“It is important for us to not just take control of our own narratives as Native Hawaiians, but also to uphold the spirit of aloha when people want to make things right,” Yap said. “Our ability to move forward as a lāhui is also in our ability to have these conversations and be a part of the solution. We are thrilled and honored to stand together with two other talented designers for the opportunity to share the cultural arts of Hawaiʻi on a global scale.”

“Principally, the humility and apologetic nature shown by REDValentino in addressing this situation is refreshing, given the long history of antagonistic behavior of executives from other companies that have appropriated Native Hawaiian culture,” said OHA CEO/Ka Pouhana Dr. Sylvia Hussey. “OHA greatly appreciates REDValentino’s efforts in accepting their wrongdoing and committing to working proactively with the Native Hawaiian community to rectify the issue and move forward.”

Price added that in the big picture, Native Hawaiians can stand with anyone in the world.

“The most important thing to take away from this is that Native Hawaiians have a great deal to contribute to the world, and can do so on the highest platforms,” he said. “When proper recognition is given to Native Hawaiians for the inspiration or creation of an idea, a piece of art, or a new business, then we have an opportunity to enhance that project by bringing the moʻolelo and moʻokūʻauhau of Hawaiʻi into that space. Everyone benefits when that happens.”

Waimea Designer Micah Kamohoali‘i invited to New York Fashion Week

Photo: Micah Kamohoaliʻi

Photo: Kini Zamora, Manaola Yap and Kēhaulani Nielson

Hawaiian fashionistas Kini Zamora, Manaola Yap and Kēhaulani Nielson arenʻt the only Native Hawaiian designers making headlines these days.

Kapa artist, kumu hula and designer Micah Kamohoaliʻi has been invited to participate in the New York Fashion Week Runway 7 Fashion showcase at Sony Hall in Times Square with his clothing company on Sept. 9, 2021. It is the first time a Native Hawaiian designer has been invited to present at this New York Fashion Week platform.

Kamohoaliʻi’s label, Dezigns by Kamohoaliʻi, is distinguishable for its traditional roots as he comes from a long lineage of kapa makers. Well known for being a trailblazer, Kamohoaliʻi said he is using this platform to lead and establish a relationship with the fashion industry, paving the way for other Kānaka Maoli to achieve their goals.

The multi-talented artist said that rural Hawaiʻi Island has very limited resources and even lesser opportunities for young aspiring models and talents. So Kamohoaliʻi has joined forces with the Hawaiʻi fashion showcase to take their veteran models to New York providing these young Native Hawaiians a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Kamohoaliʻi will be showcasing the art of kapa, collaborating with lauhala weavers and feather artisans and taking everyone to the main stage. He said his objective is to bring a Native Hawaiian team comprised of designers, models, Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award winners, powerful chanters and keepers of the culture to the international fashion scene to share his people’s cultural practices, arts, and fashion.

His cultural showcase will essentially be bringing Hawaiʻi to New York.

To help support the expense of sending a cast and crew to New York, a GoFundMe account has been created at gofund.me/8153c917.

Kamohoaliʻi is hoping to raise $60,000 to help send his team of 30 to attend fashion week.

In addition to serving as executive director of Hālau Nā Kīpuʻupuʻu, Kamohoaliʻi is the cultural chairman and cultural advisor for the Waimea Hawaiian Homesteaders’ Association.

Kamohoaliʻi is the son of Waimea Hawaiian Homesteaders Mike and Trisha Hodges. Mike is the president of the Waimea homestead association and the Hodges own Wow Farms.