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  • Lindsey Millerd

Hawaii's female designers take the stage at New York Fashion Week

Photo courtesy Olona Media

Upon receiving their invitations to the 2022 New York Fashion Week, two Wahine-owned fashion brands from Hawaii, Lotus and Lime and Ola Hou Designs, could barely believe it.

In a HI Now interview, Kimberly Ryusaki of Lotus and Lime said, “I thought they had the wrong number… It was shocking.”

Photo courtesy Olona Media

Lotus and Lime is run by Kimberly and Jade Alexis Ryusaki, a mother-daughter duo who live on Oahu. Kimberly started designing around 30 years ago and started the Lotus and Lime label around 2012. After accepting her invitation to NYFW, she asked her daughter, who already worked as the brand’s creative director, to join the design process with her.

Kimberly’s father is Japanese and her mother Hawaiian, and they combine elements of both cultures in their clothing. They are a resort brand that specializes in pieces like kimonos, wrap pants, and jumpsuits, using lightweight fabrics to create effortless looks.

“I always say that it emulates my mom because she’s so regal and the clothes just flow so elegantly,” Jade Alexis said in the same interview.

Photo courtesy Olona Media

As for Ola Hou Designs, the brand is run by Sharayah Chun-Lai of Hawaii island. She is a graduate of the Fashion Design and Merchandising program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

“Ola Hou’s literal meaning translates to ‘New Life’. My goal is to bring forth new styles and designs that fit into the modern Hawaiian inspired clothing that we call Aloha Wear,” Chun-Lai shares on her website.

In an interview with KHON2 News, Chun-Lai shared what it was like receiving the phone call from the runway director.

They told her, “We love the prints and the story that you tell behind it… we would love to have you tell your story on the runway.” Chun-Lai said she broke down in tears after the call.

She has only had her business for around two years, but caught the attention of NYFW directors who have been following Ola Hou Designs on social media. They have a wide selection, including everything from aloha shirts to sleepwear. On Ola Hou’s website, Chun-Lai makes it a point to share the inspiration behind her custom prints, many of which are dedicated to her family members.

Photo courtesy Chris Balidio

The infamous NYFW has shows featuring well-established brands as well as more up-and-coming labels. Both local designers were hosted by Runway 7, a “world class platform and fashion incubator for independent designers and renowned brands alike,” according to Fashionado, a fashion and lifestyle brand.

In addition to New York, there are also shows in London, Milan, and Paris. These four cities are known as the “fashion capitals” of the world. The events bring together the most influential designers and publicists in the fashion industry, sharing and popularizing trends worldwide.

Since accepting their invitations in October, both brands were hard at work to prepare for the runway. Not only did they have to select and create the clothing, they also had to rehearse with their models and performers.

Most of the models were brought up from Hawaii, so it was exciting to see a diverse group of individuals that resembled our population here. It was especially impactful for Ola Hou Designs, who selected a group of Native Hawaiian models.

On Feb. 10, both teams were at the Sony Hall, ready for showtime. Along with over 30 other brands from around the world, they waited for their turn in the lineup.

Skip to 5:53 for the start of Lotus and Lime's runway show

Lotus and Lime’s show began to the beat of taiko drums. A samurai swordsman and performers with gold fans did a routine, setting the tone for the Japanese-inspired styles to come.

The opening look was a beautiful layered outfit. As the model spun around and spread her arms, the loose kimono and oversized shawl were on full display, showing off the gold lining, colorful patchwork, and hand-painted koi along the back.

Photo courtesy Weston Mosburg

Some of my personal favorites from the show were their halter jumpsuits with wrap-pant legs. The backless cut and extra volume from the wrap-pants made these jumpsuits extra flattering and gave just the right amount of drama.

Photo courtesy Weston Mosburg

Another standout piece for me was a short kimono-style dress. The iridescent blue fabric was divine and the thick gold waistband with tassels brought the entire look together. With a non-traditional fabric, shortened hem, and tailored sleeves, it showcased a modern and universal kimono. The piece was a part of their Ocean segment, which featured styles inspired by the sands and waters of Hawaii.

Photo courtesy Rachel Kress

I also really enjoyed their menswear which emulated a perfect balance of minimalism and intricacy. The outfits had flowy black pants and detailed kimonos or vests as the focal point. They showed a delicate side of men’s fashion that is still powerful without the same rigidity of typical menswear.

Lotus and Lime used simpler silhouettes to let the fabric’s distinctive prints, textures, and sheens speak for themselves. For example, kalo leaves run through their Genealogy print, a subtle nod to Hawaii. Looking at the outfits up close will make you really appreciate the deep thought that went into each look.

Skip to 3:36 for the start of Ola Hou Design's runway show

Ola Hou Designs opened their show with the blowing of a conch shell and an oli (Hawaiian chant). It transitioned into local artists who performed Hawaiian reggae music and a trio of hula dancers. The live music continued throughout the show, matching the high energy outfits.

Photo courtesy Olona Media

The first eye-catching piece down the runway was a high-low skirt with a bubble hem in a print that resembled ʻaʻaliʻi, a native shrub. It was paired with a leather tube top and long leather gloves, an edgy fabric that recurred throughout the collection.

Photo courtesy Olona Media

They showcased unique prints in almost every color of the rainbow. It was especially refreshing to see these patterns on non-traditional aloha garments like bomber jackets, blazers, and tailored pants.

For the women, it was the crop top and maxi skirt combinations that took my breath away. An ethereal feather printed set made with a flowy fabric and brown leather crisscrossed detailing was fit for a goddess. The teal silk set with a tiered skirt and purple Hawaiian Quilt set with oversized puff sleeves were other stunning outfits.

Female models had their hair braided or side-swept and adorned with colorful anthuriums. Along with dangly earrings and simple necklaces, they created cohesive looks that perfectly captured a timeless Hawaiian grace.

The menswear included matching outerwear and long pants, not shying away from bold colors and prints. The red denim set with a wave-like marbled pattern was one of my favorites of the whole show. Patterns that mimic other parts of nature besides the normal tropical florals, seem like the future of aloha wear to me.

Photo courtesy Jordan Lacsina

Lotus and Lime and Ola Hou designs made Hawai‘i proud and I can’t wait to see what they will create in the future. Chun-Lai perfectly summed up the significance for both of these local designers making it to NYFW.

“I’m very honored for this opportunity and just to be able to show the world that here in Hawaii we can do what everyone else is doing. I’m excited to be able to inspire and I hope I do inspire young women, entrepreneurs, and designers that want to follow their passion.”

Check out both brands’ websites:

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