Honolulu may be known for its white sand beaches and majestic Koʻolau Range but it is also homebase for a growing number of local and transplanted creatives inspired by Hawaii’s lush natural setting and unique Aloha vibe. With a blossoming independent boutique and entrepreneurial scene, there are no shortage of local brands to support: from stylish apparel, handmade accessories, and custom-made decor—and best of all, you won’t have to worry if they ship for free,
Rock a laidback (not tacky) Waikiki beach vibe instantly with an Aloha shirt from Kahala. Founded in 1936 by George Brangier and Nat Norfleet, its street cred is legit as the oldest operating apparel company in Hawaii and the first brand to manufacture aloha shirts. It’s still a family-owned business, and its unique prints reflect the vibrancy of the islands with limited edition pieces like Ship to Shore and Bright Sands featuring 1940s heritage designs. Look out also for one-off collaborative pieces featuring the designs of local artists and designers.
Island living can wreak havoc on the skin and no one knows better how to restore and heal it than its long-term residents. Ua Body (which means rain in Hawaiian) is a passion project started 30 years ago on the Big Island of Hawaii. Today, co-founder Leala Humbert continues her mother's mission harnessing the healing power of native plants like kukui oil and organic macadamia nut oil into soothing salves like Ua Body's Ekolu Body Butter and bottling up Big Island’s sandalwood forests into a nourishing Iliahi Dry Oil body moisturizer. Handcrafted in small batches, the clean, vegan skincare also contributes 1.5% of each sale to the Hawai'i Conservation Alliance.
Channeling Hawaiian goddess vibes is easy when dressed in one of Manaola Yap’s beautiful designs. The self-taught designer and well-regarded hula practitioner translates Hawaii's unique spirituality and natural beauty into printed threads that are unmistakably Manaola Hawaii. Made in limited quantities, if you spot a print you like, don’t deliberate too long as it sells out fast.
From ceramic shakas to matching Aloha couple outfits and pet bandanas decorated with vintage ukeleles, making a trip to Honolulu’s Downtown district to pop by Roberta Oaks' unique coffee bar/shop is well worth it. A favorite of the island’s hip-cool locals, there’s a strong curation focus to what makes it on the retail floor with plenty of handmade items (clothing, bric-a-brac, handbags, jewelry). For vintage collectors, its Vintage Textile Release aloha shirts are cult items.
Drinking a cup of Kona coffee is part of daily life in Hawaii. A specialty bean grown on the slopes of two volcanoes on Hawaii's Big Island, it’s a light roast with a hint of sweetness and chocolatey flavor. At Honolulu Coffee Experience Center learn all about the farm-to-cup process and have a first-hand look at their in-house roaster before picking up a bag of two of their Peaberry or Kona Estate Blend to enjoy. They offer Vida Mia Mondays if you are up for a coffee-tasting morning cruise down the coastline.
You’ll need a good hat to ward off the rays, and a handwoven pāpale (coconut palm hat) does the trick. woman-owned Coco Kealohi pops up at various farmers markets where you can watch the hand weaving process in action but they also sell at boutiques across the island. Wear it plain with uncut fronds or class it up with a lei po’o (flower crown or haku), the beauty of this waterproof, gender-neutral accessory is it gets better with time. The pāpale starts off green before turning completely tan within three to four weeks, indicating its ability to last for years.
Artist Seth Greene’s locally-sourced wood and epoxy creations are one way to bring the beauty of Hawaii’s oceans into your home daily. The Haleiwa-based artist makes everything from charcuterie boards where the natural edge of the wood is used to depict the Hawaiian coastline to custom wood pieces (tables, decorative surfboards) incorporating native flowers. While his prices aren’t cheap, it’s a purchase that’ll last a lifetime.
Marrying limited-edition prints inspired by Hawaii’s tropical lush setting, Lilikoi Wear’s 100% UV-protective, eco-responsible activewear is perfect island chic: not overly fussy and just colorful enough to make those photos pop. Made with light, quick-drying, anti-microbial and odor-resistant fabric, their flirty skorts, convertible maxi skirts and breathable leggings made out of Amni Soul Eco fabric will keep you looking and smelling fresh all day, whether you’re out hiking or heading for a post surf brunch session.
Ditch the shoes, once you’re on the island all you’ll need is a trusty pair of slippahs (local slang for flip flops). Since footwear can be optional, you’ll want to get comfy with a pair of durable, handmade Island Slippers. Made in Oahu since 1946, the family-owned business (founded by Takizo and Misao Motonaga) uses soft full-grain leather with a rubber outsole and arch support so even the flat-footed will walk in them comfortably.
If you’ve always struggled to find perfectly-fitted sunglasses, woman-owned Mohala Eyewear takes into account various nose bridges and widths so their hypoallergenic acetate frames provide proper coverage from the UV rays. Handcrafted from renewable materials with polarized, scratch-resistant lenses, every pair purchased contributes to Room to Read Girls’ Education Program for one week.
Charlene Fang is a freelance writer based in Hawaii. Originally from Singapore she covers travel, lifestyle, food, culture...
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