May 23rd, 2019 / posted by paularath

Pili is located in Ward Centre, opposite Paul Brown Salon.

In 2005, I wrote a story in The Honolulu Advertiser about a new line of Polynesian clothing called Pili. In my lede, I wrote that Pili means to cling, hold tight, or bring together.

Today, in 2019, the “bring together” part of Pili has special significance. That’s because Pili is bringing a family back together through the clothing line’s beautiful boutique in Ward Centre. Brothers Herman Piikea Clark and John Kanaloa Clark have been reunited in Honolulu and are now business partners. They make an excellent match as an artist and business savvy guy.

Artist Herman Clark graduated from Punahou and U.H. Manoa, then moved to New Zealand, where he taught indigenous art education at Massey University on the North Island. Along the way, he met and married Sue Pearson, a seventh generation Norfolk Islander. They were both art majors who specialized in Polynesian print making.  Sue is now handling Pili’s design and production in New Zealand and Thailand.


Sue Pearson prepares a raised board that will be used to hand print an original Pili fabric.

Herman and Sue have been experimenting with traditional print making processes for two decades, transitioning from paper to fabric and fine art to clothing. Herman explained that the Hawaiians use a direct stamping process, employing ‘ohe kapala, or bamboo stamps, to apply the pigment to the material. On the other hand, artists from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga employ an indirect process, working with a raised board to create a relief pattern that can be built upon; wherever there is pressure, the pigment will adhere. The natural unevenness gives the print a diffused look and gorgeous soft edges.

I find it interesting that with both the ‘ohe kapala and relief methods, the negative spaces between the patterns are just as important as the patterns themselves.


Hawaiians use ‘ohe kapala to create designs. These are not “official” ‘ohe kapala, as my husband made them in a class and then used some pigments that the Hawaiians would not have used. But they show you what the bamboo looks like when carved.

Experimentation led the artistic couple to try wood, styrofoam and cardboard to make their patterns. They were surprised that styrofoam offered the effect they were seeking. “You can’t get this effect with silkscreens,” Herman explained. “It’s an intuitive process, akin to monoprints.”

The resulting fabrics, I feel, have a unique hand and are quite three dimensional.

Even the windows at Pili have a sophisticated Polynesian vibe.

The Pili store is located across from Paul Brown Salon and Island Olive Oil in Ward Centre.

It is arguably the most beautiful store in Honolulu, hung with gorgeous art and the prettiest windows in the city. Currently most of the merchandise is men’s shirts and women’s dresses. Home furnishings are next up. Expect tablecloths, table runners and bedding before too long.

The store also features some exquisite dishes by Kauka de Silva. Hopefully other local artists will soon be featured as well.

The Pili store is a treasure trove of museum-worthy Polynesian art, for the home, the walls, or the body.

In the manner of fine art and limited edition prints, each Pili shirt has a number assigned to it. So you know you are wearing something very special and you are not likely to see your shirt on anyone else. The numbering also helps explain why Pili garments are priced as they are. They are in the manner of a couture garment, requiring truly hands-on fabrics and sewing. This is Polynesian perfectionism.

As the Clarks segue from selling shirts at Neiman Marcus to a sold-out pop up in Mom’s garage to their own elegant store in Ward Centre, Herman said it’s “As if we’re taking the first strokes on a wave and now we’re paddling hard and it feels like we’re gaining momentum.”

Hele mai!

Paula  Rath

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May 26th, 2019 at 10:19 am

Really fine work, beautifully presented! Best luck!

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