August 31st, 2021 / posted by paularath

I have never paid much attention to FB ads that just pop up out of nowhere, but when I saw an ad for a western style long sleeve palaka shirt, I simply could not ignore it. I admired it and thought about it often. One might even say I lusted after it.

Yet it didn’t feel right to order something from a company I knew nothing about, even if they did seem to have got the island style just right.

One morning at brunch with Hifi co-founders Melissa May and Toby Portner, I mentioned this palaka shirt and Melissa perked up right away and said “Oh, Dale Hope is involved with that company.”

Well, okay then. I will follow, and support, anything that Dale Hope is involved with. He is, after all, the world’s expert on the aloha shirt, having written the quintessential book on the subject, called “The Aloha Shirt: Spirit of the Islands,” published by Patagonia. He is also a man of tremendous integrity, taste and true grit.

Photo by Jerry Mayfield

I ordered the shirt in navy, and it was love at first sight, followed by more love after wearing it. It’s comfortable, lighter weight than the original twill palaka. It’s got all the appropriate style details for combining a western style shirt with an iconic palaka print: it’s tailored for a woman’s curves, with shoulder yokes, plenty of snaps and pockets with flaps. Find it at http://www.westernaloha.com

What’s more, the label and packaging are engaging. They have the Western Aloha signature surfing pig with Mauna Kea in the background, and a motto to love: “Take it easy, but take it.” (Hope told me that this was a battle cry when he was paddling canoe from Molokai to Oahu.)

So how – and why – did Dale Hope come out of semi-retirement in Waimea on the Big Island to become the art director for Western Aloha? Through a meeting with the company’s founder, Paul Sullivan. Sullivan is a former NYC attorney who fell in love with the Big Island while on vacation. A serious canoe paddler, Hope said Sullivan “fell in love with Island life,” especially upcountry Big Island life.

Sullivan probed Hope with questions about the fashion industry in Hawaii. “I told him, ‘Don’t do it,'” Hope said with a chuckle. “It’s a tough business,” and even tougher on the Big Island. But Sullivan was ready for a new challenge, and, hey, he had Hope on his side.

I wore my Western Aloha palaka shirt to Blues Night at The Pacific Club, where Jerry and I were able to enjoy a few dances under the stars.
Photo courtesy Val Ito of The Pacific Club

They put together a team, which includes designer Janice Lucena, an experienced pattern maker and designer from San Francisco who worked for GAP. Hope introduced Sullivan to Big Island artist Mayumi Oda, who is creating original aloha prints for Western Aloha.

The fabric is a long story in itself, ending with a fabric source in Taiwan that makes a light weight polyester cotton that doesn’t require ironing. “The original palaka was practical for stevedores, paniolos and pineapple workers,” Hope said. “But in today’s world it’s all about comfort and easy care. You never need to iron (Western Aloha).”

The heavy butcher paper-style envelop the shirt arrived in is totally appropriate and fun.

What’s next for Western Aloha prints? Hope is working with the art of John Keoni Meigs, who created more than 300 textile designs from his studio in New Mexico from 1938-51. To see more of his work, which is currently on tour in the University Art Galleries at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, go to www.eusa.org

As for Hope, he said with characteristic enthusiasm, “We’re just having fun again and working with our friends.” That joy – and hope – are sewn into every Western Aloha garment.

Paula Rath

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