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What is ‘ŪWILA? Using “Life Force” as Design Inspiration.

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Hello There!  Thanks for stopping in today- This was such a fun story to pull together-  What struck me most was learning about the meanings behind the designs, particularly Hawaiian prints, where the designers use Hawaiian folklore and tradition to create textile motifs. When there is a story & deeper meaning behind a design, it adds that much more value and interest.  Manaola, meaning Life Force, uses a lightning bolt symbol in the print.  We can all use some extra “life force” these days- and the Ūwila print offers protection to the wearer, the strength and raw power of nature, and provides the wearer a “safe journey”.

What can you incorporate into your designs that add in your own “life force”?  How can these designers inspire us to think about nature, meaning, and a larger purpose as we develop products

man wearing pareo Manaola creation  ‘Ūwila design
Manaola creation ‘Ūwila design

In ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i, “manaola” means “life force.” The designer represents the ‘ūwila, or lightning bolt, as a physical representation of this life force, embodying the strength and raw power of nature. When printed in repetition, the ‘Ūwila print serves as a Hawaiian take on the houndstooth motif.

Manaola created the ‘Ūwila design as a symbol of protection for the wearer. In Hawaiian folklore, the goddess Pele possessed a magic pāʻū ‘ūwila (lightning skirt), which could shield the wearer from dark or negative forces, and gave the skirt to his sister, Hi‘iakaikapoliopele, so that she might journey safely. The designer intended this print to provide the wearer with symbolic protection and the strength to face life’s challenges.

Hawaiian inspired color story mood board
Tropical Inspired Color Story

May is Asian American and Pacific Island Heritage Month! AAPI Heritage Month is a time to recognize the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States of America. Designers like Anna Sui, Vera Wang, Vivienne Tam, and Kimora Lee Simmons are just a few of the names who made their mark on fashion in the 1980s, 90s, and beyond. More recently designers like Phillip Lim, Derek Lam, and Alexander Wang have taken up the mantle. The impact of AAPI designers, buyers, entrepreneurs, photographers, models, and more on the fashion world is incredible and their impact continues to grow. Below are five a little less known AAPI designers and tastemakers we love. Check out their fashion and follow them online!  To get in the spirit, treat yourself to a fun Hawaiian print item or a sustainable bag, supporting these AAPI designers. 

 Runway looks from AAPI designers Alexander McQueen, Derek Lam, Anna Sui, & Philip Lim

Ariyaphon Southiphong, aka Ari South, gained national recognition with stints first while still known as Andy South on season 8 of Project Runway, then post-transition as Ari on seasons 3 and 6 of Project Runway All Stars. Right now you can shop three collections of the Honolulu, Hawaii-based Ari South brand featuring original prints, hand-picked fabrics, and our favorite, the Palaka Collection—Ari’s take on the palaka, a vintage checked block print shirt that’s a nod to Hawaii’s “Hawaiian Cowboy” plantation past. Ari has also created several collections of masks for the pandemic, including accessories like headbands for your mask!

Manaola Yap is another ultra-creative Hawaiian designer. In 2017 Manaola made history as the first Native Hawaiian fashion designer to present an entire runway line at New York Fashion Week. His designs are influenced by his experience coming up as a hula practitioner. His fashion is self-taught and he strives to express Hawaiian spirituality and the beauty of nature through his garments.

He waipuna, he wai e inu, he wai e mana, he wai e ola, E ola nō ea.” (Here is to the life-giving waters that feed and sustain us.)

Describing itself as “Art to Heal Our Healers,” the V Coterie brand is dedicated to creating stylish, forthright jewelry for the health professional. Founder Lynna (“Leena”) Van Merkey founded V Coterie while in dental school and her background informs her designs. A little bit classic, a little bit trendy, V Coterie’s pieces let healthcare workers express themselves through their style. The pandemic has blown V Coterie’s audience wide open though! You don’t need to be in healthcare to enjoy these designs; necklaces that say “essential” and “empathy” are a perfect fit for so many people these days.

Instagram-only Dreamhaus Vintage is a Korean-American-owned (and woman-owned!) secondhand shop filled with dreamy goodies. While most of the feed is full of housewares, follow Dreamhaus for vintage purses and other accessories. 


Designer Sandra C. Kim—flip that name around and you’ve got MIK CARDNAS—creates luxury handmade knit bags with intricate detail. Kim learned to knit and crochet at a young age, following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother. After attending Parsons and specializing in knitwear she went on to design for brands like Edun and Alice + Olivia. She creates a clean, purely yarn look that elevates the sophistication of knit bags. It’s luxury, handmade slow fashion, knit to order.

Do you have a favorite Asian American Pacific Islander Designer? Let us know!  

Thanks to these designers for inspiring us and to you dear reader, for reading today!


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