A candid chat with Kanoelani Davis, the first Native Hawaiian designer to feature at London Pacific Fashion Week

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Kanoelani Davis is the founder and designer of PōMahina Designs, the Hawai‘i-based clothing brand showing at London Pacific Fashion Week which takes place from 13th September 2019. PōMahina Designs is the first Native Hawaiian brand to present a collection at the event, with Ms Davis hailing from the Hawaiian island of Moloka‘i.

Alongside design, Ms Davis is Hawaiian Arts Director of the Moloka‘i Arts Centre, an Executive Board member of the Molokai Community Health Centre and cultural consultant.

How did PōMahina Designs begin?

I wanted to be able to teach my students and children about the cultural history of Moloka‘i and to help them remember the names of particular elements that were associated with Hina, mother of Moloka‘i. I have always felt strongly about raising awareness of Hawaiian culture and realised that with my love of design, I could weave these two passions together to advocate the importance of preserving Hawaiian culture for generations to come. My designs are more than fashion, they are forms of wearable art. My style has evolved from shirts and drawstring bags dyed in natural indigenous dyes to a wider collection including hats, clothing, and accessories.

Of all of the Hawaiian Islands, Moloka‘i remains most true to its generational roots, so growing up here definitely instilled the importance of this in me – PōMahina Designs allows me to practice the art of my ancestors and preserve their traditions.

PōMahina means ‘a clear and bright moon, whether seen or unseen, she encompasses the night sky from horizon to horizon bringing an energy that is shared with the world’.

Do your designs take inspiration from the culture, landscape or history of Hawai‘i?
The history, genealogy and stories of the people of the Hawaiian Islands are so unique and important, and I wanted to preserve the spirit of our kupuna, or ancestral elders, as part of everyday life. As a cultural practitioner, I am skilled in traditional arts such as woodwork, feather work, healing, tool making, lua (an ancient Hawaiian style of martial art) and lei making and by sharing these artistic forms on wearable art and meaningfully naming each piece I create, the designs hold the spirit of the kupuna who have long traversed Moloka‘i and the Hawaiian Islands.

As the first Native Hawaiian person to present a collection at LPFW, what would you like to educate visitors to the show about Hawaiian design?
I’d like to educate the audience about my culture and traditions, sharing stories of Moloka‘i in the past and present. I’d also like to challenge perceptions of Hawaiian design because there is so much more built into to these prints and patterns than a beautiful design. I want the audience to not only ‘see’ my wearable art but also ‘feel’ the significance of everything that has shaped it.

Are you hoping to experience or learn anything new during London Pacific Fashion Week?

The opportunity to be shown at London Pacific Fashion Week is significant for me on a personal and professional level and I feel that I have a deep kuleana, or responsibility, to make the most of it.
I am looking forward to the opportunity to meet other indigenous people promoting their business and culture, and I believe that learning from each other’s experiences and inspirations can only strengthen our positions as designers and advocates. I see this space is an avenue to inspire and elevate Hawaiian people and culture, and show the world that there is so much more to the destination than meets the eye!

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