Entire books have been written about the origins of the distinctive, playful textile prints featured on Aloha shirts. In brief, the shirt first came into existence sometime in the 1920s in Honolulu, although the identity of its first designer is obscured by the mists of time. One thing that seems clear enough is that some of the first Aloha shirts were made out of colorful, printed cloth imported from Japan and China that typically was used for women's kimonos. Tailors of Japanese heritage who had set up shop in Honolulu discovered a new market for this colorful kimono fabric among Hawaiian locals and tourists alike, who found that the bright, playful textile designs matched the Aloha lifestyle. According to legendary Hawaiian shirtmaker and Aloha shirt historian, Dale Hope, by the 1950s the design of Hawaiian prints had grown into a distinctly Hawaiian art form:
"Artists and designers began to interpret their island surroundings. [Hawaiian designers] started to create their own designs substituting what had traditionally been Japanese styled motifs and prints on the imported fabrics. Diamond Head was substituted for Mt. Fuji, Japanese pine trees changed to coconut trees, and thatched huts with ocean scenes and surfers, canoes on waves, canoes sailing, fish and flowers replaced bamboo, cranes, tigers and shrines that characterized the first prints from the Orient. Romantic island motifs and tropical imagery adorned these new casual shirts that reflected one’s encounters with this new dreamy and spirited tropical Paradise." -Dale Hope, The Aloha Shirt
After surviving Pearl Harbor and World War II, the City of Honolulu boomed, creating a legacy of classic mid-century architecture and style. The sunny beaches of Waikiki welcomed war-weary travelers from around the world to the land of Aloha.
This was the home of Duke Kahanamoku and the Waikiki Beachboys.
Modern surfing was born here.
And if you wanted one of those swell shirts Duke and his fellow surfers were wearing, don't flip your wig. They’d be jazzed to take you to their favorite spots to check out the hippest Aloha shirts. This was Aloha shirt paradise.
“Having become a cherished keepsake for island visitors and remaining warmly accepted at home by the locals, the aloha shirt from this point forward would enjoy the unique position as an ambassador of ‘aloha.’”
- Dale Hope, The Aloha Shirt
Working within this tradition, Western Aloha's Aloha prints often feature motifs inspired by our home on the Big Island of Hawaii. We don’t buy seasonal, off-the-shelf prints inspired by current trends. Instead, we work with incredibly talented graphic and textile artists to create original prints that are uniquely Western Aloha. Like the Big Island, our textile designs marry elements of different cultures and styles from around the world with the spirit of Aloha found only in Hawaii.