Designs and Prints
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 in his incredible book, "The Aloha Shirt," 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."
Working within this tradition, Western Aloha's 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.
Our Printing Method
We print our fabrics using a small batch, artisanal printing process. Sometimes we use the reverse side of the fabric as the face, giving a softer effect to the artwork.
Our reverse prints trap happiness inside, while our front prints radiate happiness to the world.
We don’t carry excess inventory, so if a print sells out it may be gone forever, or it may come back in different colors, or even a different scale.
One thing is for certain: Our prints and colors may vary but they are always one-of-a-kind.
The palaka is a traditional Hawaiian shirt that finds its origins in the shirts worn by English and American sailors landing in Hawaii (then known as the Sandwich Islands) in the early 1800s. These sailor's shirts had a loose fit, long sleeves, and were worn untucked. (Sounds like the palaka might also have inspired the style of the Aloha shirt, doesn’t it?) Unlike the light, colorful kimono fabric used for the Aloha shirt, the palaka was woven of heavy duty, cotton twill fabric, yarn-dyed in a plaid design. This sturdy fabric was soon traded between sailors and local Hawaiians, and the palaka eventually became the standard work shirt for plantation workers and paniolos. As detailed in Dale Hope's book, "The Aloha Shirt:"
"The 1932 Trade, Commercial, and Industrial Development Committee of the Honolulu Chamber of Commerce reported that '[f]or years the laborer has worn a palaka to work, it has been part of the cowboy's picturesque costume, and stevedores have worn them on the docks. In recent years the smart set of Hawaii have annexed the palaka . . . to their wardrobes. Boys and girls wear them to school, to play, to football games, to parties; the younger set wear them to house parties, to cocktail parties, and beach parties.'"
The palaka is the true Hawaiian work-party fabric (perfect for pau hana). Our palaka fabric is inspired by an old pineapple worker's jacket owned by Dale Hope. But rather than using a stiff and heavy fabric, our palaka is made of our lightweight and versatile Cowboy Cloth, while retaining the original’s colors and twill weave.
Cowboys have never been shy about decorating their clothing. (Ever seen pair of fancy cowboy boots?) Rhinestones, piping, leather tassels, and, of course, embroidery have all played a part in the evolution of the western shirt. It could be said that these fabric decorations are like the colorful prints found on Aloha shirts -- adding an element of style to a garment borne of practicality.
Rather than roses, six shooters, and cacti adorning both shoulders, Western Aloha's embroidery is a bit more subtle in color and size. And our original motifs are inspired by our natural surroundings, including the koa and ohia lehua trees native to the Big Island. Working with western chain-stitch embroidery artists, we use our embroidery as an alternative to printed fabric in telling our Western Aloha stories.