IN HER WORDS / Melissa May White had a seed of an idea to water and grow our local fashion industry by creating within it an organization that supports and connects new talent with the larger fashion establishment. Through their Hawaii Fashion Incubator (Hifi), White and co-founder Toby Portner have proven an integral driving force behind the current fashion resurgence, leading up to a possible Hawaii Fashion Month, later to be heard more about in the coming months.
“I had first read about this idea of a fashion incubator in Womens Wear Daily, a fashion industry trade newspaper, and when Toby and I met, I shared the idea and thought it would be what Hawaii needed. There were no resources at the time; there was no place we could go to find out who to connect with in fashion or what was happening.
“There’s a renewed sense that fashion can be a major part of Hawaii’s identity and economy now. We’ve got the right ingredients, such as an established industry base, emerging designers with a lot of talent that are proving themselves, access to Asian markets and an excited interest about Hawaii as a fashion destination. The work Hifi has done over the last 6 years has been about building community and providing resources to these designers and other fashion professionals, thereby feeding the mulch that is helping to grow the industry.
“One of our tag lines is promoting Hawaii fashion as art and industry, and we’ve always seen it that way. If you look at our initiatives, they’re not just about promoting business. We have educational programs, for example. For us, it’s about raising the bar for fashion and getting people excited about it, whether they’re eight years old and learning to sew, or an established fine artist. It’s important to support all parts of the industry, from its enthusiasts to its professionals.
“This year is a big year for local fashion. There are a lot of new collaborations happening between Hifi and the State Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT). The state has really gotten on board and is excited about supporting fashion in a way that hasn’t been seen since the 1960s and ‘70s really, when aloha wear was booming and we had the Governor’s fashion awards, and the state had all sorts of resources to support fashion. Senator Will Espero has been pushing for a long time to think about doing something like a Hawaii Fashion Month (HFM). That’s now in the works, so we’re really excited. HFM is something we want to get the community’s input and feedback about from the beginning, so you’ll see it popping up in social media before too long. We’re just excited that some of the things we’ve dreamed about from day one are finally starting to come to fruition.”