RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Dale Hope has come full circle with Kahala, the company he grew up with and purchased in 1986. He eventually sold the company and took up with Patagonia, but was convinced to return as Kahala's creative director to build its next Golden Era.
Long career leads back to first love
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Although most people would date Dale Hope's formal relationship to the Kahala brand to 1986, the year that he purchased the company started by Nat Norfleet, the company and the man have had a symbiotic relationship dating to Hope's childhood.
COURTESY OF KAHALA
At far left is Kahala's Miro ($82) design, on a blend of rayon, cotton and linen.
After selling the company to Local Motion in 1990 and watching it sold again to Tori Richard, Hope - after working with Yvon Chouinard at Patagonia, a company noted for its principled approach to business - is as surprised as anyone to be back at Kahala as its creative director.
Tori Richard president and CEO Josh Feldman didn't hesitate to invite Hope back, saying, "Dale was one of my idols growing up."
Few would be better qualified or would better capture the spirit of the brand, than Hope. Kahala is in his blood.
Hope's father, Howard, ran a clothing manufacturing operation of his own, Sun Fashion of Hawaii, specializing in women's wear, but Hope had an affinity for Kahala that at times tried his father's patience.
COURTESY OF KAHALA
At left is the Palm Island design ($82). Sizes run from small to 2XL. Above, Kahala's founding year, 1936, figures prominently in its new logo and slogan, "Living the dream since 1936."
Hope remembers being finicky about his clothing while still in elementary school, wanting "to wear an aloha shirt every single day of my life."
His father had the capability to custom make his shirts, "but it would take months before he'd remember to bring them home," Hope said. So by the time he was in third grade, he was running off to Kahala to have his shirts made. "My dad was so angry."
That didn't stop the younger Hope, who, in the process, got his first taste of the business of fashion.
"The shirts were $8 retail, but they sold them for $4 wholesale. So I was saving money!"
By the time Hope was a teenager, Kahala was well-positioned as the brand for watermen, cementing its cool factor with impressionable youth by dressing legendary surfer Duke Kahanamoku, and founding the Kahala Surf Team of promising high school surfers. Among its early members were Fred Hemmings, Joey Cabell, Paul Strauch Jr. and Butch Van Artsdalen.
"In the mid- to late '60s, ABC showed the Duke Kahanamoku Surfing Classic as part of the 'Wide World of Sports,' and everyone on the beach was wearing Kahala shirts and surf shorts," Hope said.
PHOTO BY JOSS COURTESY KAHALA
The man in the canoe, in an image that became the company logo, is Jimmy Thurston, a canoe surfer extraordinaire and known as "Mr. Aloha" on the waves.
THIS SURF AND ocean legacy is evident throughout the first Kahala boutique, which opened Sunday on Ala Moana Center's Nordstrom wing, mall level. The 800-square-foot space is full of vintage and futuristic watermen's boards, including a one-of-a-kind, prototype paddleboard designed by Joe Bark, a futuristic Greg Noll surfboard, and original artwork by Surf Generation artist Michael Cassidy and Surfer magazine founder and artist John Severson.
In relaunching the brand, Feldman and Hope aim to honor Kahala's past, while moving forward. Although they will be bringing back some designs from the past, including a fish design from the 1950s dubbed Miro, Feldman says he wants to focus on appealing to a new generation more likely to don a T-shirt than aloha shirt.
"There's a tendency in our industry to look back and be wistful, to think that there's a Golden Era," Feldman said. "I think our best days are ahead of us."
To address a more leisurely lifestyle, they've introduced a line of washed cotton shirts "that are a little more relaxed, more casual, something you can wear with jeans. You don't have to wait for it to become your favorite shirt," Hope said, referring to the softness that usually only comes from years of wear.
Also new is a line of organic cotton T-shirts and accessories cherry-picked by Hope, who also gleefully announces the return of the long-sleeved aloha shirt, "We're bringing it back! I love long sleeves."
TODAY, the man who once dreamed of wearing an aloha shirt every day of his life, has nearly enough to wear a different shirt every day of the year. He counted more than 300 only after he made a bet with his wife. He thought he only had 100 shirts and she bet he had more, which resulted in his paying for a dinner at Sasabune restaurant.
"I have bins and bins of fabric and shirts. I love to look at and buy fabric. I love to go vintage shopping. I don't know why I have a tactile curiosity, but I do," said Hope, whose birth sign, Pisces, also is a factor in the number of fish, ocean, seaweed and waterman images in Kahala's designs.
"One of the best things about living here is being surrounded by the ocean," he said. "I get a lot of my ideas out there. I never stop thinking, how are we gonna do this print, how are we gonna do a board short.
"I always have to fit in ocean time. When you do that, you feel refreshed and you can do better work."
He's happy with the company's direction and with the store.
"I've always wanted it. I've always dreamed of having my own store and in this day and age, to tell your story you really need it. To have everything, all your styles and people to tell your story, is exciting," Hope said.
Studying a man who walked out of the store, he added, "And it's really cool when you see a guy walking out the door, wearing your shirt."