The makau, or bone hook, is Olukai's symbol, featured on the sole of its footwear, along with stylized waves.
The head of OluKai Premium Footwear taps into science to design shoes that fit Hawaii's lifestyle
Bill Worthington remembers spending much of his early childhood in the 1960s barefoot, whether he was out fishing or attending classes at Punahou, where, he said, "I don't think that's allowed anymore."
So it's ironic that the barefoot kid would grow up to design footwear, though all of his memories form the basis for each design produced by his company, OluKai Premium Footwear.
This would include memories of luau feet, with toes free to spread out on bare sand, as well as his formal education and experiences as a graduate of the Art Center of Design in Pasadena, Calif., as a footwear designer for Nike and a creative director for FILA before founding his own company.
At Nike he became versed in the company's culture of design and focus on foot biomechanics and foot morphology. That is, the size, shape and structure of the foot and the workings of its many parts, as well as its response to footwear.
For some companies, there's a lot of science in those pieces that we regard as a few inches of raw materials with a price tag attached.
Men's Hiapo Toffee Java, above, and women's Haiku Off-White Toffee are among styles available.
We were recently reminded of the inadequacies of the good ol' local staple, the rubbah slippah, when Auburn University released its study telling us what most of us already know, that "flip-flops" can result in orthopedic problems due to improper support.
In a phone interview, Worthington said he set out to "design the ultimate footwear for Hawaii's ocean lifestyle, that would be casual and look good and be good for your feet, that would last and protect."
Much of his initial effort went into creating an anatomically designed foot-bed with a balance of rigidity and flexibility that provides sturdy support on shifting sands while conforming comfortably to a wearer's foot.
The footwear comes in two categories in styles for men, women and children: Makai, for use in and around water, and Mauka, styles incorporating premium leather for a dressy, casual look that allow wearers to stroll up from the beach to nearby restaurants. Makai line adult styles start at about $52; the Mauka styles run about $80 to $100.
OluKai is the official footwear provider of the Hawaiian Lifeguard Association.
The company's symbol is the makau, or Hawaiian bone fishhook, which can be found on the soles of all its footwear.
"It's a symbol of safe passage over water and good luck," said Worthington, who called upon cultural advisers every step of the way.
"Our mission statement at OluKai is, 'To make a big footprint in the ocean lifestyle market while leaving the smallest footprint we can on the planet,'" he said of OluKai's efforts to support environmental organizations.
"We wouldn't exist if not for Hawaii, so not giving back would be crazy."
Worthington admits designing footwear wasn't his initial ambition. He could have chosen any object, and was primarily interested in automobile design while studying at the art center, but got sidetracked by the breadth of possibilities with footwear.
"It's the only product that combines technical attributes of hard-goods design with the fashion influence and interesting materials of soft goods and apparel," he said. "It's different with cars and it's different with toasters."
Oahu stores carrying OluKai Premium Footwear: Island Paddler, the Kahala Store, Mauka to Makai Outdoor Gear, Moonbow Tropics, Nordstrom Ala Moana, Sandal Tree Hyatt and the Walking Co.