Stitch in time


POSTED: Thursday, September 10, 2009

Generations of hula dancers, clothing manufacturers and politicians would tell you that the Rosa-Lou Shop at 1135 River St. is a custom tailoring and seamstress business, but behind the seams, Rosalie Cadiz's real task has been helping people find work.

The 88-year-old grandmother will be closing her shop on Sept. 26, but had been willing to continue working herself, if not for a mild stroke in May that warned her that maybe it was time to take a break after 47 years on the job.

It might surprise some of her clients to know that Cadiz never set out to run a seamstress shop. She originally opened her shop as an employment agency.

“;We had so many people from the Philippines who couldn't find a job so I thought I would give them a service. You gotta hustle to find the jobs, otherwise people had no work.”;

The jobs typically involved manual labor or office work for those without much education, but as soon as she opened, she was bombarded by people looking for seamstresses. The opening of her shop in the early 1960s coincided with a Golden Age for Hawaii designers and national demand for resort wear; so eventually, the employers found her. She was able to pick up contract sewing jobs from such companies as Surf Line Hawaii, Reyn Spooner and Mamo Howell.

“;They knew people from the Philippines are good in sewing,”; she said.

Cadiz never learned to sew, but she was able to put many to work, also creating the barong Tagalog, or sheer shirts that serve as formal attire for Filipino men. She also found clients among politicians like Ben Cayetano and Neil Abercrombie.

Over time, the shop was also discovered by hula halau who needed costumes for performances and Merrie Monarch competitions.

One of her most famous clients was the actor Redd Foxx, a frequent Hawaii visitor who always stopped in to have shirts made with the Mandarin collars he loved to wear.

And there were other markets for plantation-style palaka shirts and the puletasi, the short-sleeve tunic and matching skirt worn by Samoan women.

At one time, there was so much demand that her grandchildren were put to work trimming excess threads off hundreds of shirts and muumuus.

BEYOND THE WORK, the atmosphere in the shop—at one time three times its current size of about 300 square feet—is one of family and Cadiz's daughter, Caroline Hasegawa, said she treated her employees very well.

“;If I was cooking, she always asked me to make extra food for the employees. When I'd go to the mainland, she'd ask me to make sure to bring something back for the employees.”;

Cadiz doesn't know what she'll do with her spare time. Her immediate plan is to head to Las Vegas to visit one of her four children. Then, “;I guess I'm gonna water my plants.”;

Her family may either sell the business or one of her seamstresses may decide to reopen the space as an alterations shop.

“;It's been good for me because I met a lot of people and made a lot of friends. I gave lots of jobs to other people,”; said Cadiz, who's not ready to walk away entirely. “;Whoever takes over this shop, I'm gonna come down and help them.”;