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Tuesday, June 6, 2000

Ellery Chun, creator
of aloha shirt, dies at 91

Aloha shirt: Always in fashion

By Harold Morse


Ellery J. Chun, who gave the aloha shirt to the world, died May 16 in Honolulu of respiratory failure. He was 91.

Although he first created aloha shirts in 1931, it was in 1936 he introduced the "Aloha Shirt" label to the distinctively bright, colorful Hawaiian attire. The term and the style caught on, and countless clothing manufacturers followed suit.

Chun first sold aloha shirts -- originally inspired by palaka garments of plantation workers and silk shirts of high school classmates sewn from leftover kimono material by Japanese housekeepers -- at the family store, which he renamed King-Smith Clothiers, 36 N. King St.

The Honolulu native graduated from Punahou in 1927 and majored in economics at Yale, class of 1931.

Info Box Upon returning to the islands, he renamed the store after the closest intersection and transformed it from a Chinese dry goods shop into a mecca for a wide range of customers.

By 1933, he began to produce ready-to-wear patterns from cloth imported from the U.S. mainland, Japan, China and Tahiti. Surfers and beachboys snapped up the bold, breezy styles, and visiting Hollywood celebrities and other rich and famous ones began sailing home to display the new fashions.

The enterprising Chun made the store sponsor a radio talent show in the latter 1930s. The show originated from Waikiki Beach fronting the Moana Hotel. Emma Veary was a talent it discovered.

Chun became a member of the board of American Security Bank in 1945. He later closed the King-Smith outlet and became a full-time bank vice president, remaining with the bank until retiring in 1966. He continued on the board until 1980 and as advisory director until 1985.

In 1991, the state Senate honored Chun for creating the aloha shirt, on the 60th anniversary of his landmark contribution to distinctive Hawaiian apparel and the state of Hawaii.

"He was very creative," recalled wife Mildred. He was very generous, considerate and soft-spoken, with strong family values, she added. "I'm sure he had a good business instinct."

She called him a very intelligent man. With the Great Depression of the 1930s, he needed new ideas to help generate business for the store, his wife said. "So he came up with this colorful aloha shirt."

He started off very small with a few dozen bright printed Hawaiian patterns with palm trees, hula girls, pineapples and such, she said.

"It turned out well."

He had a tailor who sewed maybe three or four dozen at a time, his wife said.

Chun also is survived by daughters Colleen Hirano and Christine Chung; son Damon; sister Wai-Chee Yee and four grandchildren.

Services were private. Donations in his memory may be made to the American Lung Association of Hawaii, Hawaii Public Library System, or the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii.

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