T-shirt retailer buys
into Big Island
lava rock myth

By Russ Lynch

Crazy Shirts Hawaii is looking to cash in on the worldwide fame of the Big Island's volcanoes with a new line of clothing colored by dyes made partly from volcanic ash -- shipped in from the mainland.

The company is using a "crater dyed" slogan and its kickoff marketing includes "live volcano" models in its Ala Moana Center and International Marketplace windows. But Crazy Shirts took pains in its product kickoff yesterday to point out that while it uses volcanic ash in its dye, the material comes from California, not Hawaii.

"So as not to upset Pele," Crazy Shirts said. In other words, mainland tourists shouldn't be afraid to buy a shirt and take it home.

The company said it is well aware of the legend of the volcano goddess Pele and the wide belief that if you take lava rock away from the Big Island, you'll have a string of bad luck.

Hawaiian history experts, however, say the "bad luck" notion is a myth unsupported by Hawaiian beliefs and legends. It was probably started by a park ranger tired of seeing the island steadily picked over by departing travelers.

The main point of the new design, Crazy Shirts said, is the dark gray shades of the basic shirt dye, designed to create an image of volcanic terrain.

Getting that color is helped by using volcanic ash, the company said.

A Crazy Shirts competitor, Silk Graphics on Maui, said it was there first.

Silk Graphics said it doesn't use any volcanic products in its dyes, and all it is trying to do is create an image. It's all about design, not reality, the company said.

"We're very flattered that everybody has sort of taken on this design," said Jackie Brown, president of Silk Graphics, which claims to have launched the "original lava dirt shirt" six years ago.

"We don't use anything from the craters at all. You're not supposed to," said Brown, who bought Silk Graphics with her husband, Joe, four months ago.

"It was just an inspiration that they had about six years ago, just from the color of the volcano itself," she said.

As to the origin of the Pele myth, the Bishop Museum cited the book "Power Stones" by Linda Ching, which says not only is there no history of the curse in Hawaiian legend, it appears to have been created in 1946 by a park ranger who wanted the land left as it was.

A park ranger of today, Ray Robinson at Volcanoes National Park, said the idea of bad luck following the removal of lava material "is certainly not based on any Hawaiian belief."

"A lot of people believe it, but in the National Park Service we certainly don't like to perpetuate that idea," he said, because it distorts the ancient Hawaiians' love and reverence for the land.

Crazy Shirts printed 4,000 of the new shirts in an initial run and is also offering shorts and pants in the new colors. Its earlier specialty dyed shirts, with colors produced from beer, wine, coffee, hemp, chocolate and other sources, were popular, the company said.

Paradise Sportswear Inc., the Kauai company that produces the "Red Dirt T-shirt," said it has no legends to worry about as its dyes are made from Kauai soil dug from the company's own real estate.

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