Among the rural landscape and laidback community of Moloka‘i is a small, grassroots printshop; the place that our newest design partner, Kealopiko, calls home.
We collaborated with the local brand last November to design a new look for our amenity kits and soft goods. Today, guests traveling between Hawai‘i and our international and select U.S. mainland destinations experience the ‘Ēkaha collection, a line of thoughtfully designed products that carry messages of sustainability.
But our reason for working with Kealopiko extends beyond creating comfortable goods that help our guests rest throughout their flight.
We teamed up for the love of their brand mission…
Kealopiko was founded by three friends – Ane Bakutis, Hina Kneubuhl, and Jamie Makasobe – who share a deep love for their island home.
Bakutis, a Makaha native and waterwoman, is a botanist focused on rare and endangered native plants. Kneubuhl, hailing from the island of Maui, is also a botanist and heavily involved in the ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i (Hawaiian language) revitalization movement. Makasobe, from Windward O‘ahu, is one of Paepae O He‘eia’s original caretakers of the ancient He‘eia Fishpond and specializes in public relations and interior design. Together, they form a mosaic of interconnected Hawaiian values – living in harmony with nature, perpetuating culture, and caring for their community.
The wāhine spent over a decade bringing Kealopiko’s brand story to life. What started as a passion project has grown into a full-time business with a brick-and-mortar shop at South Shore Market in Honolulu.
“We had great opportunities presented to us [before we started Kealopiko],” said Makasobe during a phone interview. “At the time, I was making shirts for Paepae O He‘eia to sell for fundraising and was working with a [screen] printer in the backroads of Waimānalo. We became close and he agreed to show us the process. From that point, we’d work our regular jobs in the ocean and mountains and then meet up after at his print shop to learn the craft.”
The group formed a partnership with a sustainable garment house in Los Angeles (owned by a friend), allowing them to understand the manufacturing process first before expanding production.
Makasobe shared that the early stages of Kealopiko moved at a comfortable pace.
"When we launched our company, we hosted a pop-shop sale out of our rental home with artist Solomon Enos. News spread fast by word of mouth (pre-social media) with a group email. Our doors opened at 9 a.m. that morning and we had a full house until 6 p.m. We knew then we started something special that day."
“The demand has been a real blessing for us, and we were able to grow at a speed that allowed us to learn the industry at the same time,” she added.
Despite the growing popularity of Kealopiko’s products, the company’s creators refuse to budge on its founding principles of working hard and leaving no trace throughout their production process. Each garment is made with organic materials and sustainably dyed, cut and sewn by hand before being sold.
“We use a small batch process, which means we make a certain number of pieces every week before it goes out to our customers,” Makasobe told us. “There are not many clothing brands that actually still are a part of that start-to-finish process here in Hawai‘i.”
Cue the move to Moloka‘i…
After two years of running the business on O‘ahu, the trio moved their company to Moloka‘i. The island, known as the Friendly Island, has a small-town vibe with stretches of undeveloped (often inaccessible) land, little-to-no tourism industry, and a population with deep native Hawaiian roots. It was the perfect place to nurture their brand.
“Ane moved to Moloka‘i to start her family and we felt it was a natural fit to shift our headquarters there as well. The values of the community fit well with the three of us; being in a downtown urban setting or indoors all day just wasn’t who we were,” Makasobe said.
“Manufacturing by hand is a skill and trade that disappeared for a reason…being hands-on became unpopular and people got interested in other areas of work that didn’t require so much labor. On Moloka‘i, that work ethic is a way of life. It’s still common to hunt, catch and grow your food and take care of your spaces. That lifestyle made sense to us and aligned well with our production values.”
Those values are what made Kealopiko such a strong brand for us to work with.
“Embarking on this redesign, we knew we wanted a partner who could help us tell the stories of our island home,” said Avi Mannis, senior vice president of marketing at Hawaiian Airlines, in a news release that announced the launch. “[Kealopiko’s] sustainable production and bold, contemporary design align with our values and complement the flight experience we want to offer our guests.”
At the beginning of our conversations, our Brand team tasked Kealopiko to come up with a couple of concepts representing our mutual connection to our islands. When asked about their creative process, Makasobe noted it’s always a shared vision for what they want to “breathe life into.”
“We don’t seek out the inspiration; our ideas come from a relationship or an interest that has been established. [Our designs] are all based on experiences that all of us have been in touch with somehow, whether it’s from our work, outside projects we are involved in, what’s taking place within our communities, or what’s happening in a current the season.”
Thus, the ‘Ēkaha collection was born…
‘Ēkaha is the shared Hawaiian name of a black coral, only found in Hawai‘i and indicative of a thriving coral reef, and the bird’s nest fern, a plant that can be found in healthy rainforests. The two are paired to symbolize the delicate, yet critical, connections that exist in nature.
“[This collection] was our way of sharing the creation story as the native people of this place. It speaks to duality and the importance of the relationship between land and sea,” said Makasobe. “It’s something that’s been taken care of for thousands of years and that’s why so many people enjoy coming to Hawai‘i. For us, it’s a message that makes sense to share on a global scale.”
The result of our design collaboration was a new, stylish line of amenities and soft goods that allude to a greater story of sustainability. We looked to Kealopiko to help us create a more thoughtful amenity kit free of plastic wrapping, made with environmentally friendly materials and durable enough to be used beyond the flight.
The partnership seeks to raise awareness among our guests about the importance of preserving Hawaiian culture and our environment.
“The relationship that we have to our environment, culturally, is so important,” added Makasobe. “If we can translate and share that message with those who don’t have that relationship, whether they live here or not, and want to have that relationship, we’ve done our job. Hopefully [this collection] can give to that and exemplify that the host culture that you’re visiting believes in this so strongly. That’s what makes Hawai‘i so special. You won’t find Hawai‘i or aloha anywhere else in the world.”