In navigating his creative brainstorms, local designer Keola Nakaʻahiki Rapozo says tapping into a Hawaiian mindset is like following a compass. For Rapozo, the co-founder of Hawaiʻi brand FITTED, thinking Hawaiian means reconnecting to a mainframe rooted in culture, language and perspective. In looking through this lens, Rapozo envisioned the word ōhāhā, the focus of his latest collaboration with our airline in celebrating Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian Language Month).
Ōhāhā, meaning flourishing, fully developed and healthy, stemmed from Rapozo’s commitment to designing with a sense of place and perpetuating ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi – starting inside his home. A native Hawaiian raised in a predominantly blue-collar community on Oʻahu, Rapozo didn’t grow up with the language.
“I was very much immersed in Hawaiian culture growing up, but back then [in the 1980s and 90s] things were different,” Rapozo said. “We weren’t encouraged to learn ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, but cultural practices, like dancing hula, farming and working with kalo (taro) were very apparent. At that time, nobody was teaching ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. For someone to speak back then, at least in my experience, was rare.”
Years later, Rapozo marveled at the reintroduction of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi in public schools (done at the helm of the Hawaiian revitalization movement). “I thought it was brilliant that the native Hawaiian community was establishing all-Hawaiian speaking schools," he said. "I knew that if I ever had a child, I was going to commit to teaching them the language.”
Today, Rapozo and his wife have two daughters, ages 3 and 9, who attend Ke Kula Kaiapuni ʻO Ānuenue, a K-12 Hawaiian language immersion public school. But for him, language is just the start. “I want my children at some point to be able to think Hawaiian, which is a different thing than speaking Hawaiian,” he said. “If I can get my daughters to learn how to look at things through a Hawaiian lens first, I think that will be incredibly beneficial in any aspect of their lives.”
Have time to learn a new moʻolelo (story)? Keola Rapozo shared one of his favorites that inspires his work every day and highlights how one can think Hawaiian.
“Ōhāhā is a Hawaiian word that describes being full, and my interpretation of it is, ‘How do I apply ōhāhā, fullness, to my own life?’ I want to give my daughters confidence, set them up for success and use culture and language to understand the world," he said. "There’s a Hawaiian proverb that says, ‘I ka 'ōlelo nō ke ola, i ka 'ōlelo nō ka make,’ or ‘In language there’s life, and in language there’s death.’ Words are powerful, and we can choose how to use our language. For me, I’m using my language and layering it with my interpretation of ōhāhā to build kiʻi (imagery); to share moʻolelo (stories) through kiʻi; to leave this space better for my daughters and the next person.”
This is not our first collaboration with Rapozo, who is best known for spearheading streetwear fashion of headwear and apparel inspired by Honolulu’s urban scene. In 2011, we tapped Rapozo to create Hawaiian patterns and branding during a major renovation of our corporate headquarters. In 2015, he partnered with POW! WOW! Hawaiʻi in the painting of murals that adorned our Honolulu ground service vehicles.
“This [Hawaiian's corporate headquarters] is a very endearing place for me,” Rapozo shared. “Working on the initial project with Hawaiian Airlines opened up a beautiful, long-lasting relationship between our companies. It’s been fruitful for me and for FITTED, which opened up our portfolio of client work. I’ve learned a lot through this partnership. I’ve been fortunate to consult on Hawaiian’s uniform projects, cabin designs, service truck projects, branding, etc., and always felt that Hawaiian valued my perspective.”
The Keola Rapozo x Hawaiian Airlines Mahina ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i Collection is available at our airline’s online logo store. Proceeds from the collection will go to Ke Kula ʻo Samuel M. Kamakau Laboratory Public Charter School, a language immersion school on Oʻahu’s windward (eastern) side that teaches and shares ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi through traditional and contemporary methods. Sales will also benefit the school's innovation projects, including manomano, an online Hawaiian dictionary, and the creation of Lehulehu, a ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi puzzle app modeled after the popular game Words with Friends.
Thumbnail photo credit: Mark Kushimi