A 10-person team with Maui-based fashion brand Pulelehua Maui will head to New York Fashion Week on Thursday.
Owner Gemma Alvior rounds up 30 looks for The Model Experience event, taking place September 11, 2022 in Brooklyn, NY.
According to Alvior, other Hawaiian brands have been featured in New York Fashion Week events, but this is the first time a Maui brand has been invited and the first time a Hawaiian brand has hosted the event. Brooklyn.
The fashion show takes place at 3:30 p.m. ET (9:30 a.m. HST) and features some 60 designers. Tickets can be purchased to watch virtually, but friends can also view the Pulelehua portion of the event live on Facebook and Instagram.
Pulelehua Maui began in 2016 drawing inspiration from the fashions featured at the annual Merrie Monarch Hula Festival in Hilo, Hawaiʻi. Alvior was there as a member of Hālau Kekuaokalāʻauʻalaʻiliahi.
“I always wanted to be a designer when I was young. I went to Long Beach State, which has a really good College of the Arts, and there’s also a school for fashion designers in Long Beach, but I I was too scared to do that because I can’t cut straight and I can’t draw,” said Alvior, who then embraced her ability to visualize and manifest the designs she wanted.
After finding a seamstress, she then found a business on Oʻahu that could print designs. At first, she made selections of patterns and materials and used the designs they already had; but in 2018 she started using her own designs and selling her wares at local craft fairs and exchanges.
“The lehua was the first design because of the Merrie Monarch. I wanted to honor the year I competed,” Alvior said. At the time, Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death had doubled in impact in two years, expanding at 30,000 acres on the island of Hawaii.
“My seamstress couldn’t keep up. We kept selling,” Alvior said. In addition to the swap meet, she also sold her clothes at fundraising events and craft fairs. “She told me that if I wanted to continue, I would have to subcontract. I never wanted to outsource – I wanted to keep it in Hawaiʻi and Maui.
One of his designer friends told him that “people are going to buy your products because it’s your design, no matter who makes it”. That’s what you put in there. With the passing of his seamstress and no more orders to fill, Alvior decided to do just that.
In 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alvior took time off from her job as a customer service agent at Hawaiian Airlines, allowing her to focus on her clothing brand.
“I found a great graphic designer who understands my vision of what I want my designs to look like,” Alvior said. The collaboration has led to designs that include the lehua, kalo, orchid, laʻi, and iwa bird.
On Mother’s Day, Pulelehua Maui launched the iwa, la’i and orchid designs as part of the Kuleana collection, which represent resilience, protection and honor. “The reason is that during COVID my third oldest sister died, and the following year my nephew died… With everything that happened in my family, I wanted to bring the iwa because it just have to be resilient to how life goes on, and you have to keep on going,” Alvior said.
The leaf of the laʻi, or ti, was selected because of its protective properties; and the orchid was chosen to honor Alvior’s mother who is battling stage 4 cancer.
Alvior was born in the Philippines, raised in Northern California and moved to Maui in 1999. She started hula dancing at age 10 and continues to do so today. “Hula has always been a part of me. I’ve always loved hula, the language, and I take it with me…I’m so honored to be able to support and embrace the culture, and share meaningful designs” , said Alvior.
Alvior’s daughter, Faith, also launched her own swimwear line called Kulunakinis, which is featured in Pulelehua Maui popups and online. The Baldwin High School senior launched the brand during the pandemic with designs that include protea, puakenikeni and gardenia.
Upon arrival on the East Coast, New York-based nonprofit group Hālāwai, which is committed to supporting people with a common interest in Hawai’i and the Pacific, will help with transportation and orientation of the Maui contingent. The group has selected iconic locations for Pulelehua photo shoots and has scheduled a concert for musicians Hoaka Music, who will accompany the Maui band.
Hoaka Music, which features Kalani Miles and Kason Gomes, will be sharing their music live at a free event at the Bryant Park Hotel from 6-8 p.m. on Saturday, September 10, 2022.
Their music will also be featured as part of the fashion show, with an oli on Maui composed by Luana Kawaʻa and shared by Leinaʻala Vedder.
The mission of the Brooklyn event is to create opportunities for models and talent. It was founded in 2012, and former participants went on to model for Vogue, HBO Max, Guess, and more.
The Model Experience will offer a total of 25 female models and 4 male models, whose objective is to be signed by a modeling agency. Two of the women featured on the Pulelehua runway are from Valley Isle–Miss Maui USA 2021-2022, Kawena Kanhai and Malie Meanor.
For the remaining models, Alvior shared his vision with the group, many of whom have never been to Maui or Hawaiʻi. “I sent them a long email about who I am and what the designs mean. It’s not just a flower you’re going to wear…I want to make sure they understand what they’re wearing,” she said.
Pulelehua Maui was also a guest at Los Angeles Fashion Week in October, but has yet to commit to the event given the limited prep time.
For the holiday season, Pulelehua Maui will host a pop-up store in the former Forever 21 store at the Queen Kaʻahumanu Center, where Alvior will launch three new designs. The event takes place from December 15 to 20, 2022.
The Pulelehua Apparel LLC website is temporarily in “off” mode while Alvior focuses on the New York fashion show, but will soon be back up and running with new fashions from the runway coming to the online store .