Updated: September 30, 2022
A team of 10 with Maui-based fashion brand Pulelehua Maui is headed to New York Fashion Week on Thursday.
Owner, Gemma Alvior, is pulling together 30 looks for The Model Experience event, happening Sept. 11, 2022 in Brooklyn, NY.
According to Alvior, other Hawaiʻi 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 Hawaiʻi brand is doing the Brooklyn event.
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 started in 2016 with inspiration from the fashion 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 very good College of the Arts, and there’s also a fashion designers school in Long Beach, but I was too scared to do that because I can’t cut straight and I can’t draw,” said Alvior, who later embraced her ability to visualize and manifest the designs that she wanted.
After finding a seamstress, she then found a company on Oʻahu that could print designs. At first she would make pattern and material selections, and used the designs they already had; but in 2018 she began using her own designs and sold her products at the swap meet and at local craft fairs.
“The lehua was the first design because of the Merrie Monarch. I wanted to honor the year that I competed,” said Alvior. At the time, Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death had doubled its impact over two years, spreading to 30,000 acres on Hawaiʻi Island.
“My seamstress couldn’t keep up. We kept selling out,” said Alvior. In addition to the swap meet, she would also sell her clothing at fundraising events and craft fairs. “She told me that if I want to continue, I’d have to outsource. I never wanted to outsource–I wanted to keep it in Hawaiʻi, and Maui.”
One of her designer friends advised that, ‘people are going to buy your stuff because it’s your design–no matter who makes it. It’s what you put into it.’ With the passing of her seamstress and more orders to fill, Alvior decided to do just that.
In 2020, amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alvior took a furlough from her job as a guest service agent at Hawaiian Airlines, which allowed her to focus on her clothing brand.
“I found a wonderful graphic designer that understands my vision of how I want my designs to look like,” said Alvior. The collaboration 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 reasons for that is, during COVID, my third oldest sister passed away, and the following year, my nephew passed… With everything that has happened in my family, I wanted to bring the iwa because you just have to be resilient to how life goes, and you have to just continue to keep going,” said Alvior.
The laʻi, or ti leaf, was selected because of its protection properties; and the orchid was selected 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 dancing hula at the age of 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 that with me… I’m very honored to be able to support and embrace the culture, and share designs that have meaning,” said Alvior.
Alvior’s daughter, Faith, also started her own bathing suit line called Kulunakinis, which is featured in the Pulelehua Maui popups and online. The Baldwin High School senior launched the brand during the pandemic with designs that include the protea, puakenikeni, and gardenia.
Upon arrival on the East Coast, the New York-based nonprofit group Hālāwai, which is committed to supporting people with common interest in Hawai’i and the Pacific, will assist with transportation and guidance for the Maui contingent. The group has selected iconic locations for Pulelehua’s photo shoots, and scheduled a gig for musicians Hoaka Music, which will accompany the Maui group.
Hoaka Music, which features Kalani Miles and Kason Gomes, will share their live music during a free event at The Bryant Park Hotel from 6-8 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.
Their music will also be featured as part of the fashion show, along with an oli about 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 past participants have gone on to model for Vogue, HBO Max, Guess, and more.
The Model Experience will provide a total of 25 female and 4 male models, whose goal is to get signed by a modeling agency. Two of the women featured on the runway for Pulelehua are from the Valley Isle–Miss Maui USA 2021-2022, Kawena Kanhai, and Malie Meanor.
For the remaining models, Alvior shared her vision with the group, many of whom have never been to Maui or Hawaiʻi. “I sent them a long email abut who I am and what the designs mean. It’s not just a flower that you are going to wear… I want to make sure they understand what they are wearing,” she said.
Pulelehua Maui was also invited to LA Fashion Week in October, but has not yet committed to the event, given the limited time frame for preparation.
For the holiday season, Pulelehua Maui will host a popup shop at the old Forever 21 store at the Queen Kaʻahumanu Center, in which Alvior will launch three new designs. The event runs from Dec. 15-20, 2022.
The Pulelehua Apparel LLC website is temporarily in the “off” mode while Alvior focuses on the NY fashion show, but it will be back in operation soon with new fashions from the runway coming to the online shop.