By Nadine Kam
Nadine Kam photos
Aloha shirt judges Sig Zane, left, and Amos Kotomori, listen to a discussion of the merits of various designs in an aloha shirt contest that took place Nov. 19 at the Kahala Hotel & Resort.
There’s been much discussion within the pages of our paper recently, regarding President Obama and APEC officials passing on the opportunity to don an aloha shirt for an official photo.
Perhaps, I reasoned, by wearing their dark suits, this was Obama’s way of showing that Hawaii is not just a playground but a serious place to do business. Yet, a few days later, he donned a traditional Balinese shirt for an ASEAN banquet in Indonesia.
Which makes a Nov. 19 aloha shirt contest sponsored by Hawaiian Air, Pomare, and Hana Hou, quite timely. Judging of the contest took place the same day that Obama donned the Indonesian shirt, and as one of five judges, we discussed the way the popularity of the aloha shirt is waning with a younger generation weaned on T-shirts.
The contest was created to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the aloha shirt, to get people to think about their personal connection to the aloha shirt, consider its history and its future. As more of a philosophical and theoretical exercise, the winning shirt won’t actually be produced.
What came across in the more than 100 entries in the inaugural contest, is that there tends to be more aloha for the shirt abroad than at home, where we tend to take the shirt for granted as part of the landscape.
In entry after entry, which came in from Thailand to Dubai, it was amazing to see how the designs reflected such vivid, picturesque and personal reflections of the entrants’ love for Hawaii and experiences here—everything from getting drunk and cherishing the elements of a mai tai, to fearing for the fragile ecosystem and the plight of native birds. Then there was the hyper-personal, with one entrant submitting a repeat pattern of an image of his/her born-in-Hawaii cat, Rusty.
Entries came, not only from graphic and textile artists and illustrators, but from attorneys, beekeepers, teachers, physicians and an unemployed contractor.
It was a tough contest to judge, not only because of the varied entries, but because of the varied backgrounds of the judges. I found myself judging alongside longtime designers and aloha shirt creators Amos Kotomori, Dale Hope, Sig Zane and Carol Yotsuda, executive director of the Garden Island Arts Council, who is also a Living Treasure of Hawaii. The latter two flew in from the Big Island and Kauai, respectively, to participate in the contest.
It was a lengthy process as we whittled the shirts down from 100 to 34, with each judge selecting their top 10. At that point, judging coordinator Chris Pearce and facilitator Jan Nagano hoped that the field would be narrowed to 20, but there was so little overlap among judges that most designs received only one vote, and only one shirt got 4 out of 5 votes.
The front view of the winning design by Vaopele Tiatia. (more…)