What is the backstory behind the creation of the Kahala brand?
Kahala was founded in 1936 by George Brangier and Nat Norfleet Sr.
George had met Duke Kahanamoku – legendary Hawaiian waterman, father of surfing, Olympic swimmer, and movie star – in California while filming The Roughriders in 1927. Duke taught him to bodysurf and invited him to visit Hawaii. And once George arrived in Honolulu, he was hooked. Brangier always felt he knew clothes, and opened a men’s shop in downtown Honolulu, offering custom tailoring, brands, and lines that Hawaii hadn’t seen before.
Nat Norfleet Sr., also from California, had come over to Hawaii and ended up helping George at the store. When the store was sold, the two then focused on their brand Kahala.
Their first aloha shirts were made from Japanese silk and cotton fabrics, which at the time were primarily used in kimono and yukata garments. These shirts were sold alongside coconut milk and pineapple juice at a stand in front of the old Outrigger Canoe Club in Waikiki.
What is the meaning behind the name "Kahala"?
Kahala is the Hawaiian name for the greater amberjack fish. Since Hawaii is the most isolated population center on earth, the ocean has always played a large part in daily life and the practice of fishing was one rooted in sustainable cultivation and conservation. The ocean continues to provide both physical and spiritual nourishment, connecting people to the natural world around them.
"Kahala print designs celebrate our natural environment and unique island community."
Where do you find inspiration?
There is a local saying ‘lucky we live Hawaii’, and while perhaps a bit cliché, it really is true. Hawaii is an incredible place. Kahala print designs celebrate our natural environment and unique island community. We take inspiration from the ocean, both above and below the surface, to the mountains, beaches, plants, animals, and cultural icons that make Hawaii so exceptional. It makes R&D a really fun part of the job! We’re constantly searching for new ways to tell a part of the narrative of island life that hasn’t been uncovered yet.
If you could do something different before starting your business what would it be?
We wouldn’t change a thing. Kahala started nearly 85 years ago and was the first company to manufacture aloha shirts at scale. To be part of the origin story of such an iconic and globally celebrated garment is something we’re very proud of. And as stewards of this amazing brand, our job is to ensure it’s around for another 85 years.
Do you have a favorite print?
We recently launched a print designed in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy. It features over 30 native species of flora and fauna and celebrates the important work that The Nature Conservancy does to preserve watersheds and ecosystems on which all life depends. It’s the first time they’ve done a project like this, and it was an honor to work with their scientists and cultural advisors on developing a concept that showcased the vibrancy of the islands. It’s imperative that we protect our environment and take proactive measures to ensure we leave the world a better place for future generations.
What would you like your brand to be known for?
We want to be known as authentic aloha shirts. Artwork and fabrics are the pillars of our brand. We started making shirts here in Honolulu nearly 85 years ago and continuing that tradition, we still make the majority of our collection here in Hawaii.
"We're inspired by our home and our heritage, embracing every opportunity to share the aloha spirit."
What do you consider to be the greatest motivation behind your work?
An aloha shirt has the power to bring joy into someone’s day. It’s fun and a little bit irreverent. It tells the story of Hawaii and reflects the many different cultures and art that make up our unique community. We're inspired by our home and our heritage, embracing every opportunity to share the aloha spirit.
How important is social media to your brand?
Social media is an opportunity to make connections. We try to share a bit of joy and give people a glimpse of our values, our process, and our community.
How does community play a role in the brand?
We are so fortunate to have wonderful customers and fans of the brand, some of who have been collecting our shirts for decades. Collaboration is a big part of our ethos, and we’ve had the privilege to work with guest artists, designers, and community partners, each with a distinct perspective of life in Hawaii. Recent projects have included Slowtide travel towels crafted from recycled water bottles, special edition shirts with Pow! Wow! — a globally reaching art festival, and our recent partnership with The Nature Conservancy.