By Jacqueline Miszuk, Ka La staff writer

This article was published in the Ka La’s February 2014 printed edition.


Uoleni Tupuola is a fashion student at Honolulu Community College who incorporates culture into his aesthetic.

As a world traveler, his recent trips to Bali, Paris, Venice, Milan, and Barcelona have given him inspiration to incorporate into his senior fashion runway line.

Tupuola was born in Hawaii but raised in American Samoa and explained how you can be a visitor to Hawaii without knowing its history, but in Europe you cannot escape seeing it.

“It has history you can’t run away from,” Tupuola says of his time vacationing in Europe.

Born to parents of a mixed cultural background, it makes sense that Tupuola would seek perspective from outside his immediate surroundings. Tupuola was raised a Christian and attended church bible study and continues to incorporate those strong religious values, such as compassion, into his life today.

Tupuola returned to Hawaii from Samoa to live after his 2001 high school graduation and has been working with the Polynesian dance company, Tihati Productions, for the last 12 years. Tupuola dances hula but also works on creating costumes for the company performers. Most of the costumes are hand woven and braided, unlike what he sews for school.

After a visit to New York City back in September of 2009, Tupuola was inspired to, “seek more knowledge, more avenues,” in a fashion, related degree. He has since been attending the fashion technology program at HonoluluCC and will be graduating this spring.

Joy Nagaue, associate professor of the FT program at HonoluluCC, said that Tupoula will do well after graduating if he continues working with Polynesian attire.

Although Tupuola has a rich background in Polynesian culture and dance, he has no reservations about living outside of the islands if his career in fashion should take him elsewhere.

This spring his line will be walking the runway showing jungle-inspired camouflage with “flashes of bright colors.”

HonoluluCC Ka La

You will see “a tribal woman who wants to be fashionable using her environment, the jungle,” Tupuola said of his designs. For Tupuola, sleep and free time are a luxury, as he is always hard at work to finish his design projects.

Tupuola showed off the first design of his line, which incorporated hand-painted embellishment on the fabric he chose.

During his three weeks in Bali, Tupuola was able to attend a class working with batik, which is a wax resistant dying technique. He purchased the tools that this skill required and brought them back to Hawaii to utilize.

After graduation he hopes to find work for a fashion house where he can apply what he has learned into design.

He has also given thought to owning his own boutique, but no plan has been set in stone as of yet. For now Tupuola remains sewing his days away in the fashion technology department classrooms preparing for the Spring Senior Fashion Show.