Iolani Sportswear shows no sign of slowing down

Published On: Oct 08 2013 09:08:00 PM HST

It's one thing to build a successful business in Hawaii. It's another to sustain it for 60 years.

It was 1953 when Edith and Keiji got into the garment business. He started with five employees, one cutter and four sewers.

The business was shack with dirt floors on Beretainia Street.

"I think one of the more popular stories on how Iolani got its name was back then, you didn't have the state capitol, you didn't have all of the buildings, but if you look out the door, you looked right across the street at Iolani Palace," said owner Lloyd Kawakami.

The company moved and grew. At one time it had four factories on the islands.

Eventually, it settled on Kona Street, growing into a storefront full of dynamic colors and styles.

Lloyd Kawakami, who grew up in the original factories, came on board in the 1970s. His wife Carla joined him and now runs the day-to-day operations.

She said having a factory-and store together is a plus in keeping up in the competitive garment industry.

"It makes it so much easier for us because at a drop of a hat, we can turn around and manufacture something," she said. "One of the things the store has allowed us to do is experiment. Sort of like throw the pasta against the wall (and see) what sticks. Then we can adjust very quickly."

Iolani began with menswear, known for its kimono print men's shirts. It added on new designers and styles, attracting a whole new set of fans like the late Sen. Daniel Inouye.

And then a very successful women's line was added.

Now a third generation has entered the company, Carla and Lloyd's son, Nick.

While they don't always see eye to eye, Lloyd said his son has the talent to take Iolani into the next decades.

"I like to see some of the things come to fruition," Lloyd said. "I think he can do it if he really wants to do it. If he really wants to do it and is passionate about it, we back you all the way," Lloyd said.


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