Designer Manaola Yap presents collection during New York Fashion Week

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HILO — Manaola Yap’s introduction to the world of fashion was a bit different than most other designers.


HILO — Manaola Yap’s introduction to the world of fashion was a bit different than most other designers.

Yap, a Kohala native and hula practitioner, grew up helping his mom, renowned kumu hula Nani Lim Yap, create textiles and elaborately adorned hula costumes by hand.

“We were always carving stamps, gathering tree barks, berries and different things from our natural resources to create different colors,” Yap recalled in a phone interview last week. “So the whole idea was, the things you’re taught in a fashion school — maybe in a more chemical type of way, (for example) balancing PH levels, I was learning how to do that with natural things in a more organic setting. It was close to a more traditional technique of textiling.”

Yap, now 30, has since come a long way. He’s an established fashion designer who launched his own Hawaiian luxury clothing line two years ago called Manaola Hawaii. The clothing line is featured in a brick-and-mortar retail clothing store in the Ala Moana Center on Oahu.

Through the years, Yap has taken part in several fashion events and shows, including Honolulu Fashion Week.

This month, he got his biggest opportunity yet when he participated at New York Fashion Week 2017, one of the largest fashion events in the world.

Yap was one of 24 designers invited to New York Fashion Week by Oxford Fashion Studio. He was selected from more than 8,000 designers. He said he was among 10 selected to present an exclusive show featuring an entire collection.

“It was just amazing,” Yap said. “Getting into New York Fashion Week is very difficult. And it’s also very, very expensive … So it was everything to me, to be able to see the prints on the runway.”

Yap is not the first Native Hawaiian to appear in New York Fashion Week: Hawaii designers Kini Zamora and Ari South both have showed pieces through appearances on the television show “Project Runway.” But Yap said he is the first Native Hawaiian to present “Native (Hawaiian) culture on the runway.” His show included 40 complete looks — more than double the 12-18 traditional amount — and kicked off with traditional protocols including an oli (Hawaiian chant).

Yap said fashion curators often are looking for “uniqueness and different things that can trend.” He said his designs were looked at “coming from a cultural standpoint” and something “interesting that they’d never (usually see).”

“It was huge,” Yap said of the 40 looks, each of which included accessories, shoes and handbags. “But for me, I felt like I was going to be up there for Hawaii and it was our first time.”

“If people are going to give you 15 designs, he’s going to take 20,” added his mom.

Lim Yap said she became emotional when she came out to introduce her son and had to tell herself, “You can’t cry in front of everyone.”

“I was overwhelmed but I knew I needed to hold it together,” she said. “But when the last model came out, that was it for me. I was like, ‘I can’t believe we did this.’ And I looked at my son and he was very, very happy. And for me, I was happy for him.”

Yap said he next wants to participate in remaining “big four” fashion shows located in London, Paris and Milan. He said his invite included offers to appear at all four but he chose New York initially, for its proximity to Hawaii (relative to the other options).

“It’s all about trusting yourself,” Yap said when asked about advice he’d give emerging young designers. “It’s really about loving yourself and really just going for it. You only get one chance. I guess a lot of it also is what my mother always said (which is) to do everything with love. And if you’re passionate about something you’ll really love what you want to do.


“And always be a little extra. That’s something I learned growing up — we were always a little extra. And that little extra is what fast forwards you to be better.”

Email Kirsten Johnson at