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How Fashion Happens in Hawaii

Going behind the scenes to follow local clothes from inspiration to the store rack

(page 2 of 3)


UMEE is owned by Deena Tearney 1, who designs all the outfits. She has a full-time day job as an IT consultant and runs her line of chic, sophisticated womenswear in her spare time.

Although it takes more time and money to make the clothes in Hawaii, Tearney is committed to that principle. Once, she missed an entire season because her Hawaii production company could not complete the work. She also tried to have her grading done in Hawaii, but it was a manual operation. While the quality was high, it was inefficient and far more expensive than having computerized grading done in Los Angeles. Now, UMEE’s pattern making and grading are done in L.A. and her cutting and sewing are done in Hawaii.


The Honolulu City Shirt was inspired by a design created by Tearney’s mother, Michiko White, when she was a fashion student in Japan. Tearney says she updated that design “for today’s modern woman” with shorter sleeves and a more comfortable fit and fabric choice.


The cotton fabric for the Honolulu Shirt had two elements: denim found in Los Angeles 2 and white pique found in New York (Tearney says she buys her silks in the San Francisco Bay Area and in New York). While Tearney dreams of designing her own prints one day, it’s just not feasible now. To have an original fabric printed usually requires an order upward of 3,000 yards of fabric. Since Tearney manufactured only 50 Honolulu City Shirts, she needed only 50 yards of fabric.


Tearney works with a pattern maker in Los Angeles.3 She emails her measurements, sketches 4 and talks through design details, such as how to finish the hem, where to place the tag, what facing material to use on the placket and where to place the buttons 5. The pattern maker is highly experienced “and she leverages her experience with recommendations for improvements using standards she draws from her own experience and reference materials,” Tearney explains.


Tearney originally worked with a Honolulu grader who did all the adjustments by hand. The results were excellent but it was costly and time consuming. Now she has her garments graded in Los Angeles on a specialized computer.


As a small company with small runs, UMEE had great difficulty finding a manufacturer to cut garments in Hawaii. “They would say, ‘I won’t cut fewer than 100 at a time,’ or ‘I only do aloha shirts,’ or ‘I only sew, I don’t cut,” Tearney says.


Tearney attends textile shows in L.A. to source notions such as the clear acrylic flower buttons on the Honolulu City Shirt.

Sample Making

The sample stage is critical, as many little problems – and big ones – with the pattern can be discovered when it is made up. Tearney uses herself as the primary fit model, but she also has models of different heights, sizes and body types who she can call on when necessary to ensure proper fits.6


Tearney makes her own sales calls. As a new designer, still little known in the local market, it is hard for Tearney to get into department stores, so she mainly approaches boutiques. She needs buyers who are willing to think outside the box. She is currently sold in Hifi Coop in Ward Warehouse, Super Citizen in Kahala Mall, the Kahala Boutique in the Kahala Hotel & Resort and online at Sadly, some of the more innovative boutiques don’t last long. UMEE was carried in several that have closed: Island Edge, Therapy and Community.

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Hawaii Business,October