Thursday, May 28, 2015
Hawaiian Fashion Label: Malia of Honolulu
The "Malia of Honolulu" label was a cut above many other tropical fashions from 1960 to the late 1980's. The label was created by a couple from the mainland: Bill and Mary Foster, who had met at Stanford University. Early on, it was Bill who sold textiles, but he would have the idea to produce their own line and convinced Mary to be the designer for their dress line.
Bill's original textile patterns were key to the company's success, since they had a unique point of view, presenting a more modern trend conscious fashion that made the transition from resort to state-side easily.
These cotton dresses (top from the 1970's and the one above from the late 1960's) show how the Malia of Honolulu style was very contemporary and young, with a more sophisticated look than traditional resort wear had at the time. Rather than re-styled palm frond designs that originated in the 1930's, the Fosters explored bright graphics and prints. The company also produced fashion that was very well made and was worth the extra cost to their customer.
Manufacturing on the island was not cost effective, so the retail prices were high. But the unique styles and high quality put them in demand. Much of the company's success was based on their focus to create a dress that the customer could wear long after her trip to Hawaii was over. During the early years, the Malia of Honolulu collection was shown during the sportswear market week in Los Angeles as part of the California Fashion Creators showings.
In 1970, Malia of Honolulu was well known for their muumuu long dresses. These were simply long, loose dresses in a variety of fabric patterns, often tiny prints popular as "granny dresses" .
In 1981, a collection would have 32 color ways in bright cotton prints, on ribbed or polished cotton. At that time the styles ranged from wrap around, button or zipper, with strap varieties such as double 'shoe string'. Sizes could range from 4 to 18. Most dresses were shipped to the main land, 50% of the company line was sold east of the Mississippi, with women in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania being dominant buyers.
Production was on a large scale. When making a first sample, the entire fabric run of 6,000 yards had to be run first to provide the textile to be used. Each collection would average about 30 different prints. Cotton was the major textile for 90% of the line. During the 80's, three of the four Foster children were involved with the business, as associate designer, sales manager, and data processor. Mary would market the line across the country.
Her target customer was a middle class women with children, and possibly a job, who shopped for style, comfort and easy to maintain dresses for her daily life.
In 1984, the company had 200 employees, but was still owned by the Fosters whose business was based in a converted bowling alley. Ads for their dresses can be found as late as 1988, proof that they company had a long and successful run. Today the brand name carries uniforms only, having left fashion and textiles behind. We still have the wonderful dresses they produced from 1960 through the late 1980's under the "Malia of Honolulu" label.
RESOURCES: Read more about "Malia of Honolulu"
"A Moment in the Sun" from "Hana Hou: The Magazine of Hawaiian Airlines", with interview of Mary Foster and others: HERE , Story by Curt Sanburn, Volume 18, issue 2, April/May 2015. Article traces the history of Hawaiian fashion during the second half of the 20th Century.
"Business Design Business Dressing up Couples Lives", by Barbara Cloud, The Pittsburgh Press. Interview with Mary Foster, HERE
"Hubbard comes to Hawaii" by Margaret Ness, Ottowa Citizen, Dec. 2, 1971, HERE
"Hawaii Sways Fashion Theme" by Barbara Cloud, API, Nov. 19, 1968: short interview with Mary Foster, HERE
"Hem Hovers at Knee", AP Press, Sept. 16, 1970: Malia of Honolulu participates in California Fashion Creators fashion show, Market Week, Los Angeles, HERE
"The Hawaiian Look Hits Home", by Mary Wilkinson, Sept. 23, 1974, the Sydney Morning Herald, short interview with Mary Foster, HERE
"For Spring, the Pants Look", by Evelyn Mazuran, Nov. 9, 1968, The Deseret News: Jumpsuit in Photo, article includes short history of women's pants, HERE
Newspaper Advertisements, for both Long and Short Dresses, with published sale prices:
The Lewiston Daily Sun, June 17, 1968, (2 piece swimsuit, $23), The Milwaukee Sentinel, May 16, 1973 (prices: $24 to $36)Eugene Register-Guard, June 13, 1974 (prices $44 and $36) and April 25, 1976 (prices: $44, $66), The Victoria Advocate, May 23 1976 (prices: $38, $45), Nov. 26, 1976, Sidney Morning Herald (prices: $55, $60), April 16, 1978: Spartanburg Herald-Journal (prices: $48, $62), The Sydney Morning Herald, Dec. 17, 1981 (priced: $79), Reading Eagle, Jan. 23, 1984 (prices $76), The Sydney Morning Herald, Nov. 29, 1988
This post is based on an article that I published earlier, but updated with more information and photos. "Malia of Honolulu" is not to be confused with other "Malia" brands or companies, it is a distinct fashion label, c. 1960 to late 1980's.