Na Makua Original Hawaiian Designs founder Nelson Makua is an artist, designer, cancer survivor, former newspaper photographer for the Hawaii Tribune-Herald and organizer of Hawaiian cultural craft events.
"We had a store in Hilo for 10 years, and then I got ill, diagnosed with cancer," Makua said.
WHERE TO BUY
Na Makua Original Hawaiian Designs
P.O. Box 10460
» Made in Hawaii Festival; Aug. 21-23, Blaisdell Center
After seven months of cancer treatment and further healing, the retail operation is now online and occasionally in person at large-venue craft fairs.
Some of the fairs are events of their own making.
Nelson and his son Kainoa, with various other participants depending on the event, are behind some of the largest cultural craft events on Hawaii island.
They include the annual Merrie Monarch Festival Invitational Hawaiian Arts Fair, which is staged alongside the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival; the Na Makua Invitational Christmas Gift Fair; the Moku o Keawe Market Place in Waikoloa, part of the international hula festival of the same name; and Hui ‘Ike Ku’una, a group of eight artists and makers of Hawaiian products organized specifically for the annual Made in Hawaii Festival.
Na Makua will be there this year, as usual.
The father and son’s distinctive Hawaiian designs incorporate Hawaiian flora and fauna and what popularly is called "tribal" patterns on garments for men and women.
The animals depicted in the designs range from extinct bird species such as the koa hopue (finch), to ‘aumakua, or what other cultures might refer to as spirit-animals such as the shark (mano) or owl (pueo).
Many of their designs are inspired by olelo noeau, or Hawaiian proverbs and poetic sayings with deeper meaning.
Other animal designs reflect the Asian zodiac, such as the company’s current and quite bold Year of the Ram print.
Makua’s colors run the gamut from muted and somber to bright and evocative, while his speaking voice is low-key and calming, reflecting the depth of respectful emotion behind his designs.
Beyond T-shirts and tank tops, Na Makua also offers collared polo shirts for men, A-line dresses and a line of all-occasion note cards and artistic posters, some created for the Merrie Monarch.
"The polos and dresses, women buy them together," Makua said. And it’s not solely visitors who buy the matchy-matchy clothing. Rather, it’s "mostly locals," he said.
Having said that, Na Makua has customers around the world "including a hula halau in Switzerland that orders from us," he marveled. "The freight is sometimes more than the order," he said, something to which online or catalog shoppers in Hawaii can definitely relate.
Na Makua’s prices range from $16 for a keiki shirt to $20 for most posters and notecard sets. Tank tops and T-shirts range from $22 to $30, depending on the style, and polo shirts are $48 while the A-line dresses are $65.
Makua has the distinction of being the only artist to create the annual Merrie Monarch Festival poster six years running. Most artists do two years, he said.
His "Pele Legends" series of posters proved so popular that even after his festival poster-creating days were pau, he continued doing annual posters himself, which he called his "Hawaiian Legacy Series."
"Just last year the Hilo Seaside Hotel purchased the entire line" and has them displayed on the property.
Neither Nelson nor Kainoa Makua considers himself a fashion designer. "We are Hawaiian artists that just use another medium to convey the same message," Nelson said.
Both studied art, and while Nelson’s path started in painting, Kainoa found a passion for ceramics.
Kainoa primarily makes big pots, either wheel-thrown or hand-built, and they all are decorated with Hawaiian motifs, such as kapa prints, Nelson said.
"He has a few pieces in a gallery on Maui," he said, "but we’ve never sold any at fairs," usually because what he makes gets quickly sold to people they know.
The hope is to build enough of Kainoa’s inventory to sell it via the Na Makua website.
In addition to the fine art and merchandise sales, Makua offers custom-design services for image development, logo and packaging design, book publishing, textile design, customized uniforms and other services such as designs for reunions or other special occasions.
"Buy Local" each Aloha Friday is about made-in-Hawaii products and the people who make them. Reach Erika Engle at 529-4303, email@example.com, or on Twitter as @erikaengle.