When face covers first became a required part of everyday American clothing no one thought of them as fashion statements. The only concern was that the mask securely covered the nose and mouth, and that it was comfortable to wear.
Colorful mask designs have proliferated since March, but Hawaii resident and aloha wear designer David Shepard brought the concept a step forward with masks that match his current line of aloha wear.
“It was just something that erupted out of this whole thing,” Shepard said in an early morning telephone call Tuesday. “I had all this fabric that I was working with to make shirts, and when the whole mask thing happened I needed fabric right away, and it just made perfect sense to use the fabric I was already using.”
Buyers get their choice of four designs in a variety of colors, each showing a different island plant: ‘ilima and puakala blossoms, hapu‘u and ‘ama‘u tree ferns and the palapalai fern.
Shepard’s designs come out of his interests in botany, aloha wear and in raising awareness of the plants that are unique part of Hawaii’s fragile biosphere. Shepard studied biology, art and botany at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and then earned a graduate degree in horticulture. He is currently an assistant horticulturalist at Lyon Arboretum in Manoa; the arboretum is currently closed to the public but is large enough for Shepard and his colleagues to continue working while maintaining appropriate social distancing.
“It was actually my love of plants that led me to fashion, mostly because after I graduated and I started working in the field I noticed that people just weren’t that aware of the plants here in Hawaii, and the conservation issues and all of that,” he said. “When I was on Molokai I saw other people doing prints of plants, and I thought we needed this (awareness) more in the city where people don’t have that personal connection, and where we can do the most good in educating.
“In a place like Hawaii that’s been such a tourist attraction, there’s a lot of people that come here who don’t know about all that, and so what a great opportunity to educate even beyond here.”
Shepard introduced his signature aloha wear designs in October after spending several years working up a portfolio of designs. Since then he has partnered with local organizations with similar interests and concerns to help raise their visibility. One of his designs promotes Limahuli Garden & Preserve on Kauai, and another connects to Kalaupapa National Historical Park on Molokai.
Looking ahead, Shepard has more plant designs on the way. He is also planning to introduce designs showing endemic Hawaiian birds, and to add long-sleeve men’s aloha shirts to the traditional short-sleeve designs.
For more information, visit davidshepardhawaii.com.