Early Beginnings

The Kamehameha Garment Company founded the Hawaiian apparel industry in 1936, when Herb Briner launched the firm. It was always an industry leader, but fell on hard times in the late 80's when then-president, Violet Farrel and her work mate (and husband) both suffered but survived heart attacks in 1987. As the company had been sold, by court order after Briner's death in 1965, to an Australian holding company with little background in apparel, the loss of the Farrell's left the company with no experienced management. The parent company elected to shut it down.

A couple of fortuitous events, one from years back, lead to its survival and eventual revival. Back in 1976, Mrs. Farrell, as President of the firm at the time, was invited to do a presentation to a group of influential women in the industry called the Honolulu Fashion Group and every woman of any stature in the apparel business was a member. The presentation was to be called Hawaiian Fashion-The Oldest and the Newest. and would, of course, feature Kamehameha (The oldest) as well as Hawaii's newest player in the apparel game, one Brown Sugar of Hawaii, owned by Brad Walker. Ms. Farrell did not like doing such presentations and prevailed upon Walker to be the presenter. What developed was a friendship between the two that lasted for years thereafter. Sometime after the Farrell's unfortunate heart attacks, Walker noticed that the price of antique Hawaiian "silkies" as they became known, was experiencing a run-up, particularly the price of old Kamehameha garments.

He had an idea. He phoned his friend Vi Farrell and inquired as to what was happening with Kamehameha. When he was informed that the company was about to be dissolved, he got busy. He contacted the owners and inquired as to whether they would be interested in selling the company. After some negotiation, the rights to the trademark were transferred to Walker and he re-incorporated the firm and began seeking out interested investors. All three of Hawaii's fabric companies saw the potential that existed and began to supply, on liberal terms, the fabric needed to make it go. Brown Sugar, having experienced some success marketing their wares in Japan, and the notoriety that had been created transferred well to the Kamehameha enterprise and the Japanese were to provide the initial engine for the company's rapid growth, going from start-up in 1995 to a $1million in sales three years later, a time-frame in which the new version of the firm was named Hawaiian Apparel 'Manufacturer of the Year' in 1996. It kept the growth arrow going and hit $2 Million by Y2K.

Unfortunately, in apparel, all trends fade and this one was no different. After the longest "run" the Hawaiian "look" had ever experienced, the demand for the product began to slow in 2001. Though the company was still selling and doing as well as market condition would allow, the 9/11 terrorist attacks brought about an abrupt halt in the demand for the casual look and lifestyle that Hawaii represented. Sales spiraled downward, until a decision was made to put the company "on ice" and bring it back at a later time.

After a hiatus of a couple of years, the label was licensed to another Hawaiian shirt maker, The Pacific Clothing Company. With the business still in the doldrums, this effort did not fare as well as either company had hoped and a decision to discontinue the agreement was made in 2012. Walker began planning to re-introduce the label on his own, but faced a series of set-backs, both financial and health wise that delayed the effort for a couple of years. But after many detours, the company again is in operation, reintroducing, for their 80th anniversary, an updated rendition of their signature Anthurium print first made by the company back in 1936.



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