Just ask Kekai Kahokuka’alani, owner of Kapa Curious, what makes her company unique, and she’ll talk about her roots, her ‘ohana, and about sharing the art of kapa making with the world. Here’s her story . . .
Born into a family of hula dancers, kapa makers, wood carvers, and lei makers I have been blessed to grow up thinking that it is normal to have art everywhere in a home. The smell of wauke and natural dyes would permeate the air while the ringing of tools carving into wood echoed in our ahupua’a on Moloka’i. When I became a mother, art took a backseat to providing for my daughter so when she decided to graduate from high school early, I was not prepared and found myself at a loss for what to do with my spare time. One day I found a piece of my mother’s kapa that she left behind from one of her visits, and I was suddenly compelled to embrace my art again.
I began hunting for fun and interesting fabric to sew with my kapa pieces to create unique clutches. I gathered koa chips from my dad’s carvings and created tiny kapa and koa art scenes that fit into pendants, keychains, and magnets. Coconut husk with kapa leaves birthed gorgeous lehua blossoms. Kalo as small as my thumbnail was formed using lauhala and kapa. Lacy kapa was rolled into cylindrical shapes and paired with shiny metal pieces to create show-stopping earrings. Large pieces of canvas were purchased and became the backdrop for 3D kapa corsets and sashes that flowed out from the art piece before retreating back into the canvas. Loving the traditional kapa rosettes but needing to make it my own, I designed roses whose petals bloomed with a deceptively delicate appearance.
Of course, I then had to create earrings and combs using the newly designed roses. Inspired by a cordage class I attended, I decided to make tassel earrings using the hau rope that was traditionally used by our Hawaiian people for their canoes and floaters. I have never seen kapa or hau being used in such a way before and when I began to second guess myself, my ‘ohana enthusiastically encouraged me to continue to push the boundaries of my personal creativity.
There is so much beautiful material and mediums available in Hawai’i and some truly talented artists, so Kapa Curious also sells pieces from other local artists. I search for people whose love of Hawai’i and whose personal innovation compliments mine. One such artist is Tapu Hanapi, whose patented feather work matches the need of the modern wahine but keeps a strong traditional feel.
Kapa Curious creations and the items that we sell are made to be as subtle or as loud as the wearer needs it to be. The pieces are a touch of home, of Hawai’i, and my dream is that it travels with my customers to wherever their life takes them. I live with the idea “Where Hawaii matches everything” as I want women with dinner dresses and women in business suits or women lounging at home to have a Kapa Curious piece that matches that occasion and outfit.
It was not created with the intent to shout that it is created with kapa or hau; it is meant to simply say, “I am beautiful”.