Legendary Hawaiian designer Sig Zane was commissioned to give the airline’s threads a modern makeover with traditional roots.
Sig Zane has paved the way for the current generation of Hawaiian designers by introducing aloha shirts that draw from native fauna and folklore. Now, the Hilo-based designer’s studio has launched new uniforms for the entire Hawaiian Airlines’ workforce, from flight attendants to ground staff. But this is no ordinary collaboration between an airline and a fashion brand.
Sig Zane grew up watching his grandmother practice hula. The dances told stories of ancient Hawaii. “I come from a hula family—and hula is storytelling,” Zane says. “Design can do the same thing.”
For Hawaiian Airlines, he took his cues from an ancient chant about seafaring, as well as practical feedback from a 40-person committee from the airline about what they needed in their everyday workwear. The result is a print he calls Kū Mākou, or Together We Stand, which presents the theme of working together in the context of voyaging. Specifically, the new uniforms carry variations on lehua blossoms, endemic to the Hawaiian archipelago, and ohe kapala, ancient stamps made with unmistakably Hawaiian patterns on bark.
The new uniforms come at a pivotal time for the airline. Since the last uniform refresh eight years ago, Hawaiian Airlines has doubled in size, now boasting as many international destinations (including Auckland and Seoul) as domestic gateways. Far from being a scrappy regional carrier, the airline has become a de facto ambassador for Hawaii along the way.
“This posed an interesting design challenge,” says Avi Mannis, the airline’s senior vice president of marketing. “How do we have something that stands out as uniquely Hawaiian yet also carries an international sensibility?”
By combining sharp suiting details with bright prints, Zane’s team may have achieved just that: a contemporary take on ancient heritage. The uniforms are currently being field tested, with a full-on launch planned later this year.
“When Hawaiians travel, we become educators of our culture,” Zane says. “Hawaiian Airlines passengers might not understand what’s in this print right away, but when they look at it, subliminally they’ll take away something about Hawaii.” You may never look at an airline uniform the same way again.