These funky-fresh tee shops are keeping island style alive.
When it comes to souvenir shirts, pickings can be depressingly slim. In addition to pan-destination tropes like “I Heart This Place” and “My S.O. Went to This Spot and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt,” Hawaii has a whole slew of clichés that lend a sense of staleness to shopping efforts—surfboards, pineapples, shakas, the list goes on. Some stores address aloha fatigue by avoiding island staples altogether, but that eliminates some of the soul that is inherent to the Aloha State. These brands have found ways to offer the best of both worlds by putting their own spins on otherwise hackneyed iconography.
Best for: The Zen Master
The tiny succulents and Cabin Porn books set atop unvarnished wood tables immediately set the tone in this Kailua store. The design of both the store and the products show that the people behind this brand truly love living in Hawaii and know how to hang loose. The light color palettes and friendly doodles emulate the laidback spirit that so many locals embrace. Just look at this guy letting his surfboard tether trail behind him on the shirt above—not a worry in the world. Isn’t that the kind of attitude you want to be reminded of when you get home from a tropical vacation? Or the feeling you want to instill in a friend when you gift a tote bag that’s been silkscreened by sunlight?
Best for: The Hot Topic Holdout
At first glance, the branch in Ala Moana Shopping Center could pass for Quicksilver, Rip Curl, or any other surf shop where no active, unsponsored surfers can actually afford to shop. A quick lap around the store tells another story. Combining island references, video game jokes, and a heavy dose of skater attitude, the brand appeals to crowds that appreciate bold designs and nostalgia culture. Think: a cigar-chomping tiki idol boasting “Aloha Army” on a slate gray shirt; a flat-billed baseball cap with Mario in a pineapple costume; stickers that read “Haole to you too!” While your grandma may not want a special edition Street Fighter tee, a young’un in your life would look awesome in this HI Score shirt with a pixelated pineapple.
Best for: Anyone
The first step to getting into the flagship store is actually more like 20—a set of stairs decked out with license plates from across the United States leading to a room of visual overload. The vintage Coca-Cola bottles, cartoon character models, surfing trophies, plastic skulls, and ceramic hula girls cluttering the shelves above clothing racks have been accumulated over nearly 30 years; it’s almost like revisiting your childhood bedroom and scanning the knickknacks that defined different stages of your life. Similarly, the shirt designs evoke phases of Honolulu’s trends, such as faded rainbows on ringer tees that could have been released in the 1970s, fitted mustache tees made for mid-2000s hipsters, and tie-dyed tanks that could honestly be from the 60s or 90s or both. You’ll even find shirts with the classic aloha in cursive, which would feel trite if not for the plethora of options packing the room to the brim.