Sunday, January 4, 2009

Afred Shaheen - Aloha to an Innovator

Alfred Shaheen passed away just before Christmas. A textile manufacturer based in Honolulu, he raised the bar on the sometimes tacky tropical Hawaiian print. Elvis Presley wore a Shaheen-designed red aloha shirt on the album cover for "Blue Hawaii".

Linda Arthur, a professor of textiles and clothing at Washington State University who has written extensively about the Hawaiian fashion industry, said that "before Shaheen came along, there was no Hawaii garment industry."
Shaheen was born into the textile business in New Jersey. His family moved to Hawaii in 1938 where his parents operated a custom dress shop. In 1948 he opened Shaheen's of Honolulu with four seamstresses. Using equipment he built himself, Shaheen started a silk-screen printing plant 1952 where he hired local artists to design patterns inspired by Polynesian and Asian cultures.

Shaheen did not like bright or garish colors. Most of the patterns feature only three to five colors. "Artists in the Shaheen studio had more than 1,000 dye colors to choose from, including innovative metallic shades, and they consulted rare books, libraries and museum collections. Sometimes Shaheen sent the designers on field trips to Tahiti and other exotic locales to soak up the culture for future work. By 1959, according to company history, Shaheen employed 400 workers and grossed more than $4 million annually, dominating the local industry. The Hawaii garment industry overall had grown to roughly $15 million in sales from less than $1 million in 1947, according to the Honolulu Advertiser."

Shaheen retired in 1988 and shut down the factory. Vintage Shaheen shirts can sell for $1,000 or more and as Linda Arthur explained, a Shaheen garment "is like a piece of moving art."

1 comment:

THE HOUSE OF STYLE said...

wow this is great to know! ive never known much abou the hawaiian garment trade,he was very inspiring.like the blue design.
thanks for sharing honey,now I know a great deal more about the hawaiian shirt.
big kiss hon,
Marian