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By giving haumāna an opportunity to borrow aloha wear for the day, the Puʻu Muʻumuʻu Project helps them connect with their kūpuna, wearing the lole they wore. Now, every Friday, old fashions become new again.

Every Friday the Fashion of Our Kūpuna Comes Back to Life

E Ola! Educators

Oct. 13, 2022

About a half hour before school was set to start at Māhele Lalo, the doors to the elevators at Paiʻea slid open and out came Kumu Hulali DeLima wheeling a rack of vintage muʻumuʻu.

In seconds, before DeLima had an opportunity to neatly arrange the additional racks of vintage aloha wear, haumāna rushed to find the perfect muʻumuʻu or aloha shirt to wear for the day. 

“I never expected this to be such a hit,” DeLima said about her Puʻu Muʻumuʻu project. 

What started as a small rack of vintage muʻumuʻu last school year has suddenly grown to six. The premise of the program is simple: by giving haumāna an opportunity to borrow aloha wear for the day, they would be connecting with their kūpuna, wearing the lole they wore. Now, every Friday, old fashions become new again. 

Girls held up dresses to themselves to judge the fit. One such haumana, Kaiana Momoa-Smythe, a fifth grader, seemed to struggle to find something she wanted to borrow.

“They’re all so cute — I can’t pick one,” she said.

Boys flicked through a section of colorful aloha shirts for something they liked. Kumu Lemoe Tua, physical education teacher, needed to get in on the action, too. He pulled out a gray Manuhealiʻi aloha shirt. 

“My size?” he asked one of the boys, who laughed at the possibility of well-built Tua squeezing into the too-small shirt.

While the aloha shirt continues to persevere in modern Hawaiʻi culture, the muʻumuʻu seems to have faded into the annals of history. And DeLima is not satisfied to let the muʻumuʻu disappear. 

“It’s rare these days to see vintage mu'umu'u and we were so excited when we come across them and we’re even more excited to see our kamaliʻi wearing them,” she said. "Normalizing this attire is our Puʻu Muʻumuʻu mission.”

The collection of lole has grown into a mini store of sorts all thanks to social media, said Kumu Alex Souza.

“Designers like Sig Zane or Kealopiko heard about what we’re doing and sent dresses our way,” Souza said. “It’s really kind of amazing, if you think about it. They’d post pictures to their social media of muʻumuʻu saying, ‘We’re sending this to the girls on Maui.’”

Some of the muʻumuʻu are also thrifted or donated from the Maui community.

The effects of the program are pride and confidence. When Alyissa Kekiwi, a fourth grader, came back outside from changing into her turquoise blue satin muʻumuʻu, the smile said it all. She seemed a stand a little taller, beam a little brighter.

“They start to act like kūpuna, walk like them, be like them," said DeLima. "It’s really cute. It’s a big confidence booster."

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