Maui Arts & Entertainment

A 15-Year-Old Designer is Making Her Mark on Hawaiʻiʻs Fashion Scene

October 28, 2019, 4:36 PM HST
* Updated October 30, 12:25 PM
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For many high school students, fall break usually entails hanging out with friends or hours of laying around on the living room couch.

But for Kamehameha Schools Kapālama junior Keānuenue DeSoto, the intercession was full of opportunity.

The 15-year-old designer spent fall break preparing for this yearʻs MAMo Wearable Art Show at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center earlier this month.

DeSotoʻs swimsuit line, named “Kai” (the Hawaiian word for ocean), was featured among some of Hawaiʻiʻs most esteemed designers, like Ari South and Kanoelani Davis of PōMahina Designs.

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“I feel like I really didn’t deserve this yet but I’m so lucky to have it and it’s kuleana passed on to me,” DeSoto humbly remarked after the show.

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Born into a family of surfers, DeSoto said the Kai line pays homage to the ocean and marine life.

“We all go to the beach almost every single day and the ocean has given us almost everything we have,” DeSoto explained.

“This line was my way of kind of saying thank you and giving recognition to the ocean…something that we need to cherish and take care of.”

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Each swimsuit depicted the undulating motion of the sea with layers of blue hues, captivating the crowd of about 100 seated in the Yokouchi Pavilion that evening.

The eventʻs co-emcee, renowned kumu hula Vicky Holt Takamine, was especially impressed by the young designerʻs presentation.

“The next generation has taken on the responsibility and knows what they want,” Takamine commented.

But this wasnʻt DeSotoʻs first fashion show.

She released her first line of keiki clothing and T-shirts called “Mākaha Fierce” when she was 12.

DeSotoʻs uncle, who owns the surf and skate apparel shop Up & Riding, decided to sell her clothes for her.

After choosing to focus on creating bikinis, DeSoto and her parents established the Anu Hawaiʻi swimsuit brand.

Since then, DeSotoʻs designs have been included in five fashion shows, including designer Kini Zamoraʻs exclusive fashion show at ʻIolani Palace in 2017.

She has even been invited to participate in New York Fashion Week, but said she was “just too busy” to go.

DeSotoʻs parents, DTL Hawaiʻi founder Malia Kaʻaihue and professional surfer Duane DeSoto, were beaming with pride after watching her designs take the stage at the MAMo Maui show.

“Itʻs such a huge honor, weʻre so proud of her (DeSoto). She did such an amazing job and she works really hard,” Kaʻaihue said.

“I donʻt know if you caught the smile on stage, but when she smiles on stage itʻs her happy place, so weʻre happy for her.”

Both parents also expressed their excitement to watch DeSotoʻs designs mature as she does.

“As much as sheʻs had three years of experience doing this, itʻs still such a growing thought process for her,” Duane DeSoto said.

“Everything that sheʻs going to be producing in the future is going to be the culmination of her growth and her evolution.”

Meanwhile, DeSotoʻs designs will be featured at another MAMo show on Oʻahu next month.

DeSoto plans to use her clothing to make a statement on climate change and ocean pollution during the show.

“It’s going to be a lot different. This one (Kai) was like whoa, but the next one is going to be whoa times two,” DeSoto said.

“A lot of the pieces are going to be kind of shocking and really different from what people are used to seeing, especially at a MAMo show, and so I’m really excited because they’re all going to be fresh and new and it’ll be fun to see.”

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