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Q&A with Maui fashion designer Anna Kahalekulu

The “mind and hands” behind Kūlua grew up in Colorado, but her father was from Maui. During regular family trips to the Valley Isle, Anna Kahalekulu (AA ’15) had a thirst for Hawai‘i’s culture. She moved to Maui after completing a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Colorado at Boulder, but always had design school in mind, so she earned her associate’s degree in fashion technology from the University of Hawai‘i Maui College.

Anna founded Kūlua to fulfil her vision of an environmentally responsible fashion line incorporating her heritage and values as a young Hawaiian woman.

How did Maui college prepare you for this journey?

I went to Maui College specifically for technical skills. I knew I needed the tech skills to get it done, especially since there aren’t a lot of resources on the island. You can’t just go to a manufacturer and say, “Hey, I need to make this.” UH Maui has such a strong vocational program, with auto tech and fashion tech, and these were perfect courses for what I needed.

The biggest benefit has been getting to work with Cheryl Maeda, the fashion technology program coordinator. She asks students to choose special topics; then she tailors courses based on what these students want or need. I still phone-a-friend Cheryl when I get stuck in a technical tough place, and she will always respond, even at 10:00 pm! She is super knowledgeable, super stoked, and ready to share it!

What are your best memories of your studies at UH Maui?

Being in a program like that, surrounded by people who are at various places in their design or creative life. It’s a very energizing environment where everyone is feeding off each other’s artistic energy. Normal time is five hours, twice a week, but with open labs in the afternoons three or four days a week, you kind of end up there all the time, with the same people. I miss that because I’m working on my own now, just me and my dogs. But no matter what field it is, being surrounded by people who are creative and passionate about what they’re doing is a great experience you can’t beat. No one is trying to compete; everyone is in it together. It’s like a little nest.

What lessons have you learned about doing business on Maui?

It takes a lot to be an entrepreneur, and the number one thing is to keep learning. I’m constantly evaluating what I can do better, always being grateful for what I have. I wake up feeling grateful and not stressed, because the work never ends. I’m multitasking everything, and it has to be this way now, but along the way I’m grateful that I get to choose this.

Another big thing is knowing you are capable of more than you think. I always think I know what I’m capable of, but then I push a little harder and it turns out that I can do more. While it’s important to have a great support system, you have to rely on yourself; you can’t rely on everyone around you to get it done, or to give you the energy you need. You need to figure it out – it all starts and ends with you until it’s bigger than you.

How would you describe UH Maui College in one word?

Heart.

University of Hawai‘i Alumni