Video courtesy of Olonā Media
For the Big Island’s Sharayah Chun-Lai, inspiration is everywhere. A rising star in Hawai‘i’s dynamic fashion world, Sharayah’s creative approach to her signature clothing line, Ola Hou Designs, has attracted attention from around the world. As humble as she is talented, Sharayah recently debuted an extensive collection for Fashion Week in New York. Opening to rave reviews, her ensemble and approach garnered the Kamehameha Schools and UH alumna media attention from around the world. And on June 25, she’ll take elements from her New York show, along with new creations, and exhibit them at a special fashion show at Honolulu Night Market. Recently, we caught up with Sharayah to talk shop, inspiration, and melding modernity into a culturally relevant collection.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I find inspiration in my family, my friends, my culture, my home, and my history. I like to make connections through my work and tell stories through my prints. That’s what I do as a designer. I design prints and fashion that become a story I can share with the world.
Was there a person growing up who had any particular influence on you and fashion?
My grandmother was the most fashionable woman I’ve ever met. I fell in love with the way she approached it. Everything she wore was always so put together. As a girl, I would watch her get ready and see the thought and care she put into her skirts, her shoes, jewelry—everything always matched. Seeing her approach really inspired me.
What’s it like to see Hawai‘i become more prominent in high fashion?
I think it’s changed a lot over the past few years. I think the fashion world is really starting to embrace our authenticity. People from all over the world are really taking note, and our work is being consumed more and more by the outside world. Having brands like Manaola pave the way was huge for a lot of new designers. Personally, I’ve learned so much from them. I think it’s great how our contemporaries are really supportive of each other as well. We lift each other up, and we’re telling our own story.
Do you draw a lot of inspiration from your home on the Big Island?
Life moves slower here, so you have that time to reflect on your work. I have a really tight family, and that sparks my creativity. Hilo gives me time to slow down. I’m able to simply sit and design without worrying about the hustle and bustle you might find in a big city
Let’s discuss your latest showing as part of New York’s fashion week.
Oh my gosh! That was an amazing experience. The best ever. I didn’t know what to expect. I’d been watching New York’s fashion week forever. Let me tell you, it was an insane amount of work trying to prepare for it. But I’m so glad we did it and it was such a success. We brought models and hair and makeup and my kumu and hula dancers; it was fantastic. I really opened up my limits and pushed myself to design this winter collection. It was a truly amazing experience.
Do you find it difficult to balance work with ‘ohana?
Of course. I have a full plate. As a mom, designer, wife, and business owner, it can be a lot. But there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.
Can you tell us more about the collection you’ve created for the upcoming fashion show at Honolulu Night Market?
I’m so honored to have my work showcased. It’s gonna be so much fun. I have some of the New York looks and some new pieces I’m excited to share with the world. This is going to be a really fun night. I’m so thrilled to show the line and be a part of this special event.
Where do you see Hawai‘i fashion going in the years to come?
I see fashion as an ever-evolving thing. It could be something from the past that’s re-envisioned and made new. And I love that. Rethinking the existing world and designing something new in its wake. To pay homage and balance both the old and the new. All in all, I see a lot of creativity, and I’m honored to be able to share my story and designs.