Ka‘ana Mana‘o: Fashion technology a growing industry for Hawaii

Fashion is serious business. According to a recent article in The Pacific Business News, the fashion industry in Hawaii is already generating “more than $750 million in annual sales, $20.4 million in tax revenue and 3,630 jobs.” It goes on to quote Melissa White, co-founder of the Hawaii Fashion Incubator and co-chair of Hawaii Fashion Month: “The state sees that the fashion industry is a creative industry that can basically create jobs along the entire production cycle. And, it can be exported. It’s a great industry base for the state.”

University of Hawaii Maui College has a long history of preparing students for careers in the fashion industry. The first program was launched in the 1940s when the college was then Maui Vocational School, and it was geared solely for apparel design and construction. While some of the basic technical skill sets are the same (like sewing and pattern making), today’s fashion technology students must encompass a much broader range of skills and perspectives to work in this fast-paced industry.

Successfully preparing students with those 21st century skills was one of the reasons fashion technology program coordinator Cheryl Maeda received this year’s “Excellence in Teaching Award.”

“People immediately understand the creative side of fashion, but they don’t realize that from a technical perspective, fashion is very similar to engineering,” said Maeda. “You need to be able to model something in three dimensions before you build it, and you need excellent math skills. We have hybrid classes that incorporate computer technology for design. Then there are the ‘soft skills’ that employers are looking for. Students must manage their time effectively, communicate well, and work as part of a team. They also learn to manage their costs and materials while maintaining the integrity of their design.”

Maeda graduated from UH-Manoa with a bachelor of science in fashion design and spent a summer in France at the Paris American Academy. In addition to teaching at the college for over 30 years, she’s assisted companies with mass production, pattern grading and pattern making. She enjoys traveling the world and always brings back handmade or locally designed textiles to inspire her class.

“I want my students to understand that they have to approach fashion with a global perspective. Designers look to what’s happening in the world for their inspiration, and students need to be aware of trends in color, shape, and form to be successful,” said Maeda.

Maeda’s patient instruction and innovative curriculum development have made her a student favorite. Alani, a fashion technology student, has lived on Maui for 13 years, and she only has one regret about the program-that she didn’t start sooner.

“Cheryl is a master. She’s an amazing teacher, and taking her class is enough reason to be here. I hadn’t realized it was such a rich program,” she said. “You learn everything you need to know about clothing construction, pattern making, sewing and knits. She’s very inspiring and she cares about people.”

Students also are challenged with real-world “Project Runway” kinds of events, like the annual student fashion showcase, and annual participation in the Imua Family Services “Fantasia Ball” fundraiser.

“Designing on a deadline with limited resources isn’t just a TV show,” said Maeda. “It’s the kind of pressure students will face in the real world, so giving them the opportunity to learn how to manage that stress before they enter the fashion industry is key.”

The associate of applied science degree in fashion technology is a two-year program, and students who graduate are ready to pursue their bachelor of applied science in fashion, start their own small business, launch careers in fashion design, fashion sales, interior furnishing and design, or work as a dressmaker or seamstress. One graduate of the program, Tamara Catz, went on to design a sequined bikini featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and she currently owns boutiques in Paia and Venice, Calif., that offer her collections.

There’s still time to apply for fall classes at UH-Maui College. To apply online, visit our website at

* Clyde Sakamoto is chancellor of the University of Hawaii Maui College. Ka’ana Mana’o, which means “sharing thoughts,” is scheduled to appear on the fourth Sunday of each month. It is prepared with assistance from UH-Maui College staff and is intended to provide the community of Maui County information about opportunities available through the college at its Kahului campus and its education centers.