Shopping for U.S. made clothing in Kauai

Mainpoint – Kauai has more U.S. made clothes than mainland America

I had just seen the movie “The Descendants” with George Clooney starring as a lawyer, in charge of a trust involving a large tract of land in Kauai, that may need to be sold, and, at the same time, he has  to cope with his nearly estranged immediate family, because his wife is in a coma. This film was directed by Alexander Payne, best known for his work on “Sideways” – which had beautifully displayed the landscape of Santa Barbara/St. Ynez area. Mr. Payne does the same thing here. It is a memorable moving postcard of Kauai, Oahu and the Big Island. The movie reminded of me of my trip to Kauai earlier this year. And it gave me the incentive to write about shopping in Kauai. By the way “The Descendants” is a very good movie.


No, I didn’t go to Kauai just to go shopping for American made clothes. But, it is my hobby and I need to fill up my blog.  And yes, I did take time to look at the clothing labels, but not for too long, so that I didn’t tick off my wife. She has remarked to me once before: “You take all the fun out of shopping.” So, with that in the back of my mind, I tried to be less obsessive, and go with the flow and get in step with “Island Time”. In Kauai, we traveled the entire island, the part that is allowed to tourists with rental cars anyway, from the Na Pali Coast at Ke’e Beach (up north) to the Na Pali Coast out West (actually called Ha’ele’ele cliffs) at Polihale beach. The road out to Polihale beach was quite memorable, I don’t think I have seen as many ruts , ridges and potholes on any road in the U.S. as this one. When we brought our rental car back to the Hotel that afternoon, the Valet, by evaluating the tremendous amount of dust and dirt on the car, said, “You must have gone to Polihale”. He was right, there was no pulling a fast one on him.

But I digress. When I came to Kauai, my initial thought was that more of their clothing would probably be imported from China and the like, because it is almost the same distance as from the mainland. But, I was wrong, Kauai has more clothing made in the USA than the mainland (meaning greater than 2%). What I didn’t take into account were three things. First, there are many more smaller businesses in Kauai, and smaller businesses are more independent and tend to support other local businesses and their community. Second, even the larger chain stores on Kauai (Walmart, Sears, K-Mart and Macy’s) have more leeway in ordering products for their stores because their are located in a very unique environment – some would say paradise. But because of this environment, the stores have to be more thoughtful in providing products that their population needs, not just getting them things they want them to want (like the very latest fashions and trends seen in New York City or Paris). And third, Hawaiians are a proud people. They are proud of their heritage, their music, their language and their way of dress. They want to preserve their way of life – not all of them – and not all haoles (pronounced how-lehs or caucasians) want to change them either. They just want to stay a big family and support their friends and family members. How old school? Yeah? Ass right, bruddah!


We were staying in the southern sunny part of the island called Poipu (which means in Hawaiian – “the land of large hotels”). And from there, I always like to drive the furthest point away and work my way back. I can do that because Kauai is a small island. It doesn’t work so well in California. So, the furthest place away in Kauai that has any civilization and therefore, clothing stores, is Hanalei, the land where Puff the Magic Dragon resides. Hanalei reminds me of Bora Bora before it became so modern. Oh wait, reverse that. Hanalei has 514 people who call it “home” and I think they all work in that one small block of stores. The place I was especially interested in was a place called Hot Rocket, because “The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook” said: “Some places are a must-see like Hot Rocket, where all the Hawaiian shirts are actually made in Hawaii.” With that enticing entry, I had to see this place for myself. And it was not that easy to find, it was on the back side of the shops, the ones facing away from the highway. But I found the place, and no, it was not 100% Hawaiian. I thought not. The store did carry Hawaiian shirts (the short sleeve shirts with buttons all the way down the front usually with some floral pattern). A good percentage -wise of Hawaiian shirts were American made (just like other places on the island). The T-shirts, however, were rarely made in America. The regular bathing suits were all imported. The exception to them were the “jams” – the cloth type shorts with usually wild patterns on the outside and no lining on the inside. A tip: Just make sure you don’t buy white jams or it becomes like a wet T-shirt for the lower half. The jams were all made in the USA. I bought a pair of blue jams, a Tori Richard Hawaiian shirt and my wife bought a T-shirt. Continuing in Hanalei, across the street was Yellowfish Trading Co. which carried antiques but also some vintage (“used”) Hawaiian shirts from the 50’s and 60’s. Nearly all were made in the US at that time, even Reyn Spooner who no longer makes shirts in the U.S.. I bought a fabulous vintage white with a flowered print shirt made by Penney’s, which was manufactured in Japan. Close by was a store called Sand People which had plenty of women’s clothing but not much made in the U.S.


Continuing down the road, we briefly stopped at Princeville, and then went to Kapa’a. Now Kapa’a, (pronounced Kah- Pah-pah-pah-ah-ah-ah, if you have a stutter, sorry to all you stutterererers) is Kauai’s largest city. It’s population is listed as 10,816. Now, when you drive through Kapa’a, you think: “Where are all the people?” That is because the main highway runs near the ocean through its downtown of two blocks of shops and restaurants. The people of Kapa’a actually live way up on the hills, and if you have the time, it is a nice drive through their housing tracts. One place worth stopping (and not having to do with clothing) is Kela’s Glass Gallery. It is quite beautiful. It feels somewhat more like a museum than a store for things to purchase. The prices also feel like you are buying museum pieces as well. There were several small shops that carry clothing in Kapa’a. The best store with the most American made clothing was this non-descript place just off the main highway (56), on Highway 581, just two buildings up from the lone traffic light in Kapa’a. It has many Hawaiians shirts and some of the old white label T-shirts made in America. I, also, bought a made in America T-shirt at Jungle Girl, not that they had that many. Don’t forget to eat at Bubba’s Burgers, a local favorite. Bubba’s has many funny T-shirts, too bad they are all imported. While we are at it, other great places to eat in Kapa’a/Wailua area are Kauai Pasta and Wahoo Seafood Grill and Bar. Wahoo’s is one of those rare places that serves Pacific “spiny” lobster. Upon exiting Wailua, nearly contiguous with Kapa’a (that’s how big they have gotten!) is a complex of shops called the Coconut Marketplace. Several places sell made in USA Hawaiian shirts as well.


Yippy, Yappy and Lihue! Lihue although not the biggest, it feels like the biggest. It has the airport. It has the Movie Cineplex. It has Walmart, Costco, Kmart, Sears, Macy’s, Hilo Hattie’s, Red Dirt Shirt Co.,  Borders Books (oops, I guess no more), and even a Starbuck’s. We shall start at Walmart. I don’t know how many Walmarts I have been in but this one was a little bit of a surprise. They carried many Hawaiian shirts and I would say that probably 40% of them were U.S. made. No T- shirts were American made. I did find a package of white Nike crew socks made in the U.S. I did buy those. Next, on the list was Macy’s. For men, the only clothing made in America were Tori Richard and Kahala Hawaiian shirts. (Often, you can find Tori Richards and Kahala on the mainland as well). For women, there was, actually, a fair amount of American made clothing in the one section of Macy’s. That was a pleasant surprise. My wife purchased a top there.

There are two national T-shirt companies that started in Hawaii, Red Dirt Shirt and Crazy Shirts. They both used to be 100% made in the U.S. That was when Hanes made most of their T-shirts in the U.S. Now that most Hanes T-shirts are imported, so are Red Dirt Shirts and Crazy Shirts. They take the imported shirts and then treat them.

Hilo Hattie’s

Going to Hilo Hattie’s is like a rite of passage when visiting any of the Hawaiian islands. When you enter the store, the greeters still place upon you an inexpensive shell necklace around your neck as you enter, just as they did more than 40 years ago. I suppose if you go to Hilo Hattie’s all the time, this might not be so charming. I wonder what the locals call the place? Hilo’s? Hattie’s? Double H? So who was Hilo Hattie anyway? Answer: Clarissa Haili. Oh, so you want more information than that? Hilo Hattie was the stage name of Clarissa (Clara) Haili, born in 1901. She was a very popular Hawaiian entertainer in the 1950’s and 1960’s. One of her popular songs had Hilo Hattie in the title. She passed away in 1979 and really didn’t have much to do with the business. The first Hilo Hattie’s was started in 1963 by Jim Romig. The store was located in Kauai, specializing in Hawaiian items, and he, eventually changed the name to Hilo Hattie’s. Now, Hilo Hattie’s is Hawaii’s largest retailer, manufacturer and wholesaler of Hawaiian fashion and gifts. Hilo Hattie’s is usually a fairly large store. It has an impressive amount of “island fashion”. There are a vast array of Hawaiian shirts, tops and dresses. Matching his and hers outfits abound. I would say that about 30% of their Hawaiian shirts are U.S. made. The dresses about the same. T-shirts are almost all imported. Of special note: they do carry a certain brand of island fashion – Iolani. Iolani has more of an elegant look. When one talks about Hawaiian formal – one is usually talking about black pants and a dark, preferably black, Hawaiian shirt, but with a pattern. For women, a floral pattern dress going down to about knee level will suffice. Iolani is U.S. made.

Koloa and Poipu

When traveling to Poipu, one almost has to pass through a small town called Koloa, population 2,088. Two places worth mentioning, first they have a fantastic wine shop called “The Wine Shop”. Me, I would have named it “the Fantastic Wine Shop”. Second, they have a clothing store called Pohaku T’s. This has many Hawaiian shirts and some T-shirts. Hawaiian shirts were usually American made, T-shirts were not. In Poipu, there is a little more higher end shopping. Hawaiian shirts are your best bet in finding American made clothing and the Poipu Shopping center is one of your better bets, you bet.


No trip to Kauai is complete unless you have gone to Hanapepe. The main shopping in Hanapepe is on Hanapepe Road. And if you come across it in mid daylight when nobody else is there, it can resemble a ghost town. But at other times, it can be bustling. And I use “bustling” in the context that if Kauai is ever “bustling” then this is “bustling”. Hanapepe has some art galleries and some jewelry with art galleries downtown.  The lone clothing store is Robert’s serving all of Hanapepe’s clothing needs even for the high school formals. Robert’s actually carried some made in America dress pants, (not many) but they are, also, the only ones that I found in Kauai. They carried many American made Hawaiian shirts as well. I bought two Hawaiian shirts one made by K.Y.’s and the other Two Palms. Then after shopping, we went and walked on the swinging footbridge. The footbridge makes me ponder, when they built the bridge, did they say, “I sure hope this one swings?” Then the shopping was all done and it was off to the Beach House Restaurant which probably has the most exceptional ocean view of any restaurant, let alone Kauai.


If you are looking for clothing made in the U.S. in Kauai, and who isn’t? Then, you are in luck especially if you are looking for Hawaiian shirts or some Hawaiian made dresses and tops at Hilo Hattie’s or Macy’s. Types of clothing you will probably not find (with regards to US made): baseball type caps, shorts, swim trunks, shoes, sandals, athletic wear, and underwear. Difficult things to find made in USA items: T-shirts, pants. So, my last piece of advice, when you are in Kauai and you get tired of shopping, remember there are many other things to do.

“Hawaii is not a state of mind, but a state of grace.” – Paul Theroux


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