Text by Kelli Gratz
I realize that Keola Rapozo, co-founder of Fitted, one of Hawai‘i’s first streetwear brands, is far removed from the stereotype of a “country boy” when he asks me to stand up from the chair I’m currently sitting on, flips it over, and points out the vintage label. “This is a salvaged Eames chair,” he says, referring to the iconic American design duo. “If you look around, everything in here is either designed or rebuilt by us. All my furniture has the classic Eiffel Tower base, which gives it the simple, clean form.”
All around me are nods to a curious character. A stack of books written on architecture visionaries Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Jean Prouvé, Mies van der Rohe, and Félix Candela rests on back issues of Monocle and Inventory magazines, all alongside collectable items by KAWS, one of the most influential urban artists of our time. On the magnetic wall adjacent to his desk is essentially a catalog of his life: contemporary art clippings, color-coded deadlines, mid-century modern interiors, a picture of his son, and more collectables (man toys, as he calls them) standing guard over it all.
You could say that Rapozo always had it in him—this desire for beauty, for function, for design. His parents owned a handicraft store in Kahalu‘u on O‘ahu’s eastside and would make him and his sister collect kamani nuts and guava branches from the beach park to make mini Hawaiian ornaments to sell at craft fairs. The process of making crafts and selling them planted an artistic seed in the young Rapozo, but as far as he was concerned, “I hated it,” he says. “My parents would wake me up at 5 a.m. to go to craft fairs, and at the time, I thought it was stealing a big portion of my childhood!” he says with a laugh. “But I definitely learned a lot, and after my mother passed, I cherished it that much more.”
While the enduring brand he has built from the ground up is no convenience store, it’s important to Rapozo to carry the same ideas and traditions in which his upbringing was rooted. “It was this idea of bringing traditional kanaka (concepts) and putting a completely different set of eyes on it,” he says. “We wanted to represent Hawaiians the proper way, tell our stories, yet still have a sensitive point of view.”
Fast forward ten years, and the company is still flourishing, with 23 stores across Hawai‘i, the mainland, Japan, and Guam carrying their custom hats, T-shirts, and footwear that were born out of “na‘au,” (meaning), as he calls it. Their latest collection, Mt. Wai‘ale‘ale, is inspired by the wettest place on earth, found on Kaua‘i, and addresses the necessity and importance of water. “Water is everything,” he says. “It releases oxygen, it sustains us, gives us food, plants, animals. … Without water, we wouldn’t be here.” To get this idea across, the Fitted team created a waterproof shoe using nylon rib stock, Spacer Mesh, and clear eyelets. The end result is high-end streetwear that sparks intelligent conversation and relates to relevant issues that impact the community today.
“Some people get it, some people don’t, but it’s OK. Everything has its meaning and source of inspiration—it has to. We don’t design because it looks cool. We talk about education, housing, past mo‘olelo (stories). We get to talk about all these things in this cool little package of hats and T-shirts.” He pauses before showing me one of their stickers of a shark against a backdrop of camouflage, and says, “We swim where the seas are deep.”
Fitted is located in Honolulu at 1438 Kona St. For more information, visit fittedhawaii.com.