On April 29, 2018, the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa will be hosting its 52nd annual fashion show, entitled “En Route,” in the Campus Center Ballroom. Three of the show’s designers, senior fashion design students Kaycee Yoshioka, Michelle Nino and Jayme Pisciotto, as well as special guest designer Kaimi Kajiyama, answered Ka Leo’s questions on their origins in fashion, their collections’ inspirations and the lessons they have learned as designers.
What sparked your interest in fashion?
KY: Growing up I liked a lot of things. It started with anime and video game inspired clothing, which I thought were really cool but were not something I could easily get my hands on. Later on, I was interested in Asian fashion, which were only available online and I wasn’t allowed to do any online shopping. Then it was vintage fashion. I always wanted clothing that wasn’t easily accessible for me. And being someone who is very petite, it was always hard for me to get clothes that fit me properly. I got into fashion in high school watching fashion videos on Youtube, it was during that time that sewing got really popular, and that’s where my interest in designing came from.
MN: As a kid, I’ve always liked dressing up. I especially liked fancy cartoons and I would draw my own renditions of the costumes in those shows. And I guess what solidified my path to fashion design was learning to sew and making my own pair of pajama pants.
JP: I’ve always been interested in fashion growing up. I like playing dress up, art and just being creative. The interests just stuck with me, mostly because I wanted to be able to design my own wardrobe, I thought that idea was really appealing. I never lost the interest even through high school and then I decided that I wanted to pursue this as a career.
KK: I always really wanted to go into fashion. I grew up really poor, so the range of my fashion was Fruit of the Loom, Hanes T-shirts in about seven different colors. I just always loved really beautiful things. My dad used to work at a gay resort and I remember when I was four, I’d go ribbon dancing. It was a very unconventional childhood and I didn’t realize how expressive it was until I was much older, but I think all of those experiences really played a part in me just being comfortable expressing my creativity.
What inspiration did you draw for your collection?
KY: My inspiration came from the song “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns n' Roses. I wanted to take this idea of combining a jungle-esque theme with predators and tropical prints with the grungy styles of the '60s and '70s rock scene. I actually came up with the idea after watching the movie “Megamind.” In the final scenes of the film, Megamind is about to fight the final villain and he says the line, “What you lack is entrance!” before the song “Welcome to the Jungle” starts to play. And I thought it was super funny, and, at the same time, the exact vibe I was going for.
MN: My inspiration stemmed from Italian gothic weddings and gothic cathedrals, and from then on it evolved into a dark, fairy tale theme. Prior to finding my inspiration, I was thinking about finding a way to incorporate life and death into my collection. Later I was looking on Pinterest, trying to find something that would spark my creativity, and it was there that I stumbled upon images of Italian gothic weddings.
JP: My collection is inspired by the Eastern legend, “The red string of fate.” According to the legend, it states that everyone is connected by a red string tied around their finger and although the string may get tangled, stretched or knotted, it doesn’t break. The idea is usually used to convey someone important in your life, but most people interpret it as your soulmate. I wanted something that came from my cultural background. I am both Chinese and Japanese, so I wanted to put a part of me into my collection. I’ve always known about the story in the back of my head and I thought it was just a really cool concept.
KK: The inspiration for my collection is clowns. I like really unconventional beauty and I like things that make people feel uncomfortable. I think clowns fall into that category but there’s also this strange beauty that you can find in something that we don’t particularly find beautiful.
How would you describe your line? Do you have a favorite piece?
KY: My line is inspired by a lot of the features you would see in a jungle setting. So I utilize motifs and faux prints from jungle predators like snakes, jaguars and tigers. And I also wanted to convey the moody, mysterious side of the jungle by incorporating camouflage and tropical prints into my pieces. I wanted it to feel like there was going to be someone out to attack you while also incorporating the styles that were popular during the era of Guns n' Roses, like motorcycle jackets, coats, exposed zippers and studs. I love all my pieces equally because I’ve put a lot of time and effort into each of them, but I think my red snakeskin dress with the chain straps and detailing around the waist is simple but perfectly exemplifies what my collection is about.
MN: I would describe my line as a pseudo, dark, fairy tale fantasy in the modern day world. I picture older women who have come into themselves wearing my pieces. They know who they are, they know who they want. They’re almost like bosses, in a way that they go after what they want and they’re not self conscious or shy about it. I guess my favorite piece would be the first garment that I made for the collection which is the blue lace and blue velveteen jumpsuit with a red cape.
JP: My target customer for my line would be “the travel blogger girl on Instagram who goes to fancy resorts all the time.” It’s kind of like resort wear and things you would wear at the beach. Of all the pieces in my line, there is this pleated pair of shorts that I made with pockets. And I am currently working on a kimono-esque cover up that will be embroidered with hands connected by red strings.
KK: You know when you go to the supermarket, and you buy that pack of gum? It’s called Extra. My line is extra. And I hope that it’s as fresh as the gum and it leaves a nice taste in your mouth. It’s definitely going to challenge what we might find beautiful and I’m okay with that. I see people who really want to stand out wearing my designs. I like to make clothes for drag queens and my previous internship was helping to make pageant gowns for Miss Hawaii USA. I really like clothes that enhance someone’s beauty, but, at the same time, they’re also performative and when they put on the clothing, it transforms them into a brand new person.
How do you want people to feel when they wear your designs?
KY: I want people to feel very confident in their own skin. For me, it’s very important for the people who buy and wear my clothes to feel empowered, like they can take on the world and do whatever they want.
MN: I want people to feel uplifted. I want them to feel as if they’ve transformed into this confident woman who grabs everyone’s attention when they step into a room.
JP: Obviously I want people to feel beautiful. I want my clothes to make people feel good on top of making them look good. I want my designs to help people capture their inner glamour, maybe even their inner travel blogger.
KK: In my opinion, what we wear is how we perform for the day. And I want people to feel like they can be a brand new person when they put on my designs. It’s like Barbie dolls playing dress up. For me, fashion is just a mode of expressing who you want to be at a certain time.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a designer?
KY: I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to just enjoy the process of it. I think what a lot of us artists feel is that we get wrapped up in what the end product is gonna look like and we forget that we do what we do because we love it and not because of what the outcome is going to be. If you are more conscientious and thoughtful while you’re designing, I think you’ll always find it enjoyable and you won’t easily burn out.
MN: As a designer, I’ve learned that you can’t second guess yourself, you’ve just gotta do it.
JP: You definitely learn a lot of perseverance. You learn a lot of time management. And, no matter how hard you try at something, sometimes things will go wrong, but you have to push through it and just get it done.
KK: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is patience. I think we all have this sort of idea where we watch “Project Runway” and we’re like, “We can totally do that and get a challenge done in a day.” Then when you actually do it, you’re gonna be on the verge of tears your first time sewing. You just really have to stick with it and persevere. And once you have the final project, you’re gonna be so much more grateful for all the work you put into it.
Do you have any advice for young designers or for people who want to break into the world of fashion?
KY: I think it’s important that people learn about the world around them. As artists, we have to constantly get inspiration. So I find that even if I take a class that’s unrelated to fashion design, I find that the things I learn can later transition into a future collection. Or if you learn skills through classes that teach you about photography, anatomy or color theory, they can help you later on even if you don’t know it at the time.
MN: It’s hard, but if you believe in yourself and know who you are, then you can push yourself to making your goals come true.
JP: Just do it. No matter how daunting it may seem or what other people say, don’t be afraid. If you love something, you should go and try to pursue it.
KK: Follow your passions. Be patient. And don’t be afraid to be different.
These four designers have also stated their plans to continue fashion design in the future with the hopes of turning their designing and crafting prowess into business ventures. While some of these designers are looking to produce ready-to-wear garments and others to create performance pieces, their future in fashion looks to be on the rise.