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Kealopiko Shirt Supports Kualapu`u Immersion Students

Each morning, students at Kualapu`u School start the day by joining together in chanting a Hawaiian `oli. The third line of the `oli — “Aia i hea ka `uala Lanikeha e wili ai ka lei kalina” — talks about the Lanikeha varity of uala, or sweet potato, from Ho`olehua. This line will soon have special significance and visual representation on a shirt that will both celebrate February as Hawaiian Language Month and raise money to support Hawaiian language learning at Kualapu`u School.

Mock-up of one of the shirt designs. Image courtesy of Kimberly Lani.

The T-shirt is the result of a collaboration between Hui Makua, the parent organization of Ke Kula Kaiapuni `o Kualapu`u Hawaiian Immersion program at Kualapu`u, and popular local clothing company Kealopiko. Kimberly Lani, Hui Makua president, wanted to do a T-shirt fundraiser for the organization and Ane Bakutis, a Ke Kula Kaiapuni `o Kualapu`u parent and one of Kealopiko’s founders, offered to help.

“We all have to support the Hawaiian language, because it’s the only way we’re going to continue the language,” said Bakutis. “People say it’s extinct but it’s not… There’s been a push to normalize it in our communities and in our everyday lives… For Kealopiko and a charter school to partner and really make that push is really important to us to create that normalcy of the Hawaiian language… to say, ‘Look, you can be involved in the language every day.”

Along with promoting `Olelo Hawaii, the shirts have another mission.

“We’re raising money for school supplies,” said Lani, who said the funds also cover student activities like field trips. “This will be our second year we’re buying all school supplies for about 90 students in the [Hawaiian immersion] program… Before that, families had to pay. It’s been a burden for many families, kids would come to school without supplies or the teachers would have to buy them.”

To design the shirts, Bakutis collaborated with the school’s kumu, then drew up images of sweet potato leaves and flowers, combined with the moon phases to signify Molokai Nui a Hina. The shirts will come in a variety of colors with a style for both men and women, and Bakutis said she’s hoping they’ll be available by the end of the month. Kealopiko has donated the design and production of the exclusive, limited edition shirts, and all proceeds from the sales will go to Hui Makua for Kula Kaiapuni students.

Kealopiko started in 2006 out of the back of a truck, said Bakutis, and founded on the mission of using “fashion as a way to share the stories of our ancestors and this unique place,” she explained. She and two friends began the company on Oahu but moved their headquarters to Molokai in 2008. Since 2010, the company hand dyes and prints all their Aloha apparel on Molokai, while their knit clothing line is manufactured by a Hawaii local in California.

“One of the main missions of Kealopiko has always been to push the language and there’s a Hawaiian language component in every piece we do,” said Bakutis. “We tend to use words and grammar that aren’t as common anymore because we don’t want those little details to be lost.”

In 2013, the State Legislature designated February as Mahina `Olelo Hawaii, or Hawaiian Language Month, to celebrate and encourage use of the language. Each year during February, Kealopiko’s social media feeds feature `Olelo Hawaii as well as recorded sound clips of old Hawaiian speakers. Bakutis said it’s important to listen to that type of conversational language from kupuna who grew up speaking Hawaiian — something many people today don’t get a chance to hear.

Kualapu`u School also has special observances for the month, said Kumu Kamalu Poepoe. A group of Kula Kaiapuni students and kumu are traveling to Oahu for La Kukahekahe `Olelo Hawaii speaking competition, where immersion schools from around the state are competing. Each class has also been participating in various in-class activities, and all classes are working this month to haku, or compose, their own class lyrics, dance and instrumental presentation for the Kula Kaiapuni Hanakeaka, the school’s once-a-year hula drama, said Poepoe.

For Kealopiko, donating to local causes that support `Olelo Hawaii is something the company does regularly.

“Every year we donate products, time, or monies to a Hawaiian language school, as well as organizations that promote Hawaiian culture, language and environment,” said Bakutis.

Lani is full of gratitude for the contribution to Kualapu`u students.

“Mahalo to Ane and Kealopiko for gifting us with this design and opportunity,” she said. “We will wear it proudly.  E ola mau ka `Olelo Hawaii!”

To view the designs, visit kualapuuhuimakua.wixsite.com/ohana/kealopiko, and for questions or to pre-order, email kualapuuhuimakua@gmail.com or call the school at 567-6900.

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