From designing high-fashion couture, to elegant bridal gowns, and custom made aloha wear, fashion designer Kini Zamora’s clothing lines are making waves here in the islands and around the world
Text by Nicole Furtado Images by Kainoa Repointe
When you walk into The Clique, the design studio and store in Aiea on the island of O’ahu, the first sight to greet you are mannequins adorned in splashy hues, modeling the latest ideas from Kini Zamora.
The room is wide, and holds a mix of items for sale and creations under construction. Pearly costumes for Ballet Hawaii ballerinas hang from the ceiling. Men’s and women’s clothing grace racks. Members of Zamora’s family are usually around greeting customers and helping him meet the demands for his sought-after clothing.
There is a warm sense of ʻohana as keiki run around and music wafts through the air. Kini Zamora, the Native Hawaiian fashion designer and Project Runway star, is a busy man.
We don’t just wear grass skirts and muʻumuʻus. It’s our culture, but there’s a lot more.
Zamora’s rise to fame starts with humble beginnings, as a child living in the rough-and-tumble neighborhood of Kalihi in Hawaiʻi. Encouraged by his family to pursue his dreams, Kini decided to make fashion his career and family business.
He crafted his skills at Honolulu Community College, graduating with an associate’s degree from the fashion design program in 2003. Then he moved to New York City to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology. He found himself to be prepared well for the tasks at hand—all he had to do was hustle.
Perseverance has been key to Zamora’s career. After numerous tryouts for Project Runway, Kini was accepted for season 13, and made it to the finals. An audience favorite, he was invited back for Project Runway All-stars season five.
Now, this local boy resides on the west side of Oʻahu in Kapolei has clients from all over the world requesting his custom designs and ready-to-wear fall/winter fashion lines. But the fashion designer is adamant that Hawaiʻi will remain his homebase. He is an advocate for local brands and designers, and his clothing is made in Hawaiʻi.
“We don’t just wear grass skirts and muʻumuʻus,” he says. “It’s our culture, but there’s a lot more. I want to showcase the amazing and creative talent we have here in the islands.”
Back home, he has pitched in with Goodwill Goes Glam and Reach the Runway, programs that give young designers opportunities to showcase their talents.
“I want to give hope to the younger generation that you can be an entrepreneur here in Hawaiʻi,” Zamora says. “You can make your dreams happen.”
I love people who don’t care how they look to others.
Who is your fashion inspiration? “I love people who don’t care how they look to others. They don’t care if they fit in. I also always design with a vision of this “Park Avenue princess” who is fashion-forward. When my Park Avenue princess travels back home to New York, she has a sense of Hawaiʻi style she can take back to NYC.”
What are your favorite Hawaiʻi fashion brands? “I always try to support local. I love Salvage Public”.
Favorite place to eat in Hawaiʻi? “MonkeyPod in Ko Olina. I always order the truffle fries and the bourgeois pizza. I love it there. Everything is farm-fresh and that’s what it makes it good.”
Favorite place to go out? “I’m such a dinosaur! I rarely go out. I do love Scarlett Honolulu though! Scarlett is the place to go.”
What’s your favorite drink? “Grey Goose Martini, straight up and with a lemon twist.”
Your favorite beach? “Lanikohonua. It’s part of Paradise Cove in Ko Olina. It’s a small lagoon with limited parking. There’s turtles in there all the time. I always bring my visiting friends there. I usually go in the mornings or catch the sunset around 4 or 5 o’clock at night.”
Describe your perfect day. “It would be to wake up a little later, like at 9 o’clock a.m. Then I would jump in a car and drive around the island, stopping at a couple of beaches, going to the shrimp trucks in Kahuku, and then coming right back around. I like to drive through Waimanalo and then end the day watching the sunset back in Kapolei. Then I’d like to end the rest of the night watching a movie.”
What can’t you leave the house without? “I can’t leave the house without my Hydroflask. I think it’s important for people to stay hydrated.” He laughs.
What makes an outfit stand out? “It’s the person that’s wearing it. When I create something for somebody, it’s all about enhancing what they have and the things they love to show. Everyone also has imperfections and insecurities they want to cover up, so I’m that person that does that for them. But to see an outfit on somebody and it’s not wearing them, they’re wearing the outfit, is key. I want people to shine in their outfit.”