From televised runway shows to the creation of trendsetting aloha wear. Honolulu Community College students are achieving high profile success.

“This department is awesome!” says Fashion Technology Program Head Joy Ann Nagaue proudly.

It has produced nationally recognized fashion designers such as Kini Zamora.

Zamora is a 2003 graduate of the college’s Fashion Technology Program and a finalist in the most recent season of the popular reality TV show Project Runway, where his soft-spoken personality and well-crafted designs won him fans worldwide.

Hot on the heels of that experience, Zamora made a big splash at HONOLULU Fashion Week where he and his partner showed an edgy, sexy collection, greeted admirers and did brisk business at their popup store—KINI and DINKO.

Zamora and other notable alumni have come Full Circle to give back to the program that gave them their start, with an informal fashion show for supporters of the Honolulu CC program, where they showcased their new looks.

“As creative people you have a vision in your mind and you need an outlet to explore and kind of express what you’re feeling,” Zamora says. “And I feel like the program not only helped that but it helped nurture that as well.”

group shot with returning fashion alums Ari South and Kini Zamora

Ari South, Joy Ann Nagaue, Kini Zamora and retired instructor Lillian Zane, reunited in the fashion laboratory on Kini Zamora Day. More photos via Honolulu CC Flickr

“My instructors really showed me the proper way to construct clothing, the proper way to design and alter patterns, things that I didn’t know,” said program alumnus Ari South, a finalist in Project Runway season 8, and fashion designer for her label Andy South. “And then they also allowed me to break all the rules so, I think that’s what makes the school so special.

Danene Lunn, the designer behind aloha wear brand Manuhealiʻi echos the feelings of her fellow alums.

“They instill in you that—what else can you do to make it better? Or, look how good this design is, now figure it out and make it one step better. That’s what’s in you.

“HCC gave us the steps to become who we were and be successful,” says Zamorra. “How awesome is that?”

The spirit of family

Graduates of the Honolulu Community College Fashion Technology Program are well qualified for a range of jobs in the industry.

Says Lunn, “Every day coming to school, it was just like you’re going to a job. It was just like you’re already in the industry, doing the career. And our instructors were so professional.”

“We call them our fashion mamas,” says South. “Because they’re the voices we always hear when we’re finishing, you know, when we’re working now in our businesses. They’re still the voices we hear about like, you should do it over or, you can do it better, I know you can do this.“

“When Mrs. Zane would say cut exactly on the line, she meant cut exactly on the line,“ says Lunn earnestly. ”She didn’t mean to the left or to the right. Because to the left was a B and to the right was a C. So if you wanted the A you cut on the line. Everything I do has to be up to that standard that I needed to get an A.”

Foundations of fashion at Honolulu CC

Established in 1929 to meet workforce needs in industrial sewing, the Fashion Technology Program graduates about 15 students a year, though many more enjoy the classes offered. The practical skills of clothing construction remain a primary focus of the program, which also offers students opportunities to showcase their work in regular fashion shows. The program is lead by Joy Ann Nagaue, who has been with the school for more than 35 years.

“Most of our students have no experience,” she explains. “Some of them have learned to sew maybe from auntie or grandma. They like to draw, some of them don’t know how to draw, it doesn’t matter, we can take them to where they want to go, if they want to go that far.”

Included in the curriculum is hands-on training in industry standard technology for computerized pattern-making and design, which means students walk out the door with a skill set that is desirable to employers. The stellar accomplishments of program graduates fuels the desire to learn and work hard.

“When I see successful alumni it inspires me and motivates me to be there one day,” says first year student Tricia Corres.

Alexander Propios, just months away from graduation, agrees. “It’s very inspirational to see somebody that was in this building working on these tables, doing like big things.”

And while she is a big fan of Project Runway, Nagaue is more practical when it comes to her students and their prospects.

“I feel really proud, of course I feel proud, but it’s not realistic, the real world isn’t like Project Runway. To work with each other and to understand where they’re coming from, where they’re going, it’s the most important thing, I think. We’re like family here,” she says emphatically.

But it is a growing family, one that has a big impact despite it’s small size.

As Zamora puts it, “So much talent coming out of a small program, I feel like, it’s not a small program anymore.”

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