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Pile of fresh yellow plumeria flowers

Lei-bor of love

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Meleana Estes

For Kauai-born, Oahu-based Meleana Estes, spreading aloha is a family tradition. Following in her tutu’s (grandmother) footsteps, Meleana makes beautiful lei for any and every occasion. With a background in fashion design, Meleana clearly has an eye for style. Her colorful, intricate lei poo (head lei) designs have solidified her spot as one of the islands’ go-to lei makers. Since refocusing on the art of lei making for the last few years, Meleana has worked with coveted swim and resort wear brands like L*Space, Mikoh and OluKai, as well as the locally-owned, internationally-recognized lifestyle brand Samudra. In addition to creating, Meleana also shares this Hawaiian tradition by leading haku lei workshops with residents and visitors alike at Oahu’s premier botanical boutique Paiko and The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club in Waikiki, for example. Below, we talk to the renown lei maker and Hawaiian fashion aficionado about what it means to grow up in Hawaii, island inspirations and her go-to spots on Oahu.

I like to hike to Makapu'u Light House—it’s a great quick workout and the east side view with all the varying colors of the blue ocean is stunning!

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Q: How does Hawaii inspire your work?
A: Hawaii inspires my work every second! Right now, I am really enjoying sharing my love of lei with people. I will be out for a jog and see a crazy color of ti leaf (maybe one that is extra hot pink) and that will inspire the next lei color palette I want to make. When I design clothes, I am constantly thinking of the needs of a lifestyle in Hawaii: dresses that go from the beach to lunch easily, something luau appropriate for all ages. We have a unique set of wardrobe needs living in Hawaii!

Q: What is your favorite thing about living in Hawaii?
A: There are so many things about living in Hawaii that I love. I think mainly that my family is close and I can jump in the ocean every day so easily!

Q: Growing up in Hawaii means...
A: Growing up in Hawaii means you are blessed with a whole layer of culture that you don't necessarily get growing up in the states. It also means you’re singing "Hawaii Aloha" at the end of parties, learning hula in elementary school, thinking that it is normal to get up at 3 a.m. to watch a pig go in the imu (and a very important one), and you practice the culture of sharing lei for all occasions!

Q: What are some of your personal favorite activities to do on the island?
A: I love to visit Waikiki beach with my family and friends, with long boards, food, champagne and surf all day! From Waikiki beach I love hearing the sounds change from the catamaran horns and beach boys yelling to the soft Hawaiian music coming from the hotels as the sun goes down. That is my perfect day!

Q: Where do you live and what do you love most about your neighborhood?
A: I live in Manoa. I love the rain and rainbows, the breeze, but most of all, the valley walls around me turning pink at sunset. We also have a fantastic coffee shop down the street, Morning Glass, of which I am a complete regular!

Q: Your favorite breakfast spot is...
A: My favorite breakfast spot is Mahina & Sun’s—they serve everything from avocado toast to ulu pancakes.

Q: Your go-to lunch spot is...
A: My go to lunch spot is Kaimuki Superette—the vegetable options are always changing and they make a mean chocolate chip cookie!

Q: After work we can find you at...
A: After work you can find me at Town having an early dinner with my family. A good cocktail for me, steak frites for my husband and the best pasta for my son...everyone is happy!

Q: What are some local brands/Who are some local talents we should know about?
A: I admire Manuhealii and Kealopiko for incorporating native Hawaiian culture and values into fashion.  

Q: Favorite beach and/or hike:
A: I like to hike to Makapuu Light House—it’s a great quick workout and the east side view with all the varying colors of the blue ocean is stunning!

Q: Where do you and your family go to "get away" (in Hawaii):
A: We head home to Kauai to my family’s land where I grew up. My mom, aunties, uncles, cousins and my sister and her keiki (children) are there. My son is so happy to be with his cousins and it is where I can truly relax.

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