New Way of Business: Alx Kawakami ’04

Supporting the community has long been ingrained in Alx Kawakami’s ’04 family – a value passed from his grandparents to his parents and now to his generation. Thus, it’s fitting that their longstanding family business, ‘Iolani Sportwear, launched an inspired initiative, called Aloha for Aloha, to assist those struggling during this time of COVID-19.

“The premise is that when someone buys a garment, ‘Iolani Sportswear will donate a garment to either the YWCA of Honolulu, which prepares women in need to enter the workforce, or the Institute for Human Services (IHS), which supports people who are homeless or struggling,” says Kawakami, the company’s marketing director as well as a rising local musician. “There’s no end date for this. We want to make this last forever.”

The 34-year-old and his wife, Sarah, are leading the effort, with the blessing of Kawakami’s father and ‘Iolani CEO, Lloyd ’71, and mother, Carla. The Kawakamis are prepared to donate thousands of garments, if needed.

“It’s our new vision of how we operate, because we feel like it’s going to be necessary – not just in this time of need, but all the time,” Alx says. “If we’re able to do it, we should do it, and we hope to be an example for other companies and other people to step up and help out.”

The idea for Aloha for Aloha was born during the pandemic’s early days, when the Kawakamis were quarantined at home, looking for ways to help. A former apparel designer with a connection at Queen’s Medical Center asked the family if they could produce face masks for the hospital staff. Without hesitation or even mask-making know-how, ‘Iolani Sportwear fired up its sewing machines and began production. The company was one of the first in Hawai‘i to produce and donate masks – about 2,500 in total – to local health care workers.

Next, came a plan to assist ‘Iolani Palace, which has been struggling to meet operational costs. Using
special, vintage-printed fabrics, the company raised funds by matching the revenue from their mask sales.

“We thought of it on a Friday, and launched on Monday,” Alx says. “The masks sold out in less than 12 hours, and we were able to raise $50,000.”

Kawakami believes people in Hawai‘i are eager to pitch in, and that’s why his own family’s efforts took off. “People had a great reaction to the ‘Iolani Palace story because it feels good. And so, the story going forward and the idea of Aloha for Aloha is, it helps everybody. It helps us. It helps people in need, and it gives our customers a way to give back.”

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