Text by Kelli Gratz | Images by Jonas Maon
“When you’re staring at a blank wall with nothing but an idea, it’s very daunting,” says Keola Rapozo, co-founder of FITTED, an internationally recognized Hawaii street and sportswear brand, from the company’s headquarters on Pohukaina Street. Amid freshly painted walls from the recent Pow! Wow! Hawai‘i is the company’s headquarters where a vintage BMW convertible sits top down, chrome gleaming. All around are nods to a curious character. A stack of books written on architecture visionaries Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Jean Prouvé, Mies van der Rohe, and Félix Candela rests on back issues of Monocle and Inventory magazines, all alongside collectable items by KAWS. On the magnetic wall adjacent to his desk is essentially a catalog of his life: contemporary art clippings, color-coded deadlines, mid-century modern interiors, a picture of his son, and more collectables (man toys, as he calls them) standing guard over it all.
Since its first store opening in 1994, FITTED has paved the way for an entire crop of Hawai‘i sportswear designers. The dream of opening a small hat shop was realized on a plane by co-founder and pro skater Rene Matthyssen. “I was doing an art show when he just shows up,” Rapozo recalls. “He says to me, ‘Dude I got this plan. We’re going to open a hat store, and I won’t do it with anyone else.’ At the time I was designing women’s clothes at Tori Richard, but something inside me told me it was time to follow my dreams. The very next day we set to work on concept designs.” Their vision wouldn’t come to full fruition until they realized the only thing that mattered was representing Hawaiian culture with the truths of their ancestors.
In a flurry of color-coded schedules, deadlines, photo shoots, interviews, and a family to care for, Rapozo attends weekly discussions that highlight social, economic, and political issues that are currently circling Hawai‘i’s clogged drain. “It’s my kuleana to bring whatever I learn and continue it,” he says. “I continue it with my staff, through our artwork, community projects, events, whatever it is. Everyone has a platform, especially if you’re in the public. And if you’re like us, who makes money off the public, you should be aware of how you’re representing the culture.”
Rapozo grew up in Kahalu‘u, where he remembers day trips to the beach park to gather kamani nuts so his dad could make small Hawaiian ornaments to sell at craft fairs just as easily as he remembers going to HCAP to get bread, cheese, and powdered milk. Despite the success of FITTED—found across 23 stores in Hawai‘i, the mainland, Japan, and Guam—it’s important to Rapozo to carry the same ideas and traditions in which his upbringing was rooted. Their latest collection, “Mt. Wai‘ale‘ale,” is inspired by the wettest place on earth, found on Kaua‘i, and addresses the necessity and importance of water. “Water is everything,” he says. “It releases oxygen, it sustains us, gives us food, plants, animals. … Without water, we wouldn’t be here.” To get this idea across, the FITTED team created a waterproof shoe using nylon rib stock, Spacer Mesh, and clear eyelets. The end result is high-end streetwear that sparks intelligent conversation and relates to relevant issues that impact the community today.
“Some people get it, some people don’t, but it’s OK,” says Rapozo. “Everything has its meaning and source of inspiration—it has to. We don’t design because it looks cool. We talk about education, housing, past mo‘olelo. We get to talk about all these things in this cool little package of hats and T-shirts.” He pauses before showing me one of their stickers of a shark against a backdrop of camouflage, and says, “We swim where the seas are deep.”
FITTED’s retail store is located at FITTED is located in Honolulu at 1438 Kona St. For more information, visit fittedhawaii.com.