His neighborhood is changing, and this Our Kaka‘ako resident, visual merchandiser, and entrepreneur is busy making sense of it all.
Text by Kelli Gratz | Photos by Jonas Maon
Slender and spikey-haired, Jordan Lee moves swiftly along Auahi Street clad in a tie-dyed T-shirt and jeans, a stylistic nod to his laid-back yet urbane charm. If you’ve been to the neighborhood in the last year or so, there is a good chance you’ve seen this 33-year-old hard at work or play, and a similar chance that you’ve seen one of his displays.
Take, for example, a shimmering installation that hung from Paiko’s ceiling during the holiday season, catching every sliver of sunlight filtering through the shop’s picture windows. Lee, who created this vision, was inspired by the spring 2015 Chanel runway show, and he recruited the store’s founder Tamara Rigney and marketing associate Kenna Reed to help him make it. The trio spent hours cutting out life-size monstera-, banana-, and laua‘e-shaped leaves from gold paper. “Hanging them in the front entrance with accents of abstract florals made from leather cording and bright paper, it really popped when you saw it,” Lee says of the display.
Lee is well-known throughout the Our Kaka‘ako community as a creative with an iron-clad work ethic and an energetic design philosophy. But when he left his hometown of Mililani in 2003 to study interior architecture and design at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, he had no idea that he would call Kaka‘ako home nearly a decade later. “I had thought California was where I wanted to be because of all the job opportunities they had for design, and also because I loved the commuter lifestyle,” he says. “But when I heard about SALT and everything that was going on here from friends back home, I realized home is where I wanted to be, and I never really looked back.” As one of the early residents of 680 Ala Moana, Lee has witnessed Our Kaka‘ako’s creative transformation. “I’ve met a lot of quality people here that are passionate about what they do,” he says. “I’ve seen a different side of Hawai‘i that I never knew existed, and I’m really happy to be a part of it.”
Since his return, the designer has created visual installations throughout Honolulu, most recently as a visual merchandiser for Louis Vuitton and Paiko. Now, in addition to these gigs, Lee is prepping for the grand opening of The Public Pet, an urban pet supply store that he and his husband, Matthew Guevara, debuted in February 2016 in Kaimukī. The couple’s aim with the shop is to give local designers a platform to create something great for local cats and dogs. It will carry goods from Raw Dog Hawaii, Roberta Oaks, Toby Adams, Dee Olivia, and A.Wattz Dezigns. “It all circles back to working and living in Kaka‘ako,” Lee says. “I befriended all the other business owners here, and they’re all around my age. That’s really what inspired me to open up my own store.”
In their spare time, you may find Lee and Guevara walking around Our Kaka‘ako with their two dogs (or “babies,” as Lee fondly calls them), Lola and Pfeiffer. “They are ultimately the reasons why we moved to Kaka‘ako, and why we are opening a pet store,” Lee says, showing me a photo of them just like a proud parent would. “We needed to find a place that was pet-friendly, and a place that we could walk everywhere if we wanted to. We just love living in Kaka‘ako because the community is so close-knit.”
Jordan Lee’s Five Favorite Things About Our Kaka‘ako
The dogs and cats in the neighborhood: “Animals are such an awesome way to start a conversation, people are so open to their energy, and quickly become receptive to talking with one another.”
Talking with the people who work and live here: “It’s been great meeting people in Kaka‘ako, the community is so new that everyone is willing to share their story of how they got here.”
The fried avocado from Cocina, and the $5 salads from The Cut: “You. Must. Try.”
The art and the community that cultivate Our Kaka‘ako: “The influence that Pow! Wow! Hawai‘i has brought to Kaka‘ako has attracted many local artists. It’s refreshing to be in the presence of people who really appreciate creativity.”
The smell of Palo Santo incense: “We burn this stuff on the hour at Paiko. I am basically addicted.”
For more information about The Public Pet, visit thepublicpet.com. Find Lee’s handiwork in Our Kaka‘ako at Paiko, located at 675 Auahi St.