PAIA – Millions of tons of plastic trash pollute our oceans. Now you can wear some of it.
The co-owners of Manakai Swimwear, Kelley Chapman, 36, originally from Atlanta and now living in Lahaina, and Anna Lieding, 31, born and raised in Hana and a resident of Paia, believe their 10 new bikini styles and a one-piece suit made from salvaged fish nets and recycled industrial waste prove that high fashion can be synonymous with sustainability.
It took them more than a year to transform their vision of eco-conscious entrepreneurship into a competitive consumer product.
“The fashion industry is often detrimental to the environment,” said Chapman, who gained industry expertise managing another swimwear business. “We decided Manakai would be part of the solution. We’re going to get it right.”
“Manakai” combines the Hawaiian words “mana” representing spirit, influence and power, and “kai” meaning the ocean.
Chapman and Lieding met when they were crew members on a Maui whale-watching boat in 2007. Their friendship evolved through shared passions for the ocean and environmental issues nurtured by their educational backgrounds.
After Chapman earned degrees in outdoor experimental tourism and sustainable education from Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, she had a teaching internship in Costa Rica, where “I put on a snorkel mask for the first time and fell in love with the ocean,” she said.
Back in Georgia, Chapman was missing seawater “when I saw a Maui bumper sticker, a Maui TV commercial and a Maui T-shirt in a friend’s hand-me-down grab bag, all on the same day. I bought a one-way ticket the next morning.”
Lieding graduated from Hana High School in 2003, and Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, in 2007 with a marine science degree. She has a 100-ton master captain’s license and has commanded boats in Hawaii, Polynesia and the Pacific Northwest. She also holds a culinary certification from the Maui Culinary Academy.
While working the 2015 summer sailing season in Puget Sound, she discovered that Bali-based Manakai Swimsuit Co., was for sale.
“I stayed up all through the night thinking about it,” Lieding recalled. “I analyzed why it could happen – one, I have deep connections with Maui, two, I work incredibly hard for what I want, and three, if I needed a sewing kit I figured I could learn how to use it.”
She and Chapman had talked about a Maui-based business collaboration so she messaged her friend and Chapman asked her to phone home.
“When Anna called I let her pitch the idea to me for a few minutes before I interrupted her and said ‘I know all about Manakai because I just signed a sales agreement to buy it,’” Chapman recalled.
Lieding flew back to Maui and the pair signed a partnership agreement. A Kickstarter campaign raised $15,000 in three weeks and extra financial help to close the deal came from family and friends.
In the 18 months since they took over the brand the new owners have finished selling off Manakai’s previous inventory and created their first products.
“We could have gone to China or Bali or anywhere else to buy new material, but from the beginning we knew we wanted a luxe fabric that would hold up to sunlight, salt and chlorine and also be sustainable,” said Chapman.
Aquafil produces the yarn composed of 100 percent regenerated nylon waste, including marine “ghost gear” salvaged from oceans.
Carvico, headquartered near Milan, uses that yarn to supply fabric to global clients. Manakai Swimwear is now one of them.
“I don’t know how many years Manakai is going to buy from us, or how many meters or yards they will buy, but like them, we all believe that the environment is the most important part of our lives,” Luca Ferrari, Carvico’s California-based representative for the Western United States, Central and South America, said in a phone interview.
“We think the idea Anna and her partner have is really great. Big, medium or small company, we don’t care. As all companies and consumers become more aware of sustainability that is very important to our company.”
With a fabric supplier in Italy, a manufacturer in California and online sales aimed at growing their business through brand-loyal fans,Lieding and Chapman say their new bikinis and one-piece suits hit all the initial high marks they set for themselves when they bought the company.
“It took a while to sort out the genius, but the fabric, patterns and prints represent a complete rebranding in our first Manakai collection,” Lieding said. “We can stand behind it and be proud of it.”
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