A Night to Remember: Fashion Show Raises Funds, Awareness for HIV on the Big Island
By Megan Hadley
It was a night to remember — twinkling lights, long dresses and a lit-up runway took over the King Kamehameha Hotel ballroom Saturday night, Aug. 13, to raise funds and awareness for HIV on the Big Island. Hosted by Kumakahi Health + Wellness, a nonprofit that provides a safe space for those suffering from HIV in Hawai‘i, the fundraiser, Raise the Runway, was a dream come true.
“This night has been completely fabulous,” said Cindi Medeiros, operations director at Kumakahi Health + Wellness. “Coming out of COVID-19 has been difficult for us, but we are getting some sense of normalcy back. It’s also our one-year anniversary of our rebranding, so the fashion show is a big night for us.”
The fashion show featured four local designers who style and create based in Hawai‘i. More, they pulled the show together in less than six weeks.
“How much time did we really need? About six months,” said local designer Aloha Victor with Kaulua’e Hawai’i Designs.
“But we came here tonight to support this wonderful non-profit and to support the community as well. We started prepping at 8 a.m this morning with hair and makeup, we did a stage rehearsal and we haven’t stopped since. We’re completely starving,” he laughed.
For Victor, fashion is about celebrating one’s unique style and steering away from any guidelines.
“For me, fashion is about designing on my terms, and I design for fun and I try not to follow any fashion rules,” he said. “But I love what I do. Everything that we make is made in Hawaii, that includes the fabrics, completed and styled on the Big Island. It’s important to us. We want to know where our money is going and the people who work in the industry here.”
However, due to COVID-19, all Kaulua’e Hawai’i products are online.
“Right now we’re using our store for storage, but you can find us on our website or Instagram,” he said.
For Medeiros, the fashion show has been a way to get back into the community after operations slowed during COVID-19.
“The night has been an opportunity to get back out there and collaborate with these fantastic fashion designers,” she said. “We can show off the art they do through fashion. It’s really come to life. It’s been exciting to see that all play out on the runway.”
“And we know it was such short notice, but we’re so proud of how it all came together and how hard everyone has worked,” she continued.
Kumakahi Health + Wellness provides a list of comprehensive services on the Big Island, including getting people infected with HIV access to health care and housing, food pantry services, and case management programs. They also do testing and education in the community for STIs.
“We also do prep services for those who want to protect themselves against HIV,” Medeiros noted. “And, we have health insurance programs, so we can connect folks with state health insurance.”
The nonprofit has been on the island for over 35 years — since 1989 — and continues to grow.
“We want to expand our services in Kona,” said Medeiros.
According to Kumakahi Health + Wellness’s Executive Director, Peter Tui Silva, it’s about creating a safe space for those in need.
“We’re a safe space for people to come in and not feel judged,” he said. “We use pronouns and preferred names. So if you come in and you’re feeling scared because you look a certain way but the name on your ID says this, you come to us, and you’re taken care of.”
Kumakahi Health + Wellness is supported by local businesses and government funding as well, including: MyBar Kona, the County of Hawai‘i, United Airlines, and others.
Moreover, with monkeypox on the rise, Kumakahi Health + Wellness provides vaccinations as well.
“We are a safe place for the monkeypox vaccine,” said Medeiros. “The nursing department has been administering those and we will continue to help those in need.”
However, Medeiros also noted that there was no need for the public to panic with monkeypox on the rise.
“We’re here for support and we want this to be a place where people can come and get vaccinated,” Medeiros added.
Fundraisers like Raise the Runway help.
“Tonight was a culmination of putting together a beautiful and professional show for the community and answering the cause,” said Silva. “We really wanted to showcase who we are and what we do. This is us.”
For one partygoer, Liz, who asked that her full name be revoked, the night was fun and fabulous.
“I’m just so excited to see so many beautiful people in one place. I love seeing all the different designers too. And the models. This night has been wonderful and I love fundraising for a cause,” she said.
“I’ll definitely be back next year.”