Hawaiian fashion on display during Merrie Monarch Hula Festival

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Simply Sisters Merrie Monarch Festival fashion 2024. (Photo courtesy: Simply Sisters Facebook)

Every year, Peggy Kanai takes a day off work to attend the first day of the annual Merrie Monarch Arts and Crafts Fair.

“That’s when you’re going to get your hands on the best,” Kanai said. “I stay there literally from morning till dark.”

The craft fair kicks off today and goes till Saturday at the Afook Chinen Civic Auditorium and Butler Buildings in Hilo. Vendors vary from jewelry to food to wood art to fresh lei, and of course, clothing.

Over the past few years, Kanai said she’s seen an explosion of fashion featuring local designers. It’s traditional Hawaiian wear yet modern that caters to all age groups.

The outfits range from the traditional mu‘u mu‘u to t-shirt dresses to classy tops for men and women. All have some variety of Hawaiian print whether it be flowers, waves or original art.


Finding an outfit and accessorizing it with jewelry, lei and lauhala hat is as exciting for those who go to watch the three-day hula competition, which starts Thursday.

Click here for more information on the craft fair.

Kimo Miller, co-owner of Simply Sisters by Lola Miller Designs, thinks the Merrie Monarch Craft Fair is the only event in the state where all the local designers attend. When Miller and his wife started participating in the festival eight years ago, he said there were fewer than a handful of fashion vendors. “Now, it’s quadrupled.”

“Everyone is here for Hawaiian fashion,” Miller said.

Kanai’s first stop is always to Simply Sisters. She said there’s always a line to get into the booth set up in the Butler Building.

Line for Simply Sisters and LexBreezy Hawai‘i outside Butler Building at Merrie Monarch Arts and Craft Fair on April 3, 2024. (Photo courtesy: LexBreezy Hawai‘i Instagram)

“The design is always unique. It’s alluring,” Kanai said, adding she has one closet dedicated to local designers.

Miller attributed the craze for Hawaiian prints to Wahine Toa, a Kona-based fashion designer.

“When we got in the picture, people were just hungry for more,” Miller said.

Wahine Toa has been attending Merrie Monarch for 14 years. Wahine Toa designer Nita Pilago said it’s their biggest shopping event as it brings a lot of international customers to their business. People will come to the festival to shop alone.

Pilago said her clothing is original wearable art designed by herself and her husband Angel and sons Kaleo and Che.


“Our inspiration comes from our ‘aina, our land and culture,” Pilago said. Because it is our family art, we are able to collaborate with our different art styles and print them on clothing.”

With a variety of local clothing fashion designers at the festival, the consumer has many choices.

“Everyone wants to look their best at the festival,” Pilago said, adding that Merrie Monarch has everything a person needs to find a whole outfit and accessorize it.

Kanai also loves shopping for clothes at LexBreezy Hawai‘i. And while she initially started coming to the craft for the clothes, the annual event is her go-to for gift shopping for holidays and birthdays.

“I can never walk away empty-handed. It’s hard not to want it all,” Kanai said.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a full-time reporter for Pacific Media Group. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.

Tiffany can be reached at [email protected].
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