BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Tori Richard Aloha Shirts are proudly worn by Hawaii 5-0‘s leading man Alex O’Loughlin, The Descendants’ star George Clooney, many of the top business leaders in Hawaii, as well as some 2,000 volunteers who worked at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference from November 7 to 13.
The quality of the designs, materials and price makes Tori Richard one of the most elegant and elite Aloha resort wear creators in the islands.
The company sponsored the APEC conference, not only designing the volunteers’ shirts, but also giving every one of the some 20,000 delegates and 1,300 journalists a gift certificate for $50.
President Barack Obama’s administration requested that Tori Richard create an exclusive shirt for 21 world leaders participating in APEC for their “family photo” in which these leaders traditionally don cultural clothing best representing the country that is hosting them.
But Obama said Sunday: “I got rid of the Hawaiian shirts because I had looked at pictures of some of the previous APEC meetings and some of the garb that had appeared previously, and I thought this may be a tradition that we might want to break. I suggested to the leaders — we gave them a shirt, and if they wanted to wear the shirt, I promise you it would have been fine. But I didn’t hear a lot of complaints about us breaking precedent on that one.”
Many local residents and business owners were offended when Obama, who touts his local Hawaii roots, made this pronouncement.
Tori Richard President Josh Feldman, in response to local and national media inquiries, said on Facebook that he and his 140 employees who worked diligently to design the shirt were disappointed with the President’s decision.
“We knew there was some indecision on the use of the shirt but we had felt the Aloha Shirt’s status as a multi-cultural garment would win the day. The 75-year history of the Aloha Shirt is strongly colored by visual influences from nearly every APEC member nation. The Aloha Shirt is known throughout the world as Hawaii’s #1 non-agricultural export. It would have been a fitting image of the world leaders to be wearing a garment so influenced by the many nations they represent,” Feldman said.
He said print design was “actually directed by the White House” and he said the Obama administration was “quite specific” about what elements should be included.
The company went to considerable trouble to “print just 50 yards, enough for 21 shirts” and hand sew each shirt in the Honolulu factory with the “best of materials” including proprietary cotton lawn fabric, authentic mother of pearl buttons, true French seams and custom labeling that read, “Exclusively for APEC 2011 Made in Hawaii USA by Tori Richard” –with President Barack Obama’s signature woven into the label.
“The huge effort and cost of a normal printing amortized over just 50 yards resulted in some very expensive shirts,” Feldman said. “We informed the White House who emphasized the shirts needed to be exclusive and one of a kind. This increased our confidence the shirts would be used.” The shirts were donated and no taxpayer funds were used.
One of the primary goals of APEC, the President said, was to push for more products to be made in the USA, and exported to other Pacific Rim countries, so that America could boost job creation.
He said in yesterday’s press conference: “Part of my job is to sell America and our products and our services around the world, and I think we’ve done so very effectively. And as I said, just to take the example of exports, we’re on track to double our exports since I came into office. That was a goal I set, and we’re on track to meet it. That’s actually been one of the stronger parts of our economic growth over the last couple of years. And I want to make sure that we keep on driving that.”
Several callers to the Rick Hamada Program on KHVH News Radio on Monday morning shared their frustration with Obama’s decision, calling it disrespectful and offensive.
Rick Hamada said when the President had a chance to perform a simple gesture to promote Hawaii, he turned it down with “distain in his remarks.”
Others pointed to the irony that Obama spoke about promoting American goods, yet “dissed” Hawaii’s own handmade product that could have been showcased so easily to the world.
A few callers defended the President’s decision, saying he should have worn a business suit because he is representing America not Hawaii.
But Hamada maintained: “It was a slight. I don’t think it was very respectful and neither do the vast majority of the callers today.”
Feldman said the company “took an expensive gamble and lost”, but “were honored to be selected and involved in the process.”
“I would do it again without hesitation,” Feldman said.