Celebrate May Day with Us!

May 01 2022

May Day is known as Lei Day in Hawai‘i. It is a statewide celebration of the aloha spirit and the giving of flower lei. 


Having grown up on Oʻahu, our Senior Art Director Rachel Oro has so many fun memories of celebrating Lei Day and set out to create our first-ever May Day Collection inspired by the colors and flowers of each island. Once the designs were set, we teamed up with friends from all across Hawaiʻi to bring each island collection to life. Each collection was shot on location with local photographers and models*. We are so excited to share the history of May Day with you and bring you behind the scenes of this very special limited edition collection! 

*We did not shoot on location on the islands of Niʻihau, Lānaʻi, or Kahoʻolawe 

History of May Day in Hawaiʻi

Mehe keiki makahiapo ola ke loha, 
ʻO ka lei mau nō ia ka manaʻo
Like a living first born child is love, 
A lei is constantly desired and worn. 

 

 

Lei making in Hawaiʻi began with the arrival of the Polynesians, who adorned themselves with strings of flowers and vines. In early Hawaiʻi, lei were created out of local flowers, leaves, vines, seeds, nuts, shells, and feathers. They were used both in ceremonies as well as in celebrations and symbolized honor, respect, and aloha. Kumu Hula Leilehua Yuen tells us, “A lei is not just flowers strung on a thread. A lei is a tangible representation of aloha in which symbols of that aloha are carefully sewn or woven together to create a gift. This gift tells a story of the relationship between the giver and the recipient.” 


In 1927, poet laureate, Don Blanding, wrote a column in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin proposing a “Lei Day'' holiday to celebrate the tradition of giving and receiving lei. Two days later, the paper printed a letter from Don’s co-worker, Grace Tower Warren, who suggested May 1st as the ideal day for the holiday and coined the slogan, “May Day is Lei Day in Hawai‘i.”  


The first Lei Day was held on May 1, 1928 in the lobby of Bank of Hawai‘i in Honolulu and in 1929, the Governor of Hawai‘i signed a Lei Day Proclamation to honor the traditions of Hawai‘i by wearing and displaying lei on May 1st.  


Today, May Day is recognized all across Hawaiʻi! Schools celebrate in a big way with songs, hula dancing, and a procession of the Lei Day court. Students elect a king and queen to represent each of the eight main Hawaiian islands, Hawaiʻi, Maui, Niʻihau, Lānaʻi, Molokaʻi, Oʻahu, Kauaʻi, and Kahoʻolawe. Each island is represented by a flower and specific color, and once elected each set of royals will wear flower lei and be dressed in their island's colors. Lei Day is the BEST DAY in Hawaiʻi Nei! 

 

Fun Fact: Our Co-Founder, Heather, was elected to represent Lānaʻi in the May Day court at her high school!

Bringing the May Day Collection to Life

Once the designs for each island were complete, we made some phone calls and Rachel set out to vist our photographer and model friends from all across Hawaiʻi*. Check out the behind the scenes look at how each collection was brought to life with the help of our friends! 

Hint: We will be releasing new island collections each week throughout the month of May. Sign up for emails and texts here and be the first to know about new collections dropping every week!


*We did not shoot on location on the islands of Niʻihau, Lānaʻi, or Kahoʻolawe 

 

Lānaʻi

Color: ʻAlani (orange) 
Flower:
Kaunaʻoa
Photographer:
Nani Welch Keliʻihoʻomalu
Field Notes: 
The kaunaʻoa vine grows in sandy soil near the coastline and can be found in a variety of colors including the vibrant ʻalani. Because we didn't travel to Lānaʻi, our photographer and friend Nani Welch Keliʻihoʻomalu and her auntie gathered kaunaʻoa vine on Big Island to make this delicate lei. 

 

Niʻihau

Color: Keʻokeʻo (white)
Shell: Pūpū
Photographer: Nani Welch Keliʻihoʻomalu
Field Notes: The white pūpū shells are known as Hawaiian diamonds because of their rarity and are only found on the shores of Niʻihau. Because the island is privately owned and you need special permission to visit, Nani, our photographer, shot photos of her tūtū’s original Niʻihau shell lei. Aren't they beautiful?!

 

Kauaʻi

Color: Poni (purple)
Flower: Mokihana
Model: Kahea Papke
Photographer: Tina Aiu
Field Notes: The flower representing Kaua‘i is actually made of fruit! Mokihana berries come from a native citrus tree that can only be found on Kaua'i. When searching for a location that would represent Kauaʻi our photographer, Tina Aiu suggested shooting against a taro patch, which are well known on Kauaʻi due to the islands wet environment (Kauaʻi is the wettest place on earth!). In addition to being a photographer, Tina is also an active member of her community and volunteers her time to protect and mālama Hawaiian lands on both Kaua‘i and O‘ahu.

 

Kahoʻolawe

Color: Hinahina (silvery gray)
Flower: Hinahina
Photographer: Nani Welch Keliʻihoʻomalu
Field Notes: Hinahina is one of the sweetest smelling flower clusters of all the native Hawaiian plants. Each flower cluster is composed of up to 15 small white flowers that grow up above a tight, silvery rosette of leaves. These fragrant white flowers and the succulent leaves make a long lasting and beautiful lei. For this shoot, we did not travel to Kaho‘olawe but our amazing photographer Nani, along with her auntie, traveled to where the Hinahina grows on Big Island and there they made a traditional lei to represent Kahoʻolawe. 

 

Molokaʻi

Color: ʻŌmaʻomaʻo (green)
Flower: Kukui
Model: Maire Kalawe
Photographer: Nani Welch Keliʻihoʻomalu
Field Notes: We shot our friend Kauwelaʻs daughter Maire in the red dirt brush on “The Friendly Isle." Both Kauwela and Maire were born and raised on Molokaʻi. At the shoot, Maire wore a hat adorned with a feather lei made by her great-grandmother. Kauwela’s family also owns and operates Kupu Aʻe Molokaʻi which you might recognize from our many collaboration designs! 

 

Maui

Color: ʻĀkala (pink)
Flower: Lokelani
Model: Hiʻilei Aiwohi-kolt
Photographer: Sam Feyen
Field Notes: Our model, Hiʻilei, and photographer, Sam both grew up on Maui and helped us scout for the perfect location. We ended up shooting in upcountry Maui where the top of the road feels like the top of the world! 

 

Big Island

Color: ʻUlaʻula (red)
Flower: ʻŌhiʻa Lehua
Model: Chloe Martins Keliʻihoʻomalu
Photographer: Nani Welch Keliʻihoʻomalu
Field Notes: For this shoot, we worked with Big Island locals Nani and her cousin Chloe. We shot on location at Chloe’s grandparents’ cabin in Volcano National Park where their family has lived for generations. Chloe was given her middle name, Kalikopualehuakauikalani, meaning “the bud of lehua flower that grows towards the heavens”. When Chloe came to understand the beauty of her name she built a strong appreciation and bond with the ʻōhiʻa. Today, she continues to pursue a career in ʻōhiʻa conservation through community science, outreach, and research to improve future reforestation efforts.

 

Oʻahu

Color: Pala luhiehu (golden yellow) or melemele (yellow)
Flower: ʻIlima
Model: Mahina Florence
Photographer: Jessica Pine
Field Notes: We teamed up with our good friends Jessica Pine and Mahina Florence to shoot on Oʻahu. It's no surprise that we decided to shoot in Waikīkī with Diamond Head in the background, showing off this iconic island view. The ALOHA Collection flagship store is also located in Waikīkī! 

  

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Sources: 

Na Mele Welo, Songs of Our Heritage (translated by Mary Kawena Pukui) Bishop Museum Press 1995, p. 45. 

https://imagesofoldhawaii.com/may-day/ 

https://www.ksbe.edu/article/the-history-of-may-day-and-lei-day-in-hawaii/

https://keolamagazine.com/culture/story-of-the-lei/

https://www.leiday.org/about-the-hilo-lei-day-festival/

https://www.leiday.org/may-day-is-lei-day-in-hawai%ca%bbi/ 

https://www.oha.org/news/may-days-gone/#:~:text=MAY%20DAY%20IS%20LEI%20DAY,of%20giving%20and%20receiving%20lei

6 comments

  • Deborah Keith Castillo: May 04, 2022

    I arrived in Oahu 1969 and attended Leilehua High School briefly before moving down to Honolulu where I grad from Radford High School! One of my most favorite memories of Hawaii was the beautiful flowers that could be made into leis! I worked at a small flower shop in Waikiki stringing orchid and pikake leis! I still see recall the scent! Also while working front desk of Sheraton Waikiki Hotel on May Day the hotel had a lei making contest! The girl that won made a double bougainvillea flower lei took her 8 hours! The most beautiful lei I had ever seen! Her prize was $50.00!; in 1976 that was a lot of money! For sharing your beautiful story about Hawaii and the flowers of the islands; Mahalo!

  • Shermane Chu: May 04, 2022

    Really excited to see the limited edition.

  • Lisa Hansen: May 04, 2022

    Your designs are beautiful and I feel so good holding the bag knowing it was made with the Aloha spirit.

  • Lizzie: May 04, 2022

    🌺 especially excited for this release!

  • Claudia Stewart: May 04, 2022

    I love your products and how you bring the beauty to life with the Aloha collections products. Can’t get enough!

  • LaVerne Denton: May 04, 2022

    Loved reading all about the history of The Lei,
    Mahalo 🌺🌴

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