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Woman pays tribute to the mu‘umu‘u in Lawai

LAWAI — Ariana Owen said you can’t be in a bad mood when wearing a mu‘umu‘u.

“This is one of my best shopping yet,” she said Friday as she scooped up several keiki-sized garments from the rack at Machine Machine in Warehouse 3540 in Lawai. “I found several for my daughter.”

Owen, garbed in a mu‘umu‘u, said she made the mistake of trying to cut the garment she had on into a skirt.

“It just didn’t feel right,” Owen said. “I stopped, and actually sewed it back together.”

Shannon Hiramoto, owner of Machine Machine, said she had that same feeling after receiving a collection of 70 mu‘umu‘u from a friend’s mother, three years ago.

“They gave me a lot because they felt I could cut them up and use the pieces for other garments,” Hiramoto said. “But after going through several, it didn’t feel right.”

The emotion triggered something in Hiramoto that started her on a move to raise awareness about the mu‘umu‘u, its history, and the feeling one gets by wearing a mu‘umu‘u. She is currently celebrating Mu‘umu‘u Month for the third year.

“The premise of #muumuumonth is extremely simple,” she said. “For the entire month of January, I wear a mu‘umu‘u every day — doing errands, at work, going to the store, hiking, biking, etc. I also get other women in Warehouse 3540 to do the same. I try to wear a different one daily, and luckily, I have a large collection.”

Hiramoto’s drive to create Mu‘umu‘u Month was spurred on when she attended the recent Hoike Holoku, a fancy mu‘umu‘u fashion show hosted by the Kauai Historical Society at which all guests wore their most beautiful Hawaiian dresses.

“The mu‘umu‘u has a history that reaches very far back,” she said. “I don’t know much about it besides my own childhood experiences, but I had a great time. It was amazing. These dresses resonate in such a particular way, straight to the heart.”

Sheena Bean, Hiramoto’s partner, likes the mu‘umu‘u.

“When I moved to Oahu 10 years ago, I bought my first one,” Bean said. “Wearing it made me feel feminine. It was very practical, not sweaty to wear, and comfortable.”

Hiramoto said Mu‘umu‘u Month is not based on commercialism or sales.

“Mu‘umu‘u is like an endangered species,” she said. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone. We feel that if more people knew about it, they would join in. Mu‘umu‘u are just so darn special.”

Hiramoto said many people, especially older folks, are thrilled to see women wearing mu‘umu‘u.

“Aunties always get excited and say, ‘Oh, you’re wearing a mu‘umu‘u.’ They are indeed fashionable and make the wearer, and all who see you, smile with sentimentality,” she said.

Bean said the fact that women stopped celebrating femininity may have led to the decline of the mu‘umu‘u as a fashion piece.

“There is a lot of movement toward equal rights, and we’re losing sight of celebrating us as women,” she said.

Hiramoto said when you challenge yourself to wear a mu‘umu‘u daily, epiphanies occur.

“This experiment has allowed me to define beauty for myself, not based on television, magazines, movies, or the current fashion industry,” she said. “And when you wear a mu‘umu‘u, you go slower — gracefully, elegantly, with hand in pocket.”

Hiramoto said there was something magical about her childhood here, and when she wears a mu‘umu‘u, it transports her back. Her great-grandmother, Florence Kamei, used to make mu‘umu‘u.

“I wish she was still here and that I had some of her dresses,” Hiramoto said.

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