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Punawai digital textile printer producing scarves. Photo by Denise Laitinen.

fun part for me is color,” says Punawai, “but it’s also the most difficult part. How do you communicate color? What are the relevant colors in Hilo?” That he can choose from thousands of colors is a benefit of the new technology. “When you’re doing silk screening on fabric you’re working with a fabric that’s been dyed and add one or two screen colors on top of that,” explains Punawai. “Now with this technology it’s unlimited. I can use as many colors as I want.” Once the design and colors are finalized, creating silk scarves is a mouse click away. The computer is linked to the digital printer, which uses eco-friendly water-based inks. An added benefit of digital textile printing is that it only prints the size of the pattern, not the entire width of fabric, thereby saving ink and wasted material. After the design is printed on the silk, it’s run through a dryer machine, which makes the material color- and wash-fast. Then it’s taken to the cutting table where the patterns are cut out, sewn, and ironed. It’s truly a family-run business with his wife and mother often helping out. The entire process can be as short as one day or longer than a week. “I can design, [select] color, and print all in one day,” says Punawai. “But when you’re talking ladies tops, just working on the pattern could take a week.” Punawai says the company plans to be around for the long haul. “I love my community. In five years I still see us here,” he says. “We’re not going to be a big production outfit supplying department stares nationwide, we want to stay small and serve Hilo.” ❖ Visit Contact writer Denise Laitinen at

Susan J. Moss

Professional Member ASID, LEED Accredited Professional

Kamuela, HI PH: 808-885-5587


PHOTO: James Cohn

of his favorite places to go because of its garden of endemic, indigenous, and Polynesian-introduced plants. For instance, if he plans on creating a design featuring the ipu he’ll try to find every stage of the ipu—from vine to fruit to blossom—and photograph it. Other plants featured in Punawai designs include laua’e (fern), kalo (taro), ‘ulu (breadfruit), na’u (Hawaiian gardenia), and awapuhi (white ginger). He then returns to the studio and starts creating sketches. Selecting colors to go with the design is the next challenge. “The

September-October 2011