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Vol 19, no. 6
December 2016/ January 2017


Tie One On 
Story By: James Charisma
Photo By: Olivier Koning

During the plantation era, the palaka—a checked shirt made from denim-like cloth—was the uniform of choice for laborers in Hawai‘i’s sugar cane and pineapple fields. Inspired by a nineteenth-century English work shirt known as the “frock,” the palaka was rugged, inexpensive and cheerful. By the 1930s it had spread beyond the plantations into general Island dress. In the 1950s, palaka-print surf shorts were in vogue among surfers, and for decades matching palaka shorts and tops were sought after by tourists as wearable souvenirs. The palaka’s popularity faded with the demise of plantation agriculture, but lately it has made a comeback in a surprising fashion—one that hangs from men’s necks.

Pineapple Palaka, which specializes in Hawai‘i-themed neckwear, was founded by Jonathan Fong and Rick Abelmann, who became friends as students at Brigham Young University in the 1990s. As young Mormons, Abelmann and Fong have always had an appreciation and need for good neckties. “Here in Hawai‘i, you don’t have tons of people with tie experience,” says Fong. “We’ve got a little more experience than other folks.” Unhappy with the dearth of ties produced by local fashion companies, they decided to fill that niche themselves.

The Pineapple Palaka collection includes more than fifty neckties and bow ties made from hand-woven silk or a polyester micro-fiber. All bear designs reflecting Island culture. The motifs include kalo (a.k.a. taro, a Hawaiian staple food), jumping nai‘a (dolphins, which represent playfulness and unconditional love) and laua‘e (a native fern used in hula and lei making). Some designs lend themselves to specific occasions or purposes. Pineapples symbolize hospitality, for instance, so the red-and-yellow checked pineapple tie might be a good choice for someone in the hospitality industry.

And then, of course, there’s palaka. Some ties are covered with it, front and back. But most simply incorporate a patch in the tipping, on the back of the tie. “Palaka has long been the unofficial fabric of Hawai‘i,” says Fong, “and we wanted to honor that.”