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Monday, July 19, 2010

Watumull's Vintage Hawaiian Aloha Shirts

1940s Watumulls label

Watumull's has been around since 1914, specializing in Hawaiian clothing. Watumull Jhamandas Mirchandani was a businessman selling imported goods from the orient in 1914. Born in India, he made his fortune in Hawaii as a merchant and real estate agent. In 1942, he published the Watumull Foundation to help increase India's national efficiency and promote cultural exchanges between India and the United States.

He was one of the first Indians to arrive in Hawaii. His business center was initially in Manila. The Philippines had recently obtained independence from Spanish rule and the political scene in Manila was in turmoil. With the advent of the First World War, when the US military moved its operation from Philippines to Hawaii, Jhamandas – with his keen foresight for business – decided to move his operation to Honolulu as well. His brother, Govindaram joined him in establishing the “Watumull Brothers” company. Their children adopted “Watumull” as their family name. His legacy is carried forward today by his son Gulab and daughter-in-law Indru. Gulab arrived in Hawaii in 1949.

Watumull's East India Store led the way by commissioning artist Elsie Das to create fifteen floral designs. Her hand-painted designs were sent to Japan where they were printed by hand onto raw silk. According to Elsie Das, a Japanese manufacturer once printed a set of her floral designs on heavy satin by mistake. "These started a vogue in Hollywood. Ginger Rogers, Janet Gaynor and other stars bought bolts of the stuff and had it made into 'seductive gowns.' The result was an epidemic of Hawaiian designs, with hibiscus and ginger breaking out on table cloths, napkins and scarves all over the country."

Vintage Watumull's Hawaiian clothing is getting harder and harder to come by. Most of the examples I found on line are in Japan. I did find a couple on line though that were in English.

1940s Hawaiian shirt available at the Hana Shirt Company

This one is on EBAY from ord_kung

We were fortunate to find this one a little while ago. This piece dates to the 1940s and is made of Rayon. It has the classic coconut shell buttons with horizontal buttonholes, short sleeves and a single chest pocket. Check out that wind collar!

Available at Glamoursurf

1 comment:

Thumbu Sammy said...

This is a really great and informative post. Just wanted to let you know about this new collection on the Watumull family in the South Asian American Digital Archive, which you can look at here: http://bit.ly/npzUBK