Alfred Shaheen was the most creative and prolific Hawaiian manufacturer in the heyday of post-WWII fashion. Shaheen pioneered Hawaii's vital garment manufacturing industry by stretching beyond the limits imposed by the isolation of the Hawaiian Islands. During pre-statehood Hawaii, a critical time in Hawaii's economic development, Shaheen built the most comprehensive textile printing, garment manufacturing, and retail company Hawaii would ever see. Shaheen accomplished this feat through his vision, inventiveness, engineering brilliance, and unreserved commitment to authenticity and excellence. In recognition of his contributions to the State of Hawaii, in July of 2001, Alfred Shaheen was presented with Hawaii's Lifetime Achievement Award. In July of 2006, Hawaii's premier newspaper, The Honolulu Advertiser, included Shaheen among the 150 most influential people, events, and institutions to impact social, economic, political, and cultural changes in Hawaii from 1856 to the present (Alfred Shaheen, The Honolulu Advertiser)
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Alfred Shaheen's parents, Mary and George, settled on Oahu in the late-1930s and brought with them the knowledge and experience of a family history in the garment industry. Mary and George established a custom manufacturing business, while Alfred attended Whittier College in California and studied math, physics, and aeronautical engineering.

When WWII began, Alfred enlisted in the Army Air Corps and flew in the European Theatre of Operations, flying 85 combat missions in Italy, France, and Germany. When the war ended, Alfred returned to his family on Oahu and began working in the family business.

Shaheen Factory, 1957
Alfred Shaheen in Samoan Tapa


Alfred Shaheen wanted to expand his family's business to include ready-to-wear aloha shirts and women's fashions; so, in 1948, he started his own company in the Shaheen family home on Kalakaua Avenue with four seamstresses trained by his mother, Mary.

Like other Hawaiian manufacturers of his day, Shaheen's aloha wear was originally made with textiles imported from the mainland. However, using these imported textiles had serious drawbacks and Shaheen soon realized that if he wanted to survive, he must find a way to create his own fabrics. Shaheen set up Surf 'n Sand Hand Prints, his first print plant, in a Quonset hut on the outskirts of town and began scouring Honolulu's junkyards for parts to use in building his equipment. With two inexperienced local workers, Shaheen began building his machinery.

By 1950, Shaheen had engineered and built his own machinery to print, dye, and finish his fabrics. By 1952, Shaheen was printing more than 60,000 yards of fabric per month under the name Surf 'n Sand Hand Prints. In 1956, Shaheen built an $8,000,000 factory, showroom, and office complex, and by 1959 he employed 400 people, sold garments worldwide, owned his own chain of retail stores in Hawaii, and grossed more than $4,000,000 annually. Shaheen attributes these achievements to Surf 'n Sand and his ability to print and produce his own fabrics.

 
Alfred Shaheen's textile designs and fabrics were inspired by Hawaii, the South Pacific, and Asia. Shaheen studied the native designs of these countries and adapted them to textiles, producing such classics as the Pua Lani Pareau, Antique Tapa, and Joss Sticks hand prints. Shaheen's philosophy was to celebrate our ethnic diversity and remain true to authentic cultural art forms.

Shaheen engineered his unique method of silk-screening textile designs for mass production, and introduced new sewing and production techniques to the garment industry. In his in-house training department, Shaheen and his mother, Mary, trained artists, printers, screeners, finishers, seamstresses, and models. These highly-trained individuals became known as Alfred Shaheen's City of Craftsmen and produced the extraordinary garments that made Shaheen the largest aloha wear manufacturer in Hawaii in the 1950s and 1960s. These specialized craftspeople eventually integrated into the Hawaiian garment industry, taking with them the knowledge obtained from their training and experience.

Shaheen credits many gifted people for his success. Among them are his mother, Mary, for her love, guidance, strength, and incredible artistry; his head dye chemist and close friend, Dr. Edmund Lutz, who was the genius behind Shaheen's vast library of specialty dyes; the brilliant textile designer, Robert Sato; Richard Goodwin, whose flair for the dramatic created the most spectacular Shaheen fashions; and his model, the beautiful Beverly Noa, for her radiant grace and style.
Beverly Noa
 
Shaheen's Fashion Show
Alfred Shaheen continued in business for 40 years. Despite Shaheen's worldwide distribution, he always maintained his factory and production on Oahu, on the site of the original Shaheen family home. The company closed its doors when Shaheen retired in 1988.

Today, Shaheen's Hawaiian shirts, sarongs, and sundresses are some of the most prized pieces in vintage Hawaiiana collections. Shaheen's Hawaiian labels include Alfred Shaheen, Shaheen's of Honolulu, Surf 'n Sand, Kiilani, and Burma Gold Hand Prints. Shaheen was the only Hawaiian manufacturer to print his own fabrics and, using these fabrics, he created clothing for other retailers throughout the country. Some of these retailers include Andrades, McInerny, Liberty House, and Waltah Clarke. Shaheen's beloved hand prints are Hawaiian classics that represent Hawaii around the world and have become part of the Hawaiian mystique.


 

Antique Tapa