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Hawai’i Swim Show Cofounders Kali'a Wasson and Taylor Matas Believe There Is No Dream Too Big

<em>Kali'a Wasson and Taylor Matas.</em><p>Courtesy of Shayla Panera</p>
Kali'a Wasson and Taylor Matas.

Courtesy of Shayla Panera

The Hawai’i Swim Show is the first resort wear and swimwear showcase to be held in the islands of Hawai’i. Inspired by Miami Swim Week, the event showcases local swimwear designers and brand owners through three days filled with runway shows, vendor pop-ups and, most importantly, the chance to connect a community of incredible entrepreneurs, publicists and creatives.

After attending the second Annual Hawai’i Swim show last August, we got the chance to sit down with cofounders Kali'a Wasson and Taylor Matas to get the inside scoop on the amazing event. From the conception of the showcases to advice for aspiring business owners, check out what Wasson had to say below.

How did you meet each other?

“Taylor and I met over 10 years ago when we decided to do our first pageant together. At this time, we were both in our teens and were extremely new to pageantry. We both put ourselves out there in a way we never have before. While we were not your typical pageant girls, coincidentally we made the decision to challenge ourselves this same year and wound up winning first place and runner-up in the pageant. Our relationship has always been more like a sisterhood from the moment we met.”

When did each of your passions for swimwear begin? Can you tell me a bit about your background?

“Our passion for swimwear stemmed from the fact that we both grew up here on our beautiful island of Hawai’i. Swimwear is an essential part of who we are. We practically live in swimwear in Hawai‘i. Owning a swimsuit line myself gives me a perspective of the creator and business owner as well and truly allows me to have a heart for others who are doing the same. There is so much mana (power) in the ability to create pieces that empower women and men to feel good in their bodies. I would say that although our love for fashion and swimwear is a factor, our passion for Hawai‘i and our people is even greater, and the Hawai'i Swim Show is essentially a way to bring the community together and to truly share the beauty and talent we have here with the world.”

What inspired you to start the Hawai’i Swim Show? What was the “aha” moment?

“In 2020, Leimakani, a wahine (woman)-owned swimwear brand, was invited to the Miami Swim Week. This made history for the people of Hawai‘i and opened many doors for a culture that is seen as a minority today.

The experience that I had putting together my showcase to be seen in Miami and all over the world was incredibly rewarding. Taylor was a model in this show and we were able to share this incredible experience together. The opportunities and the voice that we had following this was so beneficial to my business and also greatly affected and inspired those around us without us realizing. It was after this experience that we knew we wanted this opportunity for all of Hawai‘i.

Growing up on an Island can be difficult sometimes. It can also be very challenging to leave. Many opportunities in business and in fashion are on the mainland, in larger cities like Los Angeles or Miami, but why not bring them to Hawai‘i and create those opportunities here? Hawai‘i is the center for all swim and resort wear. Not only are we one of the top vacation spots in the world, it goes deeper into our culture and the fact that our livelihood is dependent on the ocean. ‘Waiwai’ in Hawaiian means rich or wealthy and ‘Wai’ means water. Growing up, we knew the importance of water to us and how rich we are as a culture in our natural resources. It is a lifestyle. All of that to say that we just knew that Hawai‘i needed this and that the purpose behind this is so much greater ... We wanted to bring the opportunities here and be able to have all eyes on Hawai‘i; making our footprint in the world of fashion, swim and resort wear.”

<em>Hawai’i Swim Show.</em><p>Courtesy of Shayla Panera</p>
Hawai’i Swim Show.

Courtesy of Shayla Panera

Where did you begin once you had the idea for the showcase? Have either of you ever put on an event of this caliber before?

“One day we were just talking about our goals and dreams and how insane it would be to start a swim week or swim show home in Hawai‘i. That dream quickly took shape as we began to research different venues and reach out to local businesses in our little Hilo town. Being that the culture in Hawai‘i is so family-oriented, community-based and extremely supportive, it was not long before other local entrepreneurs were on board to support what seemed like a crazy dream at the time. Brett and Nāʻeha, co-owners of Ola Brew Co., were two of the very first people to truly see our vision with us and were quick to sponsor our event by providing us our beautiful venue, which happened to be an old iconic plantation and sugar factory that sits right on the coast overlooking the ocean.

We had no experience planning an event of this size or caliber, nor did we have a team to help put it together. Taylor and I decided to go full force in making it happen and figuring it out along the way.”

How do you choose the designers to participate in the showcase? Do you reach out? Do they apply?

“Our process for selecting designers begins with an application. We open up designer applications online, where they are able to fill out a form, providing information about their brand and why they would like to be a part of the Hawai‘i Swim Show. Once our deadline for applications approaches, we begin to review them all.

There are so many factors that we take into consideration when selecting the brands. With over a hundred amazing brands applying [for the 2023 show], it was definitely difficult to select who we would invite to be a part of the shows. We do take into consideration that we like to have a variety of styles and niches. I would say one of the most important qualifications in our selection process is making sure that the brands that are selected also align with what we stand for and our overall mission as well. We love to hear what inspired the designers to start their brand and hear the heart behind it.”

Can you share a bit about the model casting process?

“We pride ourselves in providing an equal opportunity for models all over the globe to apply to be a part of the Hawai‘i Swim Show official model cast.

We open our castings online on our website, hiswimshow.com. Here they are able to access the application, fill out the information and answer a few questions about themselves and why they want to be a part of the Hawai‘i Swim Show. They will also then submit their model composite card, consisting of a headshot and their measurements. Once we receive the initial application and composite card, we take our time in reviewing them one by one and decide who then moves forward into the next stage of casting. Those selected then get an email requesting two walking videos; one in heels and one barefoot. After further review of the videos, we narrow it down even further and begin the next phase which is the interview portion.

The interview phase is crucial to our decision in the model cast because it allows us to see their personality and see them beyond a beautiful face. Character and representation is extremely important to us and it shows in the selection process because at the end of the weekend, all of our models become like family and we encourage building relationships and empowering one another. The interview is normally only 15 minutes, but they will answer questions like, ‘What is your favorite physical and non-physical trait about yourself?’ And, ‘Why would you like to be considered for the Hawai'i Swim Show?’

[In 2023] in particular, we received over 700 applications from men, women and children from all over the world. We successfully casted 60 models [for the 2023 show] and are so extremely proud of them all. They carried themselves exceptionally, representing each featured designer, brand and the Hawai‘i Swim Show so well.”

Were there any specific lessons you learned from the first Hawai’i Swim Show that you took with you into the second year?

“Although nothing will ever beat the historic feeling of the first annual Hawai‘i Swim Show and the beauty of hosting it in our hometown of Hilo, there were many details from our first show that we were able to take and develop even further [for the 2023 show]. We were able to implement and fine tune a lot of the details to the lighting and production, including a much larger runway. We were also able to host our Vendor Pop-Up only steps away from all the shows, where everyone got to enjoy a shopping experience during the down times. While we had a total of 34 local vendors [in 2023], we hope to fit even more next year. Overall, we were able to provide a unique upscale experience while keeping the aloha spirit throughout the entirety of our event, and this is simply nothing you will see anywhere else in the world.”

<em>Hawai’i Swim Show.</em><p>Courtesy of Shayla Panera</p>
Hawai’i Swim Show.

Courtesy of Shayla Panera

Where do you see the Hawai’i Swim Show going in the next few years?

“We have big goals for the Hawai‘i Swim Show and truly believe that it can go as far as we take it. This event is carried by our community and for that we owe them a huge mahalo (thank you) for continuously supporting us each year. The Hawai‘i Swim Show, in its first two years alone, has amazingly reached such a large global audience, and we are so honored that you all are able to see the heart and mana (power) behind it.

We do hope to have the Hawai'i Swim Show nationally and globally known. Eventually, we would love to have it televised and recognized as one of the top fashion events to attend, bringing in people from all over the world. We hope to use the Hawai'i Swim Show as a tool to bring the well-deserved visibility to our authentic Hawai‘i, the Hawaiian people, culture and language, and the talent that is here in the islands. We strive to make history, break barriers and most importantly, have an incredibly positive impact on the world around us through fashion.”

What has been your favorite part of putting on this amazing show the past two years?

“Our favorite part of this event would have to be the community it creates and the opportunities it brings to everyone involved. The relationships that are built and the aloha (love) that exudes from this event is like nothing you have ever seen or felt before. There is no spirit of competition, but rather a welcoming and empowering feel that resonates throughout.

During the course of the weekend, there are so many opportunities for networking and relationship-building. This helps bring our like-minded entrepreneurs more resources as we all know how important building good relationships are in business and in life. We love to see the outcome of all of our hard work displayed through the hearts of those it touched, from models, to designers, to the event staff and vendors or even publicists. It is the most rewarding feeling in the world.”

<em>Kali'a Wasson and Taylor Matas.</em><p>Courtesy of Shayla Panera</p>
Kali'a Wasson and Taylor Matas.

Courtesy of Shayla Panera

Do you have any advice for women looking to start their own business or journey in the world of swimwear and fashion?

“Our advice for women or anyone who is looking to start their own business in the world of swimwear and fashion would be that there is no dream too big and no market too saturated. If you are passionate about it, do it! When you pursue your dreams and your purpose, it can be extremely scary, but it will be so worth it. There will be times when you feel that you are not qualified enough and you may even begin to compare yourself to others around you, but there is no one like you! You are one of one and anything is possible if you set your mind to it and have faith that it will work out for your good! Do not wait around for the opportunity, create them yourself!

Lastly, no matter where you come from or what you have, you have the power to create your own story. You are worthy and you are capable. Taylor and I had many odds against us and we received many ‘nos’ in the process. We did not have much to start with besides our ambition and motivation to make it happen, regardless of any circumstances we faced. We are two small town island girls with a dream to begin a movement, to bring people together, to make a difference in the lives of the people of Hawai‘i, and to create opportunities while sharing what we love. We had no idea the amount of people this event would impact in the process, and it is worth every second of hard work that we put into the Hawai‘i Swim Show. We hope our story inspires you to write your own and go after your dreams no matter how big they may seem.”

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