Aloha! Many years ago I wrote about shopping for fabric on the Hawaiian Islands.  It has been a long time since I was last in HI, so I needed to restock my Hawaiian fabric stash – which was now exhausted of my best Hawaiian fabric for Aloha shirts.  It is very, very hard (if not impossible) to find quality Hawaiian fabric for apparel mainland – so I want to show you what to expect if you travel to Hawaii – or if you decide to make use of the online shopping options.

First a disclaimer:  I did not go to all of the stores. I’ve been to Hawaii before, so I knew I wanted to target the stores which stock a wide selection of shirt/dress weight fabric.  I knew I wanted to go to (Hawaii) Fabric Mart, so this post is focused on this particular chain of stores.  If you are a quilter, you will have other options (and many) as quilting is very popular in Hawaii.

As a visitor, you have precious little time to drive around the island and find a good fabric store.  Yelp is generally a good source of information on what to expect, and will often have a few pictures to help you decide where you want to invest your time.  Some stores are industrial (not to the public) Hawaiian fabric stores only, and others are mixed craft supplies with small Hawaiian fabric selections.

Here’s a quick list of other options for Hawaiian Fabric, besides (Hawaii) Fabric Mart, on Oahu:

  • June Fabrics, (808) 845-8400, a great alternate to Fabric Mart with a wide selection
  • Kaimuki Dry Goods Ltd., (808) 734-2141, a traditional brick and mortar sewing store (not a warehouse)
  • The Calico Cat (808) 732-3998, unassuming from the front, but impressive stock and variety with quilter’s in mind.  Very friendly staff.
  • Aloha Fabrics (808) 847-2998, small selection of fabrics, also offers completed garments and hula apparel
  • Hidden Yardage (808) 523-3330, a traditional brick and mortar sewing store, primarily for quilters and a local favorite.  Truly “hidden” location.
  • Kuni Island Fabrics (808) 955-1280, a traditional brick and mortar sewing store, primarily for quilters
So many stores! Which one to visit?
So many stores! Which one to visit?

(Hawaii) Fabric Mart also has an online store.  The minimum cut is 5 yards.  I really like the online store because it helps me narrow down my goals before I go into the store.  The store is very overwhelming.  Hunting through the rolls is not efficient, and you need to unroll them to get a good idea of the prints.  I generally will go through the online options and narrow down my selections.  You will definitely find far more there than the online store, so I will occasionally add additional fabrics as I’m pulling the ones I’ve already selected.

Keep in mind that Fabric Mart offers so much more than Hawaiian fabric.  The store in Waikiki is two floors, with the upper floor stocked primarily with quilting and home decorator fabrics.  Downstairs is where most of the Hawaiian prints, including dobby, are located.  This store is PACKED with stuff.  You will also find a wide selection of Asian and special occasion fabrics.

The store in Aiea has much better organization and is much easier to shop if you are only looking for shirting.  Despite reviews on Yelp, I think the Aiea store is better staffed and more helpful.  This might be because I’m an informed buyer with specific questions and goals.  The Aiea location is the warehouse location, so they can go upstairs and check their stock for fabrics that may have run out on the floor.  They will also call the other stores for you.  The downside to Aiea is that it is out of the way and the traffic is HORRIBLE due to construction.  It is very near the airport, so I made it my last stop on the way out.  Nearby, there are more warehouses for souvenirs and crafts (there is even a store that only sells foam flowers and leis!)

The prices range from $2.99 (polyester shirting), $3.99 (100% cotton shirting) to $5.99 (dress weight rayon & rayon challis).  They consider the $5.99 Rayon their “expensive” fabric and will always tell you before they cut it.  All rolls are 45” wide so please calculate how much you need from 45” wide before you go shopping.  The prints are quite large and you will require extra if you plan to match up the designs, or make use of the border prints.

In general: Men’s S/M shirt: 3 yards, Men’s L shirt: 3.5 – 4 yards, Men’s XL/XXL shirt: 4-5 yards.  If in doubt, they will gladly help you.  The local home sewists are also very helpful.

Now, if you are ordering Hawaiian fabric online, you will want to know what to expect of the texture.  The 100% cotton is a lovely crisp shirting weight cotton, and has a dyed print (not screened).  It is typical of the shirts you will buy in the souvenir stores.  I’ve actually seen many of the fabrics at Fabric Mart in the souvenir shops!  The polyester shirting is a bit stiffer – think of the type of “uniform” shirts you see on the resort staff, or tablecloths/napkins.  These must hold up to many washings.  Often the prints are paint screened prints and stiffer.  If you see one dominant color with a sharp print over a solid background – you should assume it is a screen printed fabric.  Many of the border prints with very few colors are also screen printed.  I bought a few of these years ago, and never really found a use for them.  In between these two are the poly-cotton fabrics.  They are a good mix of both qualities, and often indistinguishable from the 100% cotton options.  It is also a great shirting weight and highly recommended (I bought a few).  Your last option is Rayon.  The Rayon is the highest quality they stock (I did not find any silks anywhere).  It is very drapey and feels wonderful.  Some of the prints will even have an exquisite slubby texture.  Regarding Rayon, you most likely will want to dry clean the finished garments as Rayon will fade quite easily with regular machine washing.

So how do you get all of your fabric home?  You buy a nifty roller duffle bag at the nearest ABC store for $19.99! Don’t worry about finding an ABC store – theres one on every corner in Waikiki.

Below are detail photos of all of the fabrics in my haul.  Enjoy!