Former Waikiki hula dancer and fashion model Mamo Howell started her own business while others planned retirement. From marketing a baby blanket of her own design, then Hawaiian quilts and textile art screened on dresses, Howell combined her island heritage with an international style consciousness and became a creative innovator of Hawaiian resort wear and high fashion clothing with Hawaiian motifs.

Find out in her full interview, excerpted in June in the Honolulu Advertiser (no longer available except in the paid archives) why she’s still inspired by local music and global fashion icons.

What I’m Reading | Mamo Howell

Q&A with Christine Thomas

–What are you reading?

There are two books I’ve just finished reading. The first one was sent to me by my son. It’s called “Threads: My Life Behind the Seams in the High-Stakes World of Fashion,” about Joseph Abboud, who’s been one of the top men’s designers for many years. It’s about his life behind the scenes. It’s fascinating because I used to work on 7th Avenue in New York and that’s where he’s coming from. I just finished that book and another one here locally that’s called “From a Joyful Heart” that’s all about Alex Anderson the songwriter. He’s the guy that composed all the songs like Lovely Hula Hands, I Will Remember You—all these songs I used to dance as a young hula dancer in Waikiki. His daughter gave it to me a few weeks ago and I’m just fascinated by how he wrote these songs and how they came to him.

The third book I’m just beginning to read is “The House of Gucci,” a story about the Gucci family who built this empire, but also all the problems they’ve had with murder and madness and glamour and greed. So it goes through the whole Italian family and their downfall, and picking up and getting back on top again. It’s a fascinating book. Most of the time I don’t have too much time to read books because I subscribe to Women’s Wear Daily, but most of my reading has something to do with fashion because that’s where I’m at right now.

–What do you most like about these books

From a Joyful Heart” just brings me back to the songs I used to dance. But obviously with the others, the connection is fashion. Both of these fashion books have to do with when I was working in New York with many people that Abboud mentions. … I’m talking a long, long time ago, but it’s still the same. I learned a lot about this industry by being in the middle of it, so reading a book like “Threads” tells me a lot more of what goes on behind the scenes, not only in this country but in Europe. … I connect with both these books with the fashion and the delicate, good work they do, and the accessories that go with their clothes. It’s extended from fashion and clothing, to related items like sheets, bedding linens, perfumes, bags. So it becomes not just designing a dress it just goes all the way from head to toe, from dresses to china to everything. There’s a lot of business things in these books I’m learning and fascinated with.

–Have they sparked any ideas about extending your own line?

That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to do our paper goods and stuff like that. So reading these books has been very interesting because it connects with what I’m doing. … It’s encouraged me to know that when we have a problem here in my company, that it’s not the end. We have to pick ourselves up and go on and think positively and focus. And not only that, I’ve found that you can’t let anybody dissuade or discourage you from what you’re doing. … Our strength is our designs which are cultural, and that’s what keeps us going.

Photo from Mahalo!