When I bought this aloha shirt at a thrift store, it was with the intention of selling it on eBay. I never expected to reunite it with the man who designed and made it.
Sometimes, in my capacity as a writer, I stumble across little bits of information that make for a great story. The trick is to recognize those bits and how they fit into the big picture. In this case, the big picture includes a ’70s-era aloha (aka Hawaiian) shirt and the man who made it—who, by the way, wrote the book on aloha shirts, literally.
This story begins here in the offices of WorthPoint, where we are increasingly aware that folks who buy and sell on eBay are a much larger customer base for our main product, the Worthopedia™. Our CEO and founder Will Seippel suggested that everyone in the company dip their toes into the eBay waters so we might understand better how eBay users could better utilizes WorthPoint (Will is a long-time eBay seller, and averages about 50 sales a week through his on-line store).
So I set out to buy and sell some things through eBay. The buying part was easy; the selling, well, that was a different matter.
Looking around the house and garage, I saw many things that I could part with but nothing that I thought would be worth selling… who would want to buy a remote-controlled P-48 Thunderbolt that crashed so hard on its initial flight that the motor broke off from the rest of the plan in such a way as it could not be reattached? (If anyone is interested, please let me know and we’ll make a deal.)
Then I thought of our friends, Bryan Goodman and Jason T. Smith, who collectively are Thrifting with the Boys and who now have their own TV show, “Thrift Hunters.” Last December, we posted a link to a video of them talking to a crowd of eBay sellers in Las Vegas, describing just how easy it was to pick through your local thrift store, score some great buys and quickly and easily sell them on eBay for a great profit.
A display featuring shirts similar to one I bought and sold from the Liberty House department store in Honolulu, where HRH shirts were sold. (Photo: Dale Hope)
A Thrifting I’ll a-go
I watched that video and thought, well, yeah, I could do that. So keeping the Boys’ advice in mind—they suggested that T-shirts, novelty coffee mugs and Aloha shirts were good items for the novice to start with—that’s what I did. I went out one Saturday morning to the local St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop in Duluth, Ga., and bought about $30 worth of stuff, including some T-shirts (at $2.99 each), a golf shirt that read “Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman” ($3.99), a checkered Burberry long-sleeved button-down ($3.99), a heavy cotton mechanics work shirt with Chevrolet embroidering (99¢), a dark blue necktie with a lacrosse sticks and helmets design ($2.99) and, what I thought would be my best bet at making a sale: a semi-vintage ’70s white Hawaiian shirt with blue palm fronds for $3.99. I say semi-vintage because I was a kid in the ’70s, and can’t really wrap my head about being that old now.
The actual photo of the palm frond, taken in front of a house in a swanky part of Honolulu, that was the basis for the shirt’s design. (Photo: Dale Hope)
I then went home, fired up the computer, signed up for an eBay store and started doing research on my stuff. The label read HRH/His Royal Highness/Hawaii. I began on the Worthopedia and found a few similar items to get an idea on its worth. Then I turned to the Google and found a website called The Museum of Hawaiian Shirts, which had an entry on HRH shirts, along with a photo of a label that matched the one on my shirt and three short paragraphs of information. Based on what I learned, I put the shirt up for auction with a description noting that the company was owned by Howard R. Hope (HRH) and that it later changed its name to Kahala under the direction of Howard’s son, Dale Hope.
I listed it as an auction item with a “Buy It Now” price of $59.99 (yes, I was a little over-exuberant on what I thought I might get for it but, hey, it was my first listed item and I was just learning.
I went on and posted four or five other items and sat back and waited to see how things would shake out. The auction was scheduled to last a week and on the second day I received what would be the only bid for $24.99. The auction ended, the shirt was sold and I soon received payment notice from PayPal.
Whoo-hoo! I was officially in the eBay selling game!
A Fortuitous Buyer
As I was printing out the shipping label, something caught my eye; the buyer was a guy in Honolulu with a familiar name… Dale Hope. Now where had I heard that name before?
It didn’t take me long to realize that I mentioned Dale Hope in the item description. Could it be the same guy?
After I put the shirt in the mail and on its way back to Hawaii, I sent an email to Mr. Hope, thanking him for being my first customer and asking if he was the Dale Hope, son of Howard R. Hope I had written about. He replied quickly, saying that yes, Howard was his dad and added that he was collecting some of the shirts they produced in the past.
Howard and Gladys Hope (fourth and fifth from the right) wearing Hawaiian couture in the 1950s. Howard Hope asked his son Dale to come to work for him in 1973. (Photo: Dale Hope)
Hope grew up in Honolulu’s garment industry, hanging out at his father’s factory as a kid with the seamstresses and the cutters, eventually coming to work for his father and then inheriting the family business. He is recognized as an authority on aloha shirts, having received the Governor’s Cup for “Hawaii Apparel Manufacturer of the Year in 1987 and he wrote the “The Aloha Shirt: Spirit of the Islands.” You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who knows more about the subject.
Basically, he’s the king of aloha shirts. And he’s collecting many of the shirts that he and his dad produced.
“I think it’s sentimental,” Hope said about this collection, which is approaching some 400 examples. “A lot of them bring back a lot of memories. It’s fun to collect things that my dad made and that I helped make.”
Dale today, wearing—what else—and aloha shirt. (Photo: Dale Hope)
Hope said the shirt I found and that he bought had a special meaning for him, as he took the photos of the palm fronds on which the designed was based, and he collaborated with a surfing buddy to produce the final pattern. He said that he’d like to acquire many of the shirts he helped produce, but not all of them.
“Some of them are really wonderful, with great patterns,” Hope said. “Some of them, though, I look at and wonder, what was I thinking? Was I on drugs? I still have a lot of the design books and we printed 8,000 yards of fabric on some of the prints.”
Since he brought up the subject of what-was-the-designer-thinking patterns, I asked him if there was a “classic” pattern that is purchased or collected more than others.
The Perfect Aloha Shirt
“It’s so much in the eye of the beholder,” he said. “A 20-year-old looking for a rockabilly type deal, they are looking for a shirt that is totally different from what I’m looking for, and that’s why thousands of these patterns have been made since 1935. You make one for me and I’ll love it and you’ll hate it.
“It’s such individual taste. I don’t really think you can have a guideline. The guy in Minnesota who has never worn one, he’s going to want a lot of ‘wow’ factor, while the guy in California or Japan or England, they want a shirt they can party in.
“I met a guy from Spain who said that (aloha shirts) are so fun, it’s not like wearing a solid shirt, he said, it’s got a picture, you can party… you can drink a lot more wearing a shirt like this.”
Hope’s collection has grown organically, and he didn’t realize how big it was until he lost a bet with his wife.
“A friend once asked me how many shirts I had and I said, oh, about 100 and she laughed. It was more like 300 at that time. I had to take her to Sushi Sasabune, which is a very good, very expensive place.”
Dale Hope’s closet houses some 400 aloha shirts today. (Photo: Dale Hope)
In addition to his book, Hope is working with filmmaker Jack McCoy on a documentary about the history of the aloha shirt.
So, there you have it. My odyssey into to the world of eBay selling helped reunite someone with something they had a deep, personal connection. In the process, I made a little profit and was able to tell this cool little story.
What about you, fellow eBay dealers? Have you been able to act as the go-between to help someone get back a piece of their past? Email me or leave a comment below and tell me your tale.
Gregory Watkins is the editor of WorthPoint.com You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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