Work And Play: Clothing Company Thrives In Chinatown Community
The first time I discovered Roberta Oaks, I had looked briefly at the “Explore” page on Instagram and instantly was drawn to a dress I thought I might like. Although the photo was smaller than a thumbnail, the dress’ bright colors and vintage cut were enough for me to continue my perusal of the account.
I spent a good 30 minutes doing that, before going online to do more “window” shopping.
There, I saw even more dresses I could barely resist. Even the men’s collection featured items I would want to own for myself. Aloha shirts in colorful and fun prints made me seriously consider buying one in the smallest size, until I found that the company also offers female versions in similar prints.
I don’t even want to say how long I spent exploring the shop’s website. It was a niche in fashion I had been looking for and hadn’t yet found in Hawaii. Much to my delight, I learned the company is a local one, the brainchild of its namesake Roberta Oaks.
Oaks’ foray into fashion really began as a childhood hobby.
“I started playing around on sewing machines as a kid,” she says.
In school, Oaks studied photography and received a minor in art history. It wasn’t until she spent about a year in New Zealand and began experimenting with different artistic expressions that she really began to design clothes.
“I always used myself as a fit model,” she says. “I was doing a lot of reconstruction in the beginning and just really learning about how garments are constructed.”
She launched Roberta Oaks in 2004, initially selling only at craft fairs before doing trade shows and wholesale selling. Seeking a stronger connection with buyers, Oaks opened her current space in Chinatown in 2009.
“Chinatown is such a unique spot to be a business owner,” she says. “We have an incredibly strong and supportive community.
“Most of us are pretty tight and work as a team.”
Beyond clothing, the shop offers jewelry and other accessories, and even its own line of fragrances.
“I get bored if I’m only working on one medium,” admits Oaks. “I’m always learning new skills and playing with new materials.
“The fun thing about having a store is that it gives you a place to test things out on the public.”
In the future, Oaks plans to expand her men’s collection.
“That’s what I’ve been having lots of fun with these days,” she says.
For Oaks, designing new products for the brand is simply a way for her to express herself as an artist.
“Inspiration is always changing when you are an artist; you are sort of a sponge,” she says. “But the finished product is just an expression of a lot of different things.”
19 North Pauahi St.
Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m.