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Sitting in a hot tub, celebrating a mutual friends love story, we discovered our own. Our friends were getting married that weekend, and a group of girls were celebrating at a stunning location over looking the coast of Kailua-Kona, Hawai’i. Autumn Tyler, owner of Kepola Design House, had recently moved home from Austin, Texas where she was studying design. Both being born and raised in Kona, we attended the same high school, and had known each other for years. As we caught up, we listened to the laughter of friendships developing and growing around us, including our own. We shared our passion for art with one another. Her talents were no secret to me. I had been an admirer of her work for some time now, and finally got to express my admiration for her talents and skill. As we talked about our next adventures artistically I shared that I had been wanting to put my artwork on apparel for some time, but was unsure how to go about that. She looked at me with those big, blue beautiful eyes, and told me how she had been longing to make her own unique fabric patterns. We discovered we were both inspired by nature, and longed to give back to the community and Mother Nature in some way, wherever she may need it. The Lehua Love seed was planted, and with love, care, and dedication, this collaboration has grown into something remarkably beautiful and of great importance.

Hawaiian culture is filled with love and respect of the ʻŌhiʻa through stories, chants, songs, and hula. Legend tells us that long ago Pele, the Goddess of fire, fell in love with a handsome warrior named ʻŌhiʻa. ʻŌhiʻa was already madly in love with a girl named Lehua. When he rejected Pele’s proposal of marriage, Pele was outraged. In a fury of jealously, the Goddess turned ʻŌhiʻa into a tree. Lehua was heartbroken and devastated at the loss of her love. She begged the gods for mercy. They took pity on Lehua and decided it was an injustice for the two lovers to be separated. Out of compassion, the gods turned her into a blossom on the ʻŌhiʻa tree so the two lovers would be forever joined together. It is said, when a flower is plucked from the tree, heavy rains fall upon the land as a symbol of Lehua’s tears, for she still cannot bear to be separated from her beloved ʻŌhiʻa.

The ʻŌhiʻa is one of the most important trees of Hawai’i’s forests and ecological system, and it is in grave danger. Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death (ROD), a new fungal disease, is killing the native ʻŌhiʻa Lehua forests quicker than scientists can find a cure. Over 800,000 trees across 36,000 acres of forests have died from this disease. The disease infects the trees vascular system, killing it from the inside out. Once the tree is infected, it dies within a few weeks. Although the disease is contained to the Big Island right now, due to the restrictions and precautions of shipping plants and soil off island, the disease is spreading rapidly, from South Hilo, to Puna, to Ka’u, and Kona. It has the potential to kill ʻŌhiʻa statewide. This endemic plant is crucial to our ecosystem and water shed on the Island. It is our biggest source of water supply. ʻŌhiʻa forests cover close to a million acres across the state of Hawai’i, making up the largest portion of forest canopies, providing shelter and food for native and endemic birds.

The gravity of the issue at hand, and the cultural significance behind this tree was our inspiration for this collaboration. Autumn and I wanted to give back somehow. This started a thirst for knowledge about what was happening in our back yard, and how we could help. After attending an informative talk about ROD we found that the more awareness brought to the issue, the better chance of survival for the ʻŌhiʻa. We are throwing an event dubbed “Lehua Love” at Daylight Mind Coffee Company from 6-10pm in honor of this magnificent tree and its blossom. We are hoping to shine some light onto the issue and generate awareness within our community. Part of the proceeds from this collection we have created, and event we are hosting, go to a non-profit organization, the Hawaii Forest Institute, in helping preserve our forests. They will be there with more information about how we, as a community, can help. Please come join us in honoring and celebrating this endemic tree. It has been nothing less then magical to watch this collaboration unfold before my eyes. I can’t wait to share it all with you.

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