Huffpost Style

Hawaiian Shirt Creator Alfred Shaheen Dies At 86

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TORRANCE, California (AP) -- Alfred Shaheen, a pioneering textile manufacturer credited with creating the modern Hawaiian garment industry, has died at age 86.

Shaheen died Dec. 22 of complications from diabetes, said his daughter, Camille Shaheen-Tunberg.

As tourists from the mainland flocked to Hawaii after World War II, many began to bring home colorful but cheesy looking shirts and sundresses that would be cause for much amusement among friends.

Shaheen began to change that in 1948, however, when he opened Shaheen's of Honolulu and began designing, printing and producing "aloha" shirts, dresses and other ready-to-wear clothing of better quality.

Among those seen in Shaheen-designed shirts of that era was Elvis Presley, who wore one for the cover of his 1961 soundtrack album "Blue Hawaii."

Such Shaheen originals now fetch $1,000 or more.

"Before Shaheen came along, there was no Hawaii garment industry. There were mom and pop stores but no real modern industry," Linda Arthur, a professor of textiles and clothing at Washington State University, told the Los Angeles Times.

Shaheen's patterns generally featured three to five colors applied by hand to silk screens by professional artists who had more than 1,000 colors to work with. Seamstresses then stitched the cotton, rayon or silk fabrics into final products.

By 1959, the year Hawaii became a state, he had more than 400 employees working for him and was grossing more than $4 million a year as the major player in the islands' garment industry.

Shaheen, whose father and grandfather operated textile mills and clothing stores, was born in New Jersey, on Jan. 31, 1922.

He moved to Hawaii with his family as a teenager, and his parents operated a custom dress shop there. When he went into business for himself, his mother trained his first seamstresses.

Shaheen closed his factory when he retired in 1988.

Besides his daughter, he is survived by a son, Alfred Shaheen II, three other daughters, a sister and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.