Joy Nagaue is this year’s recipient of the Governor’s Fashion Award.
As the department chair for Honolulu Community College’s Fashion Technology Program, Nagaue has taught fashion students at HCC for 35 years, first as a part-time lecturer and then as a full-time professor and head of the school’s fashion technology program since 1988.
The program, designed to teach students necessary technical skills such as clothing construction, industrial sewing, flat patternmaking, fashion sketching, and designing, also prepares them for a wide range of occupations in the fashion industry. But for Nagaue, the most important lesson she teaches her students is to care.
“Care about what you do, whatever it may be. If you do, everything will fall into place,” she said in an email interview. “Caring about what you do and how you do anything in life will always impact the results.”
Nagaue graduated from from the University of Hawaii with a BS in Fashion Design in 1969 and was a designer for Hilda Hawaii. But she made the choice to stay home and care for her two kids for six years before returning to work. “This time, I knew it had to be a job with a schedule similar to my children’s. So teaching was a good fit at that time,” she said.
Having graduated from UH at a time when she says “fashion was really big in Hawaii,” Nagaue believes that now, more than 40 years later, Hawaii’s community can rekindle that interest. But first, she says, we must also consider how our community has changed. “The population is different, our lifestyles are different. So our designs must fill a need to these changes.”
Nagaue’s interest in fashion started when she was just seven years old and sewing her own house slippers out of fabric scraps and cardboard. When she attended sewing school at 10 and made all of her and her family’s clothes, Nagaue said, “Fashion just seemed like a natural consequence.”
Her caring and nurturing approach, along with her expertise and experience, has helped produce many successful and well-recognized designers. Some of her famous alumni include “Project Runway” stars Jay Nicolas Sario, Ari Southiphong, and Kini Zamora, as well as Danene Lunn, owner of Manuhealii.
“Every designer is unique in Hawaii,” Nagaue said. “Our weather and lifestyle is so perfect. Designers should design for whatever interests them, like surfing, formal or casual wear, etc. Students need to just look at themselves for inspiration – the success will come.”
She attributes her work ethic and inspiration to her parents, who owned a small grocery store near her house in Palolo Valley. Taking a cue from her parents (who worked 12 to 15 hours a day for seven days a week), Nagaue works a minimum of 14 hours a day, six days a week. “I rest on Sunday,” she said, “if housework is rest.”
Of her 35 years at HCC, she said she’s never missed a single day of teaching, “except to attend ‘Project Runway,’ but I still consider that work days.”
Nagaue’s parents never discouraged her and never told her that she could not succeed. “They did everything possible to help me perfect my craft – sent me to sewing school from 10 to 15 years old, wore everything I made for them, and made sure I received an education to pursue my dreams,” she said.
And now Nagaue has provided that same support, encouragement, and guidance for so many aspiring designers and fashion students.
The Governor’s Fashion Award honors an outstanding individual that has served as an exemplary professional and member of the fashion community for at least 25 years, and has demonstrated leadership and innovation in an area of the industry.
Nagaue was selected unanimously by a nominating committee of respected professionals within Hawaii’s fashion community, including Dale Hope, Amos Kotomori, Nadine Kim, Paula Rath, and Paul Brown, and received the prestigious award on Sunday, Nov. 9, after the HIFI Connects panel, “The Business of Fashion,” at the Hawaii Convention Center.