Shaka Spotlight: Meet Alakaʻi Iaea-Russell

TEAM MEMBER SPOTLIGHT:
Alakaʻi Iaea-Russell
Shaka Tea Supply Chain & Sales Associate.
Born: Kaluaʻaha, Molokaʻi, raised in Puna, Hawaiʻi

 

It is great to sit down with you, Alakaʻi! What are you majoring in at the University of Hawaiʻi-Hilo and when will you be graduating?

ʻO ka Haʻawina Hawaiʻi a me ke Kālaiʻāina kaʻu mau mēkia. ʻO ka puka kula ʻana i kēia kau kupulau ka manaʻolana. 

I am currently double-majoring in Hawaiian Studies and Political Science. I expect to graduate this spring semester. 

 

You are one of the most dynamic people we know! Besides working at Shaka Tea, you are also a full time student at University of Hawaiʻi-Hilo, a Pauahi Foundation scholarship winner, and run your own clothing line, Lole Alakai. What inspires you to do all that you do?

Ma kaʻu mau hana a pau, noʻonoʻo wau i ka nīnau ʻo “Inā ʻaʻole naʻu, na wai?” He koʻikoʻi ka hoʻōla ʻana i ka ʻōlelo a me ka moʻomeheu Hawaiʻi ma nā hua o kaʻu hana i kēlā lā kēia lā. Paʻu wau i ka hana e hoʻohaʻaheo ai i koʻu ʻohana, koʻu mau hoa a me kaʻu mau kumu ʻoiai na lākou i alakaʻi mai iaʻu ma kēia ala pono. 

In everything that I do, the question of “If not me, then who?” always comes up. It is very important to me that I revitalize Hawaiian language and culture in the things I create on a daily basis. I strive to make my family, friends and teachers proud because they have guided me on this path.

 Meet Alakaʻi Iaea-Russell

We love your clothing and swimwear line! How did you come up with the idea to start Lole Alakai and what's next with the line?

Iaʻu ma ke kula kiʻekiʻe, ua pinepine koʻu lohe ʻana i ke kānālua o ka poʻe i ka mālama ʻia o ka pāʻoihana ma ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi piha, no laila ua hana wau. Ua noʻonoʻo wau i kaʻu nuʻukia, ke kahuapaʻa aʻu e hana ai i kaʻu ʻoihana a ua hoʻokumu wai iā LOLE ALAKAI. I ka hoʻomaka, ʻo ka lole ʻau kaʻu kālele, a i loko o ka makahiki i hala iho nei, ua ulu kaʻu ʻoihana i ka paʻi ʻana i ka lole, ka humuhumu ʻana i nā laholio a me nā māpoho, ka haku ʻana i nā pepili, ka hakulau ʻana i nā kiʻi a pēlā wale aku! ʻO ka mea e hoʻomaupopo ai, ma ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi nā mea a pau. 

In high school, I often heard people express confusion about how Hawaiian could possibly be used to conduct business, so I did exactly that. I created a vision, built a website to conduct my business and thus LOLE ALAKAI was established. In the beginning, bikinis were my niche and during the past year, I’ve expanded into printing my own designs on clothes, sewing scrunchies and face masks, creating stickers, illustrating art and so much more! Keeping in mind, that everything is in the Hawaiian language.

 

As a multifaceted and talented young leader, congratulations on recently winning a prestigious photography award. Can you tell us more about the award and the subject of your winning photograph?

Ua koho ʻia au e kaʻu kumu aʻoaʻo ma ke kula kiʻekiʻe a me kaʻu kumu kula waena e komo ma ka papahana paʻi kiʻi o ka National Geographic. He papahana keleaʻo kēia i hoʻolōkahi i nā kānaka ʻōpio o nā kaiaulu ʻōiwi like ʻole o ka honua. Ua launa wau me nā kānaka o Peru, Pakalika, Pokoliko, Aotearoa a me nā ʻāina hoʻomalu o nā ʻōiwi ʻAmelika pū kekahi. Ua hiki iā mākou ke hōʻike aku i ko mākou nohona, nā ʻohana, a me ko mākou mauli e launa pū ai kekahi me kekahi. He mea kupaianaha maoli nō a paipai wau i ka lehulehu e komo pū!

I was nominated by my high school counselor and my middle school teacher to participate in National Geographic’s Photography Camp. It was a virtual photography experience that brought together young people representing diverse indigenous communities from around the world. I got to meet people who represented indigenous communities in Peru, Brazil, Puerto Rico, New Zealand and other Native American reservations. We got to showcase our environments, families and identities with each other to connect to one another. It was an amazing experience that I would recommend to everyone!

 Shaka Spotlight Alakaʻi Iaea-Russell

Before Covid-19 we were so lucky to have you and your classmates running free, community Hawaiian culture and language classes from our Hilo, HQ via Hui Māna o Hilo, which hopefully we can resume when it is safe to gather again. In two or three sentences, can you share more about the mission of Hui Māna o Hilo and your role?

Ua hoʻokumu ʻia ʻo Hui Māna o Hilo i ala e hoʻākoakoa i ke kaiaulu a hoʻoili aku i ka ʻike o ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, ka mōʻaukala a me ka moʻomeheu. Ua ʻimi nui ʻia kekahi wahi i ʻoluʻolu ai ka poʻe i ke kaʻana ʻana i ko lākou ʻike me ka manaʻolana, lawe kēlā me kēia lālā o ke anaina i kēia ʻike e kaʻana hou aku ai.

Hui Māna o Hilo was established as a means to gather the community (beyond the traditional classroom) to share knowledge about Hawaiian language, history and culture. We put a lot of effort into finding a place where people felt comfortable enough to share their insights in hopes that each person who came would continue to share this knowledge.

 

We are so lucky to have you as part of team Shaka Tea, leading in the processing of our Hawaiʻi-grown māmaki. What do you like best about working for Shaka Tea?

ʻO kaʻu hana punahele, ʻo ia ka ʻike maka ʻana i ka hauʻoli o nā helehelena ke inu ka poʻe i ke kī māmaki. Maha koʻu naʻau ke ʻike au i ka poʻe e hoihoi ana i ke kiʻi i mea inu maikaʻi no ke ola kino ma kahi o ke kiʻi ʻana i koloaka mai ka mīkini mea inu.

My favorite part about working here is seeing the looks on people’s faces when they get a taste of the māmaki tea. It's so fulfilling to see people interested in grabbing a healthier drink rather than getting a soda out of the next vending machine. 


To learn more, visit LOLE ALAKAI or follow on Instagram
Written by Bella Hughes

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