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Catching a break at Malaekahana, on O‘ahu's windward coast.
Vol. 11, No. 3
June/July 2008

  >>   The Giving Tree
  >>   Green Chic
  >>   Town & Country

Green Chic (Page 3)

Having the vision to set up shop in the red-and-gold heart of Chinatown puts Fighting Eel in the vanguard of that district’s art-and-fashion renascence. The five-year-old wholesale business occupies an airy second-floor space that looks like the archetypal design studio, with tall windows framing mountain views and white walls offsetting racks of ergonomic, go-anywhere dresses. Designer Rona Bennett’s degree from the University of Hawai‘i is in studio art, but after working at the Honolulu branch of the French boutique Agnés B., she made the leap to creating clothing. Bennett’s business partner is childhood friend Lan Chung, a fellow Agnés B. alum whose UH major was fashion merchandising (she is also a partner in The Butik, where the bestselling label, felicitously, is Fighting Eel). After a rocky beginning—“We wanted to quit so many times,” says Bennett—the graceful, easy-to-wear dresses found their audience, and the line is now carried in 300-plus stores.

The principals are enjoying this success; recently, they even made a reconnaissance trip to Paris. But Bennett and Chung have vowed to resist the temptation to send their production work overseas and are now looking for ways to join the trend toward sustainability. In the meantime, Fighting Eel opens its doors every Friday for devotees to rummage through sale bins filled with still-stylish garments: seasonal recycling in action.