APU Freshman Brings Hawaiian Culture to New York Fashion Week

by Brittany Armstrong

New York Fashion Week is a semiannual series of shows that fashion lovers eagerly anticipate; a time when international collections and brands show off their designs and set the stage for what styles will be worn for the following season. Think Alexander Wang, Gucci, Chanel, Balmain, Victoria Beckham, and more. This year, for the first time, Hawaiian designer Manaola Yap hit the runway.

In September, Kanoelehua Robinson ’21, a freshman communication studies major in her first semester at Azusa Pacific University, had the chance to walk the runway in Manaola’s show in New York City, making her mark on the fashion industry.

“I walked in 2015 Honolulu Fashion Week, Hawaii’s version of New York Fashion Week. That’s where I got scouted,” Robinson said. “That was the start of my modeling career. I returned to Honolulu Fashion Week in 2016, where Manaola debuted his first show.”

Manaola is a designer that stands apart from the rest. When looking for models, he searches for those that capture the Hawaiian culture that his brand embodies. As a native Hawaiian, Robinson embraces that rich heritage and seeks opportunities to share it with others.

“My agent told me Manaolo wanted me to walk for him in New York Fashion Week. I was in line getting shaved ice and I started crying,” she said. “I had just told my friend two minutes earlier that I didn’t want to model; it was just something to make some money. Once I got that call, I thought, ‘this must be God.’”

Though it wasn’t her first time walking the runway, New York Fashion Week was at a new level for the young model. What kept her calm and confident? The chance to represent something even greater than a clothing brand.

“I feel very proud to not only be representing my state, but also my island. Most people when they think of Hawaii, they think of Oahu or Waikiki, but I was proud to represent my hometown of Hilo,” she said.

The runways of high fashion are embracing greater diversity and are on their way to more inclusion of different body types, led by designers like Manaola who seek to bring attention to culture, diversity, and history in the exclusive fashion industry.

“Seeing someone from my home bring together an audience full of people from all places in the world, to see this form of art with culture and meaning was incredible. I got to represent that,” said Robinson. After the moment of a lifetime, she returned to APU to refocus on her studies.

“I took the year off from modeling to go to school, so I could put my all into it. I will get back into modeling if this is something God wants me to do,” she said. “I’m looking into studying public relations because it’s a platform where I can help others get their message across. I want to bring that cultural aspect into everything I do.”

Though she misses her home state, Azusa Pacific is where she feels called to pursue her career and grow closer to God before returning to Hawaii. “I know this is where I need to be right now,” said Robinson. “When I applied for college, it was at the beginning of my faith journey, and I wanted to be on fire for God. While looking at the school, I knew Azusa Pacific was my number one choice.”

She’s not done with fashion though. Robinson dreams of eventually walking for or working with Rihanna’s Fenty or Puma line, Versace, or even Chanel. After her experience working with Manaola, she will always have a heart for using modeling to help highlight the beauty of diversity.

Brittany Armstrong ’17 is a senior communication studies major and public relations minor, and social media intern in the Office of University Relations.