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Designer Andy South in her new headquarters in downtown Honolulu; photo by David Murphey

Dream Weaver

by Kai Andersen | Hawai'i magazine | September 6, 2012

Andy South’s vision of her future is literally taking form around her. This September, she opens a gorgeous studio and showroom at the historic King’s Court building downtown. And when the designer talks about her business’ new home, there’s an immediate gravitas that one would expect only from someone far older. Amazingly, the rising star is only 26 years old.

The pace has been unbelievably fast. It’s hard to fathom that the former HCC student was propelled into the spotlight only two years ago on the reality TV juggernaut Project Runway. Less than one year later, South debuted her first commercial ready-to-wear collection. Fast forward to 2012, and things get speedier still. While some have focused on South’s new identity, the real scoop is that the creative powerhouse is writing the next chapter in Hawai‘i’s fashion industry. “I feel like I need to remind people that I’m running a business,” the budding entrepreneur explains. “There is a lot to my story, but it is the real work that motivates me.” While she used to have to run around, everything—design, production and sales—will now take place under one roof. As South looks around, her excitement is palpable. “I love seeing unconnected threads come together,” she says.

Head through the S. King Street entrance and up the spiraling staircase, and, through one door, discover the nerve center of South’s operations. Here, all preconceptions regarding fashion are swept aside. With bolts of fabric and sewing machines at one end, and computers and phones at another, this is undeniably a place of hard work and lots of it. South rises before the sun and works late into the night. Her team of seamstresses—whom she cares for like family and often works next to—works on her signature pieces on the ground floor. Using an example from the restaurant industry, she explains: “A successful restaurant owner knows how to wash the dishes.”

But through another door, the world of the showroom appears. Like the quintessential New York loft—classic exposed brick and wood floors—the minimally decorated space puts the focus on South’s collections. Here, she’ll meet with buyers and clients. The large windows to the back reveal an open courtyard, which magically invokes Paris.

While bold and innovative, South is also repeating history in the very best way. In the simplest terms, she may be creating the islands’ first fashion house. One only need recall a certain Coco Chanel. Closer to home, South is reviving Honolulu history as well. Her headquarters was formerly the Yat Loy Sundry Store, the place to pick up shirts and uniforms in times past. The coincidence rings poetic for South, who once considered production in Asia. Her decision to produce her line in the islands was the only one possible. “My heart is at rest when I’m in Hawai‘i,” she says.