The Hawaiian shirt is a feel-good garment. Throw one over a white t-shirt in the summer and it’s going to be a good day. But once upon a time, the Hawaiian shirt was a niche item, worn predominantly in its namesake’s homeland and seen as a kitsch garment by anyone past the West Coast. Thankfully, one brand helped pave the way for the Hawaiian shirt’s acceptance around the globe, and that brand was Reyn Spooner.
The roots of Reyn Spooner can be traced all the way back to 1949 when a young Reyn McCullough entered the menswear game after serving in the military. But just how did an ex-paratrooper from California end up pioneering the Aloha shirt and earn his brand the designation, “Brooks Brothers of the Pacific”? We’re answering those questions in our profile of the iconic Aloha brand.
Brand History & Philosophy
Brand founder Reyn McCullough was born and raised on Catalina Island, just off the coast of Southern California. After serving as a paratrooper in the Second World War, Reyn returned to Catalina Island and secured a job in a menswear store in Avalon. Reyn instantly immersed himself in the world of menswear and proved himself to have a natural flair for fashion, marketing, and design, so much so that he bought his employer’s store in 1949 and renamed it Reyn’s Men’s Wear. Soon after, Reyn developed another five stores in California, each known for its high-quality sportswear and resort clothing.
Before visiting Hawaii for the first time in 1957, Reyn refused to stock aloha shirts in his menswear stores, shrugging them off as loud and poorly constructed. For Reyn, the loose-fitting shirts with bright island prints just didn’t fit into the clean-cut, oxford cloth-laden ivy league wardrobes of the 1950s. But after spending enough time on the tropical island, Reyn was truly charmed by the Hawaiin lifestyle—including its vibrant shirts.
During his two-week visit, Reyn befriended a gentleman named Don Graham of the Dillingham Corporation, the developers of the soon-to-be-constructed Ala Moana Shopping Center. With tourism booming in Hawaii, the Ala Moana was expected to be the island’s premier shopping destination. Enchanted by the Hawaiian lifestyle and presented with a new business opportunity in form of the Ala Moana Shopping Center, Reyn moved his family to the island’s capital of Honolulu in 1959.
Reyn Meets Spooner
While Reyn was busy moving his menswear operations out to Honolulu, a young seamstress named Ruth Spooner had set up a business on Waikiki Beach, making custom surf trunks. Spooner’s trunks and other custom swimwear—built solely by Spooner on a singular sewing machine—gained a reputation across the island for unmatched quality and construction. Reyn noticed Spooner’s operation soon after moving to Hawaii and the pair began working together. Reyn partnered with Spooner to ensure top-quality construction of his sportswear lines, which now included board shorts and other surfwear. The pair officially merged in 1961, and the name Reyn Spooner was born.
Despite embracing the Hawaiian culture, Reyn still had his reservations when it came to traditional aloha shirts. But when a charismatic local bartender named Pat Dorian showed him his own line of inside-out aloha shirts, Reyn had an epiphany. The inside-out aloha fabric boasted muted colors that made for a more subtle pattern, something Reyn instantly appreciated.
Reyn got to work and designed the first Reyn Spooner brand aloha shirts with the help and consultation of the New York-based brand Gant. He also searched far and wide for textile artisans who could dye his aloha fabrics to achieve a sun-faded look. Using his new ‘inside-out’ effect fabrics, Reyn utilized construction techniques of the more sophisticated shirting he pioneered back in California to create a more subtle shirt that combined the essence of aloha culture with ivy-league traditions. In 1964, Reyn Spooner patented its reverse-print look fabric and christened it Spooner Kloth.
Reyn Spooner’s new aloha shirts became an instant classic, proving popular with the Hawaiian natives, visiting businessmen, and tourists alike. So much so that in 1962, the Hawaiian Fashion Guild began promoting Aloha shirts as acceptable workplace attire. In a movement they dubbed “Operation Liberation”, the Hawaiian Fashion Guild gifted two Aloha shirts to every member of the Hawaiian Senate. As a result, the Senate recommended Aloha attire “be worn in summer months for comfort and to support the 50th state’s garment industry”. The Guild then flexed their sartorial muscles even further and lobbied for “Aloha Friday”, a policy which would allow men to wear aloha shirts at work throughout the year. They were successful once again and Aloha Friday officially began in 1966.
Hawaii’s custom of Aloha Friday quickly spread to the West Coast and beyond. By the mid-90s, Aloha Friday was in full swing across the globe, known as Casual Fridays or Dress Down Fridays in other countries. In modern-day Hawaii, aloha shirts are worn as workplace attire any day of the week.
Reyn Spooner Today
After the conception of the Reyn Spooner Aloha Shirt, Reyn Spooner’s presence gradually grew and, by the mid-1970s, the brand was trading globally. The brand’s flagship store is still located in the Ala Moana Center in Hawaii, and its products are distributed internationally. Today, Reyn Spooner is now owned by the investment group Aloha Brands. While most of Reyn Spooner’s manufacturing is now outsourced to Asia, all of the design work happens in the brand’s homeland of Hawaii. As well as rayon and linen, Reyn Spooner still produces shirts using Spooner Kloth, the ‘reverse-print look’ fabric. This material is a blend of cotton and spun polyester that is cool, breathable, and wrinkle-free.
“With our unique screen printing process, Spooner Kloth™ allows for the perfect ink penetration for that recognizable Reyn Spooner reverse-print look. As the ink penetrates the fibers, it also adds a little more structure to the fabric. Hence, a darker print can feel a bit starchy at first. But the pigment fibers loosen with each wash so the fabric becomes softer and softer over time while maintaining its shape. You can sit on an airplane for 12 hours and still walk off the plane with a fresh looking shirt that stands out in the crowd.”
— Reyn Spooner
After collaborating with big labels such as Vans and Opening Ceremony over the years, Reyn Spooner now has a rolling collaboration with Major League Baseball (MLB). This collaboration sees Reyn Spooner produce a vast line of aloha shirts with patterns that incorporate the emblems of Major League baseball teams.
Classic Fit Shirt in Spooner Kloth
Available for $138 at Reyn Spooner.
Camp Shirt Japanese Rayon
Available for $138 from Reyn Spooner.