Nagaue’s Nurturing Work Ethic Earned Her 2014’s GFA Award

Governor Neil Abercrombie presents Joy Nagaue with the 2014 Governors Fashion Award.  Photo Credit: Travis Okimoto

Joy Nagaue is this year’s recipient of the Governor’s Fashion Award.

As the department chair for Honolulu Community College’s Fashion Technology Program, Nagaue has taught fashion students at HCC for 35 years, first as a part-time lecturer and then as a full-time professor and head of the school’s fashion technology program since 1988.

The program, designed to teach students necessary technical skills such as clothing construction, industrial sewing, flat patternmaking, fashion sketching, and designing, also prepares them for a wide range of occupations in the fashion industry. But for Nagaue, the most important lesson she teaches her students is to care.

“Care about what you do, whatever it may be. If you do, everything will fall into place,” she said in an email interview. “Caring about what you do and how you do anything in life will always impact the results.”

Nagaue graduated from from the University of Hawaii with a BS in Fashion Design in 1969 and was a designer for Hilda Hawaii. But she made the choice to stay home and care for her two kids for six years before returning to work. “This time, I knew it had to be a job with a schedule similar to my children’s. So teaching was a good fit at that time,” she said.

Having graduated from UH at a time when she says “fashion was really big in Hawaii,” Nagaue believes that now, more than 40 years later, Hawaii’s community can rekindle that interest. But first, she says, we must also consider how our community has changed. “The population is different, our lifestyles are different. So our designs must fill a need to these changes.”

Nagaue’s interest in fashion started when she was just seven years old and sewing her own house slippers out of fabric scraps and cardboard. When she attended sewing school at 10 and made all of her and her family’s clothes, Nagaue said, “Fashion just seemed like a natural consequence.”

Her caring and nurturing approach, along with her expertise and experience, has helped produce many successful and well-recognized designers. Some of her famous alumni include “Project Runway” stars Jay Nicolas Sario, Ari Southiphong, and Kini Zamora, as well as Danene Lunn, owner of Manuhealii.

“Every designer is unique in Hawaii,” Nagaue said. “Our weather and lifestyle is so perfect. Designers should design for whatever interests them, like surfing, formal or casual wear, etc. Students need to just look at themselves for inspiration – the success will come.”

She attributes her work ethic and inspiration to her parents, who owned a small grocery store near her house in Palolo Valley. Taking a cue from her parents (who worked 12 to 15 hours a day for seven days a week), Nagaue works a minimum of 14 hours a day, six days a week. “I rest on Sunday,” she said, “if housework is rest.”

Of her 35 years at HCC, she said she’s never missed a single day of teaching, “except to attend ‘Project Runway,’ but I still consider that work days.”

Nagaue’s parents never discouraged her and never told her that she could not succeed. “They did everything possible to help me perfect my craft – sent me to sewing school from 10 to 15 years old, wore everything I made for them, and made sure I received an education to pursue my dreams,” she said.

And now Nagaue has provided that same support, encouragement, and guidance for so many aspiring designers and fashion students.

The Governor’s Fashion Award honors an outstanding individual that has served as an exemplary professional and member of the fashion community for at least 25 years, and has demonstrated leadership and innovation in an area of the industry.

Nagaue was selected unanimously by a nominating committee of respected professionals within Hawaii’s fashion community, including Dale Hope, Amos Kotomori, Nadine Kim, Paula Rath, and Paul Brown, and received the prestigious award on Sunday, Nov. 9, after the HIFI Connects panel, “The Business of Fashion,” at the Hawaii Convention Center.

In recognition of HCC’s contribution to Hawaii fashion, the public is encouraged to support HCC’s Fashion Technology Program fundraiser, titled “Full Circle,” on Wednesday, Nov. 19 at 5:30 pm. Tickets for “Full Circle” can be purchased here. For more information about “Full Circle,” contact

And The 2014 Governor’s Fashion Award Goes To…

This year, we're giving just one person the GFA award. Here's who it is:

Governor Neil Abercrombie will present the 2014 Governor’s Fashion Award (GFA) during HONOLULU Fashion Week at the conclusion of “HIFI Connects: The Business of Fashion”, which starts on Sunday, Nov. 9 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

And this year, we’re giving just one person the GFA award, Honolulu Community College (HCC) fashion technology Department Chair Joy Nagaue!

Nagaue was unanimously selected by a nominating committee that included Hawaii fashion and style leaders Dale Hope, Paula Rath, Nadine Kam, Amos Kotomori, and Paul Brown. The committee was convened and facilitated by HIFI.

The GFA honors an outstanding individual who has served as an exemplary professional and member of Hawaii’s fashion community for at least 25 years, and has demonstrated leadership and innovation in an area of the industry.

“Joy’s commitment to nurturing Hawaii’s fashion talent is unwavering,” said Kotomori. “She usually works quietly behind the scenes, but her undeniable contribution to Hawaii fashion speaks volumes.”

At the helm of HCC’s fashion technology program, “Miss Joy” has taught and mentored many of the islands’ foremost fashion talents, including three Project Runway contestants, designers behind brands such as Manuheali’i, and countless others who have flourished in successful fashion careers around the world.

“Joy has been like a mother figure for many of us who have gone through HCC’s program, offering guidance when we need it and maintaining close relationships with us even after we’ve graduated,” said Project Runway alum Ari South. “She also has a keen eye for recognizing when a student is hungry to learn more, which I feel is important for educators at the college level, and will put in the extra time and energy for that student.”

The selection of one of Hawaii’s leading fashion educators is consistent with the GFA’s forward-thinking goal of supporting the infrastructure and individuals that set the stage for the industry’s future growth. In recognition of HCC’s contribution to Hawaii fashion, the public is encouraged to support HCC’s Fashion Technology Program fundraiser and fashion exhibition from HCC’s student designers and alumni, called “Full Circle, A Dining & Fashion Experience,” on Wed. Nov. 19, at 5:30 p.m. at Stage Restaurant in the Honolulu Design Center. Click here for more info or email

“HIFI Connects: The Business of Fashion” is a morning of networking, presentations, and discussions about the business of fashion in Hawaii and abroad, hosted by the Hawaii Fashion Incubator (HIFI). Those interested in attending HIFI Connects and the awards presentation can purchase tickets here. Tickets are $25, and seating is limited. RSVPs are required. Tickets are free for members of the Hawaii Fashion Exchange, as well as for students and faculty of HCC and UH.