An Artist’s Career ‘Fitted’ His Passion

Hats off to a young designer who is an “old sole” in a “fitted” world. I am describing 28-year-old senior graphic artist for Fitted Hawaii, Jared Johnston, aka JJ Parkz, who is not only an employee of the company but also its No. 1 customer. He is literally “head over heels” for hats and sneakers, and is the envy among his peers who are devout Fitted fans.

The Hawaii company is now world-renowned and a respected brand. When it releases a product, lines are out the door and customers serpentine twice around the Kona Street store. Known for its custom, limited-edition hats, the firm has matured into a full-fledged clothing company that produces T-shirts, accessories, shoes and outerwear.

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Jared Johnston, aka JJ Parkz, pours his heart and 'sole' into his collection of limited edition hats and designer sneakers
PHOTO COURTESY FITTED HAWAII

Former pro-skater Rene “Cuzzo” Matthyssen and former Tori Richard designer Keola Naka’ahiki Rapozo founded the popular company in 2005 to fill the void of custom New Era caps, the largest and fastest-growing headwear manufacturer in the United States that makes hats for baseball, football and other sports teams.

Fitted’s mission is to teach youths the importance of embracing culture and history, while maintaining a high standard of quality, functionality and aesthetics, according to its owners.

“From a design standpoint, it is important for us to attach meaning to our products,” says Jared, who owns more than 500 hats himself (not all from Fitted).

Being a baseball cap enthusiast myself, I first heard about Fitted from my nephew Malosi Scanlan, who says to me, “Uncle, I need to show you a store run by young local entrepreneurs who are extremely talented, and they design and produce amazing hats.”

Truer words were never spoken because, as I toured the flagship store across from Ala Moana Center, I was impressed by what the company has accomplished in less than a decade. And every customer I spoke with that day was effusive in their praise for Fitted.

What’s even more impressive is Jared’s personal story. He literally wears two hats for the company: He’s a production manager and a hat/clothing designer. His fascination for Fitted dates back to when he was a senior at Kamehameha Schools.

“The idea of owning exclusive hats was interesting to me, and being that Fitted was the first of its kind, I ended up hanging out there a lot and started to call the store daily to ask when their new inventory was coming in,” he recalls.

Before he knew it, he was at the designer establishment every day after school, shopping weekly, and started hanging out for long hours at a time. He volunteered to sweep and dust, and got so good at folding the merchandise that customers thought he was an employee. A year later, it only made sense for owner Keola to hire him as a sales clerk.

Today, he uses his talent as an artist and laces it into his designs. Fitted gives Jared the freedom to blog about his personal passion in life and fetish for footwear on the company’s website, “Old Sole, New Tricks.” The avid collector is fast becoming the leading sneaker connoisseur and most popular footwear blogger in the state. He even hosts a number of professionally produced video snippets.

His fascination for sports shoes stems back to the seventh grade, when he started to purchase designer kicks that included Air Jordans, adidas Shelltoes, Vans Authentic, Air Max, Nike Dunks, Reebok Pump Classics, New Balance running sneakers, British Knights — you name it. He nearly has as many shoes as Imelda Marcos, in every color of the rainbow.

“I liked shoes growing up, and as soon as I got old enough to make money, I never stopped buying,” says Jared.

He would save his earnings from washing cars (a job that turned into an auto-detailing business at age 15), mowing lawns beginning at age 13, and working part time at an auto shop changing oil and fixing brakes. At 19, he poured his heart and “sole” into his shoe-collection business and garnered more than 600 pairs of sneakers.

“In elementary school, my parents allotted me only one pair of shoes per school year with a cap of $50 per pair,” he says.

Because the sneaker lover missed out on all the designer footwear growing up, when Jared was old enough to earn and save, his collectables began to flourish.

“I realized my hobby was transforming into an obsession. I started selling and trading my multiples as a solution to allow me to purchase the next new releases.

I was really particular — I knew what I wanted, and over the years I refined my tastes for hats and shoes.”

His average shoe hunts run about $80 to $200 per pair, but some of his collections are now worth as much as $10,000.

“Being that the market is quite crazy for buying sneakers here locally, I’ve … become an online deal hunter. Kids line up for hours across the world for new sneaker releases, which makes it impossible for others who have jobs and attend school to have a chance at obtaining their pair,” explains Jared.

While other collectors are obsessed with comic books, pogs, stamps, baseball cards and watches, Jared Johnston represents a new age of investors. He credits Fitted Hawaii, his employers, for his continued enthusiasm that covers his love for the fashion industry from head to toe. After all, he sees his high-quality products obsession as a long-term investment, and has no plans of saying, “Sole long and see ya leather,” anytime soon.

mufi@mufihannemann.com