Kahuku Brothers To Begin Selling Ocean Apparel In California

SeaHawaii is landing in California.

The Hawaii-based clothing manufacturer has signed a deal with Costco in California to have its ocean and logo wear featured in 10 stores in the San Diego and Los Angeles areas.

Founded by Kahuku High School graduates Walter and Joe Pickard (a third brother, Thomas, is a boat captain), SeaHawaii has been sold at Hawaii Costco stores since 2011. The 10-day California trial begins May 15 and runs through Sept. 6.

“That’s a biggie for us,” said an excited Joe Pickard.

Pickard started SeaHawaii in 1989 after working with Credit Suisse First Boston in Hong Kong. The Coast Guard Academy graduate received a master’s degree in business administration and industrial engineering from Columbia University in 1985, and began a career in finance before the call of home became too great to ignore.

“I grew up on North Shore, and my life was basically being around the water,” he recalled. “My first love is being around the ocean. I had to make a decision when I was in my mid-30s: Would I stay in investment banking or come back home?”

While flying back and forth between Hawaii and Hong Kong, Joe and Walter worked to establish a tour boat business in Kaneohe Bay and off the Waianae coast. Walter was fluent in Japanese, and both felt tourism would provide a better livelihood than commercial fishing.

“I took the little nest egg I had built up from working at Credit Suisse and started the journey,” said Pickard.

The permitting process took more than 18 months.

During their first three months in business, the brothers made about $3,000. Profitability got a small boost when customers asked about purchasing the orange and black T-shirts worn by crew members. More inquiries led the brothers to sell the shirts at paddling and other ocean-related events. It didn’t take long before they realized that there was money to be made in ocean apparel, especially clothing with direct ties to Hawaii’s ocean sports communities.

“Most everything you see in the surfing and ocean industry uses the image of Native Hawaiians. It is a very visible presence because this is where this all started,” said Pickard, himself a Native Hawaiian. “I saw very few opportunities for Native Hawaiians and I always felt a personal interest, loving the ocean and making a way for people like me who grew up in Hawaii or are Hawaiian and wanted to participate in the business.”

In 2008 they ramped up production to include their UV-protective Monkskin designs (named for the endangered Hawaiian monk seal). Sales that first year were between $20,000 and $30,000 and have increased by about 40 percent annually.

Although the shirts are made in China, Pickard is quick to point out the designs and inspiration for the clothing line are all local. His chief designer is Waianae resident and boat captain Pete Whitney.

“He discovered talents he didn’t know he had,” said Pickard.

SeaHawaii currently has no plans to market its goods outside of Costco, but that could change if the California trials prove successful.

“We haven’t really thought about it yet,” said Pickard. “Costco has been really good to us; they’ve been a really great partner, so we are trying to take advantage of that opportunity. Being in Costco is a huge brand developer for us.”