Kini’s Surreal Year

Project Runway and entertainment news stories list Zamora’s hometown as Kapolei, where he and his family have lived for the past 13 years. But his childhood and teenage years were spent in Kauluwela, a small low-income housing project in Liliha.

“It’s literally a rags to riches story,” admits Zamora, who graduated from McKinley High School in 2001. “It gives a lot of people hope, especially for the younger generation who think they can’t do it. I’m a prime example that you can, if you put your mind to it…if you really want it and love it, then it will come. Don’t think of yourself small. Reach for the stars and you can make it. But watch what you wish for and be ready.”

The third of four siblings, Zamora learned to sew when he was just 10 years old from his aunty Delilah Patoc. She gave all the cousins sewing lessons, but Zamora says he was the only one who really took interest. He also credits his family, especially parents Valerie and Duke, for believing in him.

“My family was the biggest push for me,” says Zamora, whose ethnic background is Hawaiian and Filipino. “How many times I got knocked out and didn’t get onto the show, but it was my family who kept me going. I heard it numerous times, ‘This is totally for you … we know you can do it …go, go, go.’

“As much as low-income (we were), and money we didn’t have, I think my family is rich in support. We’re rich in loving each other, and that’s something money can’t buy. It’s true, I came from pretty much nothing, and look where you can be with just dreams and a drive. It’ll take you far.”

Zamora also is proud to note his education from Honolulu Community College’s Fashion Technology Program, from which he graduated in 2004. The school welcomed its celebrity alum back to campus for Kini Zamora Day Oct. 16, celebrating his success on Project Runway. HCC fashion technology instructor Joy Nagaue described Zamora as hard-working, ambitious and humble.

After HCC, Zamora continued his education with classes at Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in Manhattan for about a year-and-a-half. He then returned home and worked in retail as a sales manager at Wet Seal and Pac-Sun in Pearlridge.

“Everything technical that I’ve learned was from HCC,” shares Zamora. “And it’s a community college. It goes to show how much a community college can teach you. There were things I learned at HCC that when I went to FIT, they were teaching the same things there.”

About a year ago, Zamora partnered with designer Dean “Dinko” Satta to start their fashion company KINIandDINKO. The highly-anticipated release of their spring collection is expected in March, and available at

Zamora also started his own lines, KZ Hawaii featuring casual aloha wear, and Kini Zamora which is his ready-to- wear and couture collection.

Both will be available at starting in January.

“The Kini Zamora line is for women only, and will be a lot of formal wear,” says Zamora, who lists Alexander McQueen as his favorite designer. “So, evening coats, cocktail dresses, long gowns — a lot of glamour, glitz and romance. And I don’t know why, but red is my color, hence my hair. That’s the color I’ve been dreaming about, so it’s majority red.

“A lot of people are seeing what I can do, and clients are already signing up for weddings and proms for next year. We also are launching our own Hawaiian designs (KZ Hawaii) and plan to go international to Japan. And for the Kini Zamora line, we’ve been getting a lot of response from Dubai and Saudi Arabia — retailers and personal clients. I’m not sure if maybe it’s because they’re only now seeing the show.”

A custom Kini Zamora dress starts at about $300 and can go up to “wherever your imagination can take you.” Zamora has turned his family’s home garage into his office, complete with multiple sewing machines, a large table, mannequins and more. He has a staff of about five people, all family, as well as two design interns.

As for where he sees himself 10 years from now, Zamora envisions a full manufacturing company, with maybe two stores (one in Hawaii and the other in New York) and still designing collection after collection.

“I want to build an empire,” he says.