Unbeknownst to everyone, Saipan has been an exporter of aloha shirts, lavalavas, and Hawaiian dresses, bags, and accessories for nearly 40 years now thanks to Sea Shell Pink and its owner Hiroko Miyagawa.
Taylor Mafe Ngalongalo said Miyagawa founded Sea Shell Pink in 1982 and the dress shop has been exporting their one-of-a-kind island dresses and shirts to neighboring Guam. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sea Shell Pink brand were sold at their store inside the Hagatna Mall.
At its height, Sea Shell Pink exported twice a month around 30 aloha adult shirts, 30 aloha shirts for children, and the same number of Hawaiian dresses, and lavalavas, bags, and accessories.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 concerns and the high number of cases in the U.S. territory forced Sea Shell Pink to shut down its retail store in Guam.
The pandemic has also affected local sales, as Japanese tourists who would normally spend top dollar in purchasing their unique aloha shirts and Hawaiian dresses are no more. Ditto with Chinese and Korean tourists who also were buying a lot of their island-themed merchandise before the CNMI closed its borders due to COVID-19.
Sea Shell Pink was especially popular with Japanese tourists who arrived via Skymark Airlines Inc. as the dress shop is a member of the low-cost carrier’s rewards program, Skymark Spot. Shirts sold for $55 each and tourists can get their custom-made shirts a day after ordering them.
Sea Shell Pink used to make the uniforms for staff of Japan Airlines and before the pandemic was the official dressmaker of Pacific Development, Inc. and Grandvrio Hotel. They also made wedding gowns and suits for locally based wedding planners.
With the Japanese market as well as Chinese and Korean tourists not expected to come back until the middle of the year, the dress shop is now concentrating on the local market.
While they didn’t close due to COVID-19 concerns, sales were obviously affected as they’re now down to sometimes just two customers a day. Good thing I Love Saipan orders for facemasks have kept them busy as current orders are in the hundreds. There’s also online purchases from Japan, which Sea Shell Pink wants to grow more.
Ngalongalo said Miyagawa really has passion for making aloha shirts and Hawaiian dresses and that’s the reason Sea Shell Pink still exits 38 years after it was first established
Miyagawa herself revealed that she chose the name Sea Shell Pink because the first two words best represent the tropical paradise that Saipan is and the color pink is such a cute color.
Aside from the expert craftsmanship, Sea Shell Pink also stands out for the unique fabrics from Hawaii and Japan it uses to make aloha shirts and Hawaiian dresses. Ngalongalo and her fellow tailor Mercy Bandoja also have all together over 70 years of sewing experience.
Currently, Sea Shell Pink has a promotion where every purchase of an aloha shirt gets you a free mask in the same pattern.
Sea Shell Pink’s first location was at Kinpachi Restaurant then it moved to the La Fiesta Mall and Vestcor before relocating to its new home in Garapan on the second floor of the building where Bank of Saipan is situated. The dress shop is open from Monday to Friday, 11am-5pm. For more information, call 233-8191.