Do you love the beach? We do! And we love photo shoots at the beach.  They show off the natural leather of NĀ KOA wallets in a natural environment, in the sand, with driftwood, on lava rocks. But sometimes things can get out of hand…

NA KOA Polynesian tattoo wallet on black lava rock

This lava rock at Keawakapu beach seemed like a great backdrop for a NĀ KOA wallet. What could possibly go wrong?

It was late afternoon, and the tide was coming in. Of course we didn’t notice it. We were focused on getting in more shots before losing the late afternoon light.

Then came the wave.

A NA KOA Polynesian tattoo wallet in the waves

At this moment, we were still hoping the water would recede.

And then – wallet overboard!

NA KOA wallet in the waves

Note to self: check tides at hawaiitides.com before next photo shoot.

Well, when we fished out the wallet, it actually looked kind of beautiful – we still had some sunset light and the water drops sparkled on the leather.

So we dropped two more wallets into the water and took another shot.

3 wet NA KOA tattoo wallets

Now we’re just going for it. But don’t the water drops on the wallets look great?

Ocean sparkling on NA KOA wallets

Was it worth it? What do you think?

Well, to be honest, this wasn’t all that bold of us – we knew that our story would have a good ending. Money dries, coins dry, credit cards dry…. And the soft Napa leather of NĀ KOA wallets definitely dries! (We’ll show you how to dry a wallet in a future post. You can also find lots of how tos all over the web.) If anything, the water has deepened the beautiful natural texture of the leather.

The only problem? Any time we pull a credit card out of of our NĀ KOA wallet, a few grains of sand come out with it. But that’s life in Hawaii and it’s a great complaint to have!


It all started with Derek. We met him on a drive up Haleakalā and on one of the stops he took his shirt off.

Derek is in amazing shape, but what made him look downright regal were the Polynesian tattoos on his chest, lower back, shoulder and arms that had been designed for him by his Tahitian cousin.


Derek on our trip up Haleakalā

Of course you see “tribal tattoos” all over the islands, but asking somebody about the meanings of their tattoo is just not being done: A Polynesian tattoo is often deeply personal and is created by the artist specifically for the wearer.

And here was Derek, generous with his tattoos’ story and with being scrutinized.

We decided then and there to bring striking tribal tattoo art that has meaning to leather gear.

That’s how a 3 year journey to create NĀ KOA gear started.

But of course turning an idea into reality isn’t easy. How hard was it?  Read about it here.


You already know how we became obsessed by the idea to create leather gear with the fierce beauty and real meaning of “tribal tattoos”. (Read about it in A Labor of Love) But turning this idea into reality was harder than we ever imagined.

Challenge 1:  The fake and the real

Our first challenge was to find true Polynesian tattoo artists – people who weren’t faking the art, like what you sometimes see on mass produced “tribal tattoo” t-shirts and caps.  At NĀ KOA  we want to work only with tattoo artists who are rooted in Polynesian culture, who really know the traditions and motifs used in the Polynesian islands.

Polynesian “tribal” tattoos have become so popular worldwide, that some tattoo artists have taken to faking them.  A good enough artist can fake the look, and even come up with something quite appealing, but he has no idea of the culture and meanings behind what he’s created. (Some people even warn of the “Bad Juju” of such fake art.)

Challenge 2:  More fake versus real

The decision to place the tribal tattoo art only on real leather, rather than fake “leather” like PU “Leather” was easy.  Not only does real art deserve real leather, but the fake “leather” that you see is really plastic. (See more information here)

The fake leather takes hundreds of years to decompose and contributes to the mountains of plastics in landfills and the huge trash “gyres” in our oceans.

You don’t really want to add to that, do you?  And neither do we.

The hard part was finding a method of placing the tattoo art on genuine leather without losing the feel of the leather.

Challenge 3:  Preserve the art and the leather

We scoured the world to find a method of placing the tattoo art on genuine leather.

Hand painting the art proved unreliable – though there are skilled artists who paint on leather, they were unable to copy the precise tattoo designs by hand without taking liberties with the art.

Printing the Polynesian tattoo art with standard methods on the leather could work – but printing removes the characteristic touch of good genuine leather. We knew our customers deserve better, and the art deserves better, too.

Many trials with leather types, suppliers, and processes, and long trips to India later (India is the 2nd largest producer of cow leather, after China), we had – nothing.

At that point many thought we were crazy. We had a “day job” after all, our small company Maui by Design. But giving up just isn’t in our blood.

And step by step, the pieces came together.  Amazing artists agreed to work with us and share their knowledge of the art along the way.  And we found the unique process that allows us to place the art on genuine leather.  The tattoo art is completely durable, but when you touch the wallet, you also feel the touch of the genuine leather.

So here we are, celebrating our first collection of Polynesian tattoo wallets and card holders.  Wallets for women, in fun leather colors, are not far behind.  (If you want to get alerted when new designs have arrived, sign up here)

 


“I have always been fascinated with Polynesian art and have been drawing for as long as I can remember,” Samoan tattoo artist Eugene “Eugenius” Ta’ase says. Eugene started his tattooing career on Maui when he moved there from American Samoa and his interest in Polynesian tattoos quickly turned into a passion.

His art is most influenced by the traditional Samoan motifs, but he also incorporates other Polynesian motifs. The result is a fiercely beautiful pan-Polynesian style with a distinct Samoan flavor.

After years of tattooing in Maui and Oahu, he moved to Las Vegas, where he practices his art now. Get in touch him at http://skindesigntattoos.com/


Teva was born in Hawaii from Tahitian and Seychelles parents, but his art is firmly rooted in Tahiti. He learned tattooing from his friend Teni (aka “Gringo”), one of the most well-known Tahitian tattoo artists, along with his Marquesan cousins. Teva travels to Tahiti every year to spend time with his family and friends.

Though Teva is also versed in Hawaiian and Samoan tattoo styles if a client requests it, his natural style is a mixture of Tahitian and Marquesan, which he enjoys the most. Like all good Polynesian tattoo artists, he creates tattoos specifically for his clients, based on the meaning the client would like represented. “I pretty much feed off their energy, what they tell me,” he says.

In addition, Teva is also the creator of a line of clothing, shoes and headwear featuring his tattoo art at http://www.tapuclothing.com/accessories.html  Reach him on Instagram @southsideinktatau


Born and raised in Maui, Kuaika was on a dangerous path before he found his calling as a Hawaiian tattoo artist at the age of 15. “I started hanging out with the wrong crowd,” he says. But even then he was creating art. “I got into graffiti and I got joy out of seeing my artwork all over the place.”

At 15, he learned tattooing with prison-style homemade equipment, from the older brother of a friend. Word about his artistry got out, and he quickly found himself tattooing friends.

By the age of 17, he had moved on to using tattoo machinery bought on ebay, but could not find anyone who would apprentice him, until a chance introduction to Samson Harp, one of Hawaii’s most renowned tattoo artists with deep roots in Hawaiian culture.

Kuaika practiced his art at Samson’s Pacific Rootz studio in Kihei, Maui, for years and in 2016 set up his own studio in Wailuku, Hawaii. He also creates and sells amazing Hawaiian tattoo inspired art on canvas. Get in touch with him on Facebookhttps://https://www.facebook.com/KUAIKZ?fref=ts