From antique furniture to family heirlooms, you can find anything at thrift stores. Many people visit these shops to expand their collection, and Shannon Hiramoto is one of those customers. For years, she has perused thrift shops for vintage muumuus, a traditional Hawaiian dress. Her love of this style descended from a long line of muumuu-lovers.
But when Shannon noticed the tag on one muumuu, her entire life changed. The chances of finding this particular dress were close to none. Here is the story of Shannon Hiramoto and her family bond through Hawaiian fashion.
For Shannon, Thrift Shopping Was More Than Just A Hobby
Shannon Hiramoto often spent her off time in the thrift stores of Kauai. Of all her favorite thrift store clothes, she loved vintage muumuus the most. Muumuu dresses are loose, hang from the shoulder, and often sport Polynesian floral patterns.
“So I’m always hunting for muumuu’s,” Shannon explained. “That’s my hobby, the vintage ones.” During her search, she found an entire rack of these dresses at a Salvation Army in Lihue. Jackpot!
A Family Love Of Sewing
Shannon’s love of dresses was a family inheritance. At age fourteen, her grandmother, Mildred Hiramoto, taught her how to sew. Shannon shared her love of sewing and vintage fabric with both her mother and great-grandmother. Now, she runs her own clothing store called Machine Machine.
“My grandmother passed in 2011, and I miss her everyday,” Shannon wrote on the Machine Machine Apparel website. “Sewing is one way I keep her spirit close.”
The History Of Muumuus
The Hawaiian word mu’umu’u means “cut off,” because the dresses lack fitting around the shoulders and waste. In the 1820s, Protestant missionaries brought a style to Hawaii called a Mother Hubbard dress. Natives called this floor-length unfitted dress a holokū.
Over time, the holokū advanced and changed. A shorter, informal version called a muumuu became popular for everyday wear. Hence, muumuus have been a Hawaiian fashion tradition for centuries.
One Oddly Familiar Dress
As Shannon searched through the rack, she encountered a dress that seemed oddly familiar. This dress was shorter than others and had a purple floral pattern on pink material. On the V-neck, the dress sported lovely frills.
“I saw this beautiful muumuu right there,” Shannon later said, “and I’m like, ‘Oooh, a mini one,’ because you know it’s always fun finding a shorter one.” Although it sparked some buried memory in Shannon, she couldn’t place where she had seen it before.
But Something Was Off
When Shannon looked at the dress’s tag, she was immediately struck by what was on it. The Liberty House tag had something written on it in faded marker. She didn’t hesitate for a moment; Shannon snatched the dress and ran it to the check-out counter.
Shannon had recognized the name on the tag. Upon reading it, she suddenly remembered a woman who had lived until 108. Someone who had smiled at Shannon and meant a lot to her.
What Did She Find?
“When I looked at the tag, it said ‘Liberty House,’ then it also had handwritten on it ‘Kamei,'” Shannon told KHON2. “And it blew my mind, because that’s my great-grandmother’s name, her last name.”
Since Kamei isn’t a common name in Hawaii, Shannon felt an immediate family connection. But she didn’t jump to conclusions. She decided to investigate the dress further with her mom, who would know more than her.
Their Investigation Begins
As Shannon recounted her tale, her mother listened, dumbstruck. Shannon clarified that when she saw the name, she remembered her great-grandmother wearing a similar one.
After Shannon’s mother calmed down, she examined the muumuu. She admitted that she also remembered Kamei wearing a similar style. But the two ladies didn’t celebrate yet. They decided to investigate further, so Shannon’s mother pulled out some old photo albums. Their excitement had risen exponentially.
Shannon’s great-grandmother was Florence Shizuko Kamei. She was born in Kekaha in 1904 and died at age 108. “One of her legacies is that when she passed, she was the oldest person in Hawaii at age 108!” Shannon said. “When she died, they announced it on the radio and news!”
Florence Kamei adored enjoyed muumuu. Although She often wore them, the Hiramotos didn’t know what happened to her wardrobe. In the five years after she died, nobody had seen any of her old clothes.
Kamei’s Secret To Long Life
What was Florence Kamei’s secret to long life? When she was alive, she told Shannon her secret: “Green tea and hobbies.” “She loved her church choir, playing ukulele, Japanese dancing, joking around, and eating,” Shannon described on Instagram.
Some commentors on Shannon’s Instagram remembered Kamei while she was alive. She was always laughing, smiling, and enjoying her time with friends and family. To Shannon, Kamei was a happy, healthy, influential woman.
A Close Family Bond
Shannon’s mother, Hiramoto, gave her daughter the middle name Kamei in honor of her great-grandmother. In Japanese, kamei translates to “quiet child.” The family often jokes about this irony. “Neither of them have quiet personalities,” said Shannon’s mother.
Both Shannon and Kamei shared a passion for muumuu’s. On top of that, Shannon credits for family heritage for her sewing skills. When her daughter was born, Shannon gave her the same middle name as her great-grandmother, Shizuko.
The Importance Of Recycling
Shannon believes in never wasting clothes. Her shop, Machine Machine, honors this conviction. “One of my great desires is that my pieces do not contribute to the wasteful fashion industry,” Shannon wrote on her company’s website. She asks that people bring old muumuus back to her shop.
Shannon’s love of thrifting stems from this value. She never puts good muumuus to waste. If this muumuu belonged to her family member, she definitely wouldn’t toss it.
Investigating The Dress
“I just knew that she [Florence Kamei] always liked to wear muumuu that had pink or purple or red,” Shannon said, “and [the thrifted muumuu] seemed familiar in a way.” Hence, the ladies searched through photo albums.
The more pages they flipped through, the less encouraged they felt. Although Kamei wore plenty of muumuus in the photos, she never wore Shannon’s new find. Eventually, it started to get late. They had to give up the search for now.
Just When Hope Is Lost
For a couple of nights, no result came up. Shannon kept her thrift find but didn’t receive any closure for the name on the tag. Since she didn’t have her family’s old photos, she simply waited for her mom to uncover a breakthrough.
Fortunately for Shannon, she did. “Then a couple nights later, my mom texts me a photo, and it’s this [pointing to the muumuu], and it’s her, and it’s a full-body shot!”
The Family Photo Evidence
Shannon had to wait for a hidden photo in the back of her mother’s collection. “My mom said it was the last photo in the last album she looked at,” Shannon later reported. But there was no doubt that Florence Kamei wore Shannon’s new thrifted muumuu.
Her muumuu was a one-to-one image of Shannon’s recent thrift find: pink and purple florals, a ruffled collar, and a short length. It seemed like fate had brought Shannon and her great-grandmother together.
Not Only Was The Muumuu Familiar…
Of course, Shannon felt overjoyed at the discovery. Not only did Shannon recognize the muumuu from the photo, but she also recognized the location. Florence Kamei stood in front of a white wall with warm-colored flowers on top of it. Anyone in the Hiramoto family could recognize that building.
Believe it or not, the location of the photograph had special meaning to Shannon–and more specifically, her great-grandmother.
The Photo’s Location
The photo was shot in a historic Hawaii county called Hanapepe. The background wall belongs to the United Church of Christ. Shannon recognized it because it was her great-grandmother’s church. In reality, it still is her church.
“What’s really special about it is she’s there,” Shannon explained. “Her ashes. Her remains are in the back of the church there, so it was like visiting her again.” What are the odds that two incredible coincidences would assimilate in one photo?
Recreating Her Family Line
Now that she owned her great-grandmother’s muumuu, Shannon decided to recreate the photo. She returned to the United Church of Christ while wearing her newly-inherited muumuu. Both the Hiramotos and Kamei spent a lot of time at this church.
During the trip, Shannon revisited her grandmother’s tomb in Hanapepe. She had finally received closure and felt closer to her great-grandmother than ever. After several years, the family tradition had come full circle.
After Five Years, Florence Kamei Came Back
“She [Florence Kamei] passed five years ago,” said Shannon, “so I have no idea where [the muumuu] had been between that point and now.” The fact that Shannon found her great-grandmother’s muumuu after five years is a miracle. The family is also surprised that nobody bought the muumuu before her.
“It’s magic,” Shannon laughed. “I think it’s just her way of telling me I’m on the right track.” To her, the dress illustrates that her great-grandmother is guiding her life.
Shannon Had To Share The News
Shannon shared the story on her company’s Instagram, @machinemachine. She reiterated her family experience to over 5,000 followers. Afterward, her post received over 1,000 likes and dozens of praising comments.
Shannon also went on local TV news stations to talk about her experience. The simple act of finding a dress sparked deep emotions in people across the country. Evidently, Shannon wasn’t alone in believing that her grandmother reached out to her in death.
Now, It’s The Newest Family Heirloom
Shannon is a big believer in recycling clothes, especially family heirlooms. She says that she will “definitely” pass on her great-grandmother’s muumuu to her three-year-old daughter. Although her daughter doesn’t share Shannon’s sense of style, she still keeps the heirloom for her.
“I’ve come full circle,” Shannon said, “and feel like [Kamei] is smiling down on me…or at least giggling.” Her great grandmother’s muumuu tale is still on her Instagram as one of her profile’s highlights.