Shopping At Thrift Stores
A rewarding hobby can be found in browsing thrift stores with the bonus of the amazing steals that can pop up. For moderate prices, you can find treasures, outfits, and other bits and bobs. However, you often wonder about your preowned finds’ history.
The legacy of one such unique item was about to be uncovered by one woman, and her discovery would ultimately change her life.
Kauai native Shannon Hiramoto spends all her time trawling through charity shops for a very particular style of dress –vintage muumuus. Muumuus are flattering and loose-fitting. “So I’m always hunting for muumuus. That’s my hobby, vintage ones,” she explains.
So, when she stumbled upon an entire rack of muumuus in a Salvation Army in Lihue, she was ecstatic. But as she gleefully began to pull them from their hangers one by one, something caught her eye that left her floored.
Inexplicably Drawn In
Picking out a dress from the large selection, she was immediately overwhelmed by a nagging sense of familiarity. She racked her brain to try and place where she had seen something like it before. She held it up to her chin to admire its unusual length and then began to scrutinize the pretty frilled V-neck collar.
It had a flowered pattern on a pink background, but Shannon was about to find out that there was much more to this dress than met the eye.
More Than Appearance
“I saw this beautiful muumuu right here, and I’m like, ooh, a mini one, because you know it’s always fun finding a shorter one,” she recalls in an interview.
But it was only upon further inspection that her instincts told her that this dress was more than it seemed.
Shannon glanced at the Liberty House tag attached to the collar and immediately noticed that there was something written on it — one word, written in faded permanent marker.
Before anyone else could spot her find, she wasted no time in snatching it up and hurrying to the check-out counter, money grasped tightly in her hand. She had to know more.
A Message Just For Her
Shannon couldn’t shake the feeling that the word written on the muumuu’s tag meant something — a sign from above. But she also knew that finding a message meant just for her in a thrift store was almost impossible. But how else could she explain this feeling in her chest when she had seen it?
Closing her eyes tightly, she willed herself to remember.
A Ghost From The Past
A shape began to form in her mind’s eye, and then it began to come into focus. A vibrant lady dressed in pink. Her fighting spirit and lust for life shone in her eyes as she smiled knowingly. Although she had lived a full life and had passed at the age of 108, she had a message for Shannon.
Shannon had a feeling that finding that dress had been the singular most important moment in her life.
A Hidden Past
Shannon felt the truth with each beat of her heart, but before she made a fool of herself, she needed to find proof. Did she dare even think that she was right? The logical side of her brain told her that she needed to find evidence, but she needed to delve deeper into the family secret to find it.
And when she did, the implications were huge.
How could one word be so powerful that it had sent a shiver down Shannon’s spine? With her suspicions following closely behind, she raced home to her mother. Thankfully, she was there waiting. Shannon needed her opinion on what she had found and hoped that they could solve the mystery together.
But when she showed the dress to her mother, her face went pale — as if she’d seen a ghost.
Saying Her Name
The word written on the label hit Mrs. Hiramoto like a bolt from the blue. Her eyes widened as she looked from the dress to her daughter’s face. Shannon watched as every emotion jolted through her, from elation to heartbreak and everything in between. Then, Shannon’s mother’s hands started to shake.
Shannon had never expected one word to have the power to reduce her mother to tears. But it wasn’t just a word. It was a name.
The name, written in the garment owner’s hand, was “Kamei”. Shannon felt shivers run down her spine as she watched the realization dawn on her mother’s face. She knew there weren’t many people in Hawaii with that name.
In fact, she had only ever heard of one.
Shannon’s told her mother how she had stumbled upon the dress, and she listened, dumbstruck. Shannon let her recover before carefully inspecting the dress again. Then, Mrs. Hiramoto began to nod slowly — conceding that Shannon’s hunch could be correct about the dress’ previous owner.
Shannon’s mother paused to think for a second before disappearing into the next room. When she reappeared, she had a stack of photo albums in her arms. The pair began to examine each photo, and Shannon’s heart leaped with every turn of the page.
Searching For A Miracle
Shannon knew the chances of finding what she was looking for were slim to none, but she had to start somewhere. But when they eventually came to the end of the albums, they still hadn’t found the answer.
Defeated, and with no more photographs, Shannon felt deflated. She was no closer to solving this mystery than when she’d started. She came to grips with the fact that she may never know the truth now. But unbeknown to Shannon, her mother hadn’t given up.
Shannon had searched through the old photo albums for an entire day, but they had found nothing. She had all but given up hope. She knew that her wild notion had been far-fetched, but she couldn’t help but feel disappointed when her search yielded nothing.
Then, she saw a message from her mother that made her heart soar.
Proof At Last
A few days after Shannon had talked with her mother, she got the text. Her mother had sent her the photograph that she had always known about but had forgotten.
“And it’s this, and it’s her. It’s a full-body shot, and I was just so excited! My mom said it was the last photo in the last album she looked at.” Now, Shannon knew for sure. The muumuu had actually belonged to her beloved great-grandmother.
A Family Name
“But it also had handwritten Kamei on it, and it blew my mind because that’s my great-grandmother’s name. Her last name.” Born in Kekaha back in 1904, Shannon’s great-grandmother’s name was Florence Shizuko Kamei.
She could hardly believe it! The unbelievable coincidence of finding her dress all after all these years was absolutely mind-blowing. But the wise woman still had a message to deliver.
Some Life Advice
Shannon recalled: “One of her legacies is that when she passed, she was the oldest person in Hawaii at age 108! When she died, they announced it on the radio and news!” But what was the woman’s secret to a long, happy life?
The answer is simple…
Hobbies And Green Tea
“Green tea and hobbies,” Shannon remembers with a laugh. But Shannon’s mother remembers more. She remembers her wearing long flowing dresses, and if she wasn’t already laughing, there was always a smile at the corners of her lips.
Great-grandmother Kamei was a happy woman, and she loved to sing and play her ukulele in the church choir. Her great passion for family, food, and fun lives on in Shannon.
An Inspirational Woman
Shannon’s great-grandmother was an inspiration throughout her life, so much so that she even named her daughter after her.
The name means “quiet child” in Japanese, but neither great-grandmother Kamei nor Shannon’s daughter had quiet personalities!
A Fading Memory
During the last few days, Shannon scrutinized her early memories for this particular pink dress. She was sure that she could even recall seeing her great-grandmother wearing it. But she admits that memories can be deceiving. “It seemed familiar, but in this memory way,” she explains.
But even now, she still isn’t absolutely sure if it was a true memory or if she had just wanted it to be one so badly.
Her Final Resting Place
In that earth-shattering photo, Shannon’s great-grandmother poses in that very same muumuu that Shannon had discovered. The photo was taken in the historic county of Hanapepe, in front of her church, The United Church of Christ.
“What’s really special about it is she’s there,” Shannon said. “Her ashes, her remains are in the back of the church there, so it was like visiting her again.”
Shannon reveals: “She passed five years ago, so I have no idea where it had been between that point and now.” But what does Shannon think about finding the beloved muumuu after all this time?
She says: “It’s magic!”
Shannon believes that she found the dress for a very important reason that is far more meaningful than just a happy coincidence.
She believes in her heart that it was a special message from her precious great-grandmother. “I think it’s just her way of telling me I’m on the right track,” she explains.
“I’ve come full circle and feel like she is smiling down on me or at least giggling,” Shannon confided in an interview with the local news station. She plans to keep the muumuu in her family as a precious heirloom. And when her daughter is big enough to wear it, she will tell her its amazing story.
The absolute serendipity of Shannon finding such an important family treasure in a thrift store is priceless, and what happened next almost proves that her beloved great-grandmother still plays a part in her family’s daily lives.
Shannon’s amazing story about the miraculous muumuu made international headlines, making her and her clothing store, Machinemachine famous and giving her business a big boost.
It was almost as though her great-grandmother still had a hand in ensuring her great-granddaughter’s success. After all, Shannon may never have developed a deep passion for fashion and muumuus if it weren’t for her.
Passed Down Through Generations
Shannon’s grandmother, Mildred Hiramoto, learned to sew from her mother, Kamei. She then passed her knowledge down to Shannon and taught her how to sew at the age of 14.
On Shannon’s business website, she says that sewing is a way for her to stay close to her grandmother. Every time Shannon threads a needle, she feels both women’s love.
Keeping Their Spirits Close
“My grandmother passed in 2011, and I miss her every day —sewing is one way to keep her spirit close. I started my company/experiment called Machinemachine in 2007 and am continually excited about meeting customers and making things every day!” Shannon wrote on her website.
In 2016, Shannon moved her shop to a new space and started working with her father, Charlie. But they are not just creating muumuus.
Keeping Her Culture Alive
Shannon is extremely environmentally-conscious and uses vintage, upcycled, and donated fabrics to make her fashion creations, and her father prints them by hand – which makes them even more unique and special.
As a testament to the clothes’ comfort, customers often write, “I live in this dress!” in their reviews. But Shannon’s not just keeping her grandmother, and great-grandmother’s spirits close – she’s also keeping her culture alive.
A Rich History
After Shannon’s incredible story of serendipity went viral on social media, people all over the world became curious about muumuus and their significance in Hawaiian culture.
Shannon and the matriarchs in her family don’t just love muumuus for their style, colors, and comfort, the connection to these particular garments goes much, much deeper than that.
Christian Protestant Missionaries
The muumuu is actually a powerful symbol of freedom from oppression in Hawaiian culture. The story of muumuus begins in the 1820s – when Christian Protestant missionaries arrived on the island.
At the time, native South Pacific women wore scanty clothes to stay cool in the heat. However, the missionaries had a big problem with that.
Insisting On Modesty
The missionaries wanted to cover up as much of the Hawaiian women’s skin as possible. They introduced a two-piece ensemble that consisted of a “holoku” – a floor-length undergarment dress with a high collar – and an outer dress called a “mu’um’u.”
Of course, these clothes were unbearably warm in the tropical South Pacific heat, so the women eventually adopted the outer “mu’um’u” dress without the underdress, and it evolved into what it is today.
In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.