“They asked me what I wanted to be now, rather than what I wanted to be when I grow up.”
At the start of the teenage phase run, 13 is the age where most kids start drafting up solid visions for the future. Their dreams change from childhood imaginations to realistic plans, and while no kid is expected to have it all figured out at this age, the questions about future goals begin to get serious.
For Hanalei Swan, there’s nothing regular or “expected” about her thirteenth year. Hanalei is the founder of Hanalei Swan-HS Styles, an eco-friendly, sustainable clothing brand based in Bali, Indonesia. To prove that sometimes, entrepreneurial talents might just be genetic, Hanalei is the daughter of entrepreneur, Rhonda Swan, and Brian Swan, a semi-pro surfer and business development strategist.
Hanalei began traveling the world at the age of one, and today, after fifty countries toured and a wealth of experiences gained, she has seen so much compelling beauty in the world, along with the harsh reality of waste infestation. Discovered at the age of nine by a fashion designer in Bali, the young artist started the #wearslow movement two years later, an awareness campaign aimed at educating people to choose environmentally-conscious fashion brands.
“When I was 7 years old, my mum recorded a video of me telling her that I wanted to be a fashion designer and an artist,” says Hanalei. “But I think my parents never imagined that my passion would evolve the way it did. To many, I am a different kid because I’m growing up differently from most children, but to me, it’s pretty normal as it’s all I know. Every day of my life has been an adventure, and there was always space for creativity. I believe these experiences have been part of who I am and why I have become both an artist and a designer.”
Bali, where storms make dreams come true
While the weather on the beautiful island of Bali, Indonesia, is quite balmy for most of the year, the rainstorms are some of the most torrential in the region. One night, when Hanalei was nine, a quiet, reserved child who simply loved to sketch dresses and keep to herself, a storm blew out the power in her parents home.
Hot and hungry, Hanalei’s family drove out in the storm to find an air-conditioned place to pass the night. When they finally came upon a bed-and-breakfast, the night drifted on with events that launched the little girl’s dreams into reality.
An LA-based fashion designer named Karen was lodged at the same hotel with the family. Rhonda and Brian got chatting with her at the restaurant while Hanalei slept. Karen asked to see some of Hanalei’s sketches and was amazed by the creativity of the girl’s designs.
“I have gone to Fashion School, FIT in New York City,” said Karen,“so I’ve worked alongside some amazing peers and some incredibly talented people and when I tell you that the pages of this 9-year-old’s sketchbook blew me away, I mean it.”
Karen became Hanalei’s mentor and has helped fine-tune her abilities over the years. Karen introduced Hanalei to her team of tailors, and at the age of 10, the young girl had her sketches and designs transformed into eco-friendly clothing available for purchase online. People purchase the designs from her online store and for every outfit sold, HS-Styles donates a uniform to a child in India.
“It feels like my collection is never-ending, as I keep getting the inspiration to have more unique pieces,” Hanalei affirms. “And the process gets more fun as the days go by. For my 12th birthday, I unveiled my ‘Unstoppable Collection’ at my fashion studio in Canggu, Bali. It was so special to have a team of people dressing, doing makeup, hair, filming, photographing the beautiful models putting on all the different designs I’d created on my 1st solo fashion show. It was one of the best days of my life.”
The Unstoppable Kid
“I made a vow to her that I would never put her in daycare, and planned her birth out with a perfect plan.”
These were the words of Rhonda Swan, Hanalei’s mother, two years before her child was born. She wasn’t going to be the constantly busy mom whose child practically lived in daycare. Rhonda decided she’d leave her corporate job, start her own business, and together with her husband, Brian, she’d invest in real estate, have Hanalei, and live the perfect life.
Sadly, the real estate investment went downhill. The Swans lost everything to a fraudulent golf course development deal and it seemed the only option was to return to corporate life. However, they took the painful blow as a shove to try something new, and with one-year-old Hanalei, the family began their voyage around the world.
“We took that as a sign, and on November 25th, 2008, we shipped off to start what we called “The Swan’s Endless Summer Journey”, with no real end in sight or a vision of what we were really doing, but we were doing it,” says Rhonda.
From Hawaii to Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Australia, Bali, Fiji, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Panama, Peru, Brazil, and from Germany to Mainland Spain, Canary Islands, and Morocco, the Swans have traveled, visited, and lived in over 50 countries across six continents (obviously excluding Antarctica), before returning to Bali, Indonesia.
Hanalei learned a great deal about the world through her experiences instead of printed words in a textbook. From stunning cultures and wildlife to fashion and environmental problems, the young girl has seen, first-hand, how beautiful the world is and why humans should work together to heal the earth. As more people are choosing environmentally-conscious fashion brands, ‘Hanalei Swan – HS Styles’ uses sustainable materials like bamboo and modal and all of the fabric is ethically sourced. The fast-rising brand also works to educate customers and the general public on the importance of opting for brands that care about the earth – the ones who do not decimate entire animal species for raw materials or use plastic packaging.