Historic Costume Collection launches crowdsourcing campaign

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Miles Hakoda, (808) 956-3093
Director, Office of Communication Services
Posted: Dec 3, 2013

FDM students prepare for a costume exhibition.
FDM students prepare for a costume exhibition.
Dr. Shu Hwa Lin and a FDM student examine a kimono.
Dr. Shu Hwa Lin and a FDM student examine a kimono.

Just this past semester, the Fashion Design and Merchandising (FDM) program in the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa changed its name from Apparel Product Design and Merchandising in order to more fully convey its focus. And the program is continuing to think in new ways by exploring an exciting and innovative non-traditional method of obtaining much-needed funding for its Historic Costume Collection: crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing is a method of grassroots fundraising in which individuals, fledgling companies, bands or theater troupes, non-profits like the UHM Historic Costume Collection, and many other groups set up “campaigns” to raise money on websites such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter. Visitors to the sites may pledge as little as $1 to $5, depending on the campaign, which has a specified time, often a month or two, to reach its funding goal. Goals also range from as little as $500 into the tens of thousands of dollars. Those who pledge money may do so out of pure philanthropy; other campaigns offer “perks” in return for the donations.

The UHM Historic Costume Collection has been described as a hidden treasure by the Hawaii State Legislature, which voted funding to support it in 2009. But the Collection’s continuing needs have led it to turn to crowdsourcing for a hoped-for sum of $10,000 to purchase necessary items for the upkeep and preservation of its irreplaceable holdings. Museum-quality cabinets are needed, with large, wide drawers that will allow the garments to be stored flat and unfolded; so are textile-conservation materials such as acid-free boxes, paper, and wrapping material; muslin to pad the hangers and protect the shoulders of hanging garments; and display cases. The Collection has only a single display case at present, which can only accommodate two to three garments at a time, while most of its extensive holdings are rarely seen.

The Collection, begun in 1960, consists of approximately 18,000 historic and ethnographic garments, textiles, accessories, home-furnishing fabrics, and related materials and equipment dating back to the early 19th century. It is the largest collection of its kind at an American university. There are 4 sub-collections: Western, Asian, Hawaiian and Ethnic. The Asian collection includes a series of five Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912) imperial dragon robes, which are the subject of a lavishly illustrated book and a companion documentary DVD. It also boasts a Japanese kosode, an ornate silk robe that was among the exchange of gifts during negotiations when Commander Perry opened up trade between the U.S. and Japan in 1854. The Collection’s holdings span a broad range from haute couture gowns to clothing worn by Hawai‘i’s Territory-era plantation workers in pineapple and sugarcane fields. There is an extensive collection of iconic aloha shirts and muumuus, as well as many bolts of Native Hawaiian kapa.

The mission of the Collection is to preserve these ethnographic artifacts in order to support teaching in FDM as well as in other programs and departments at the University; to promote research by students, faculty and visiting scholars; and to provide artifacts for use in class and exhibition. UH faculty members use Collection holdings in classroom instruction, whether for historical instruction or to provide inspiration for textile and design students. Students in textile conservation classes also learn how to preserve and repair the delicate materials. Undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff and visiting scholars may request objects for research, and students in curatorship classes and members of other institutions periodically borrow articles for exhibit either on campus or in other venues.

The FDM program hopes that the romance of garments from a bygone era and their inspiration for fashion design today will combine with an understanding of the academic importance of textile conservation, museum curatorship and ethnographic studies to appeal to the crowdsourcing community to help them reach their goal. The Costume Collection’s campaign may be viewed at Indiegogo: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/uh-historic-costume-collection--2. A Flickr gallery of the Collection’s holdings may be seen at http://www.flickr.com/photos/uhmuseum/collections/72157616089473082/

For more information, visit: http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu