“I’m the only elementary school dropout that I know,” says Hanalei Swan, a 14-year-old fashion designer, artist, and the founder and CEO of Hanalei Swan -HS Styles, an eco-friendly sustainable clothing brand for women and girls based in Bali, Indonesia.
While Hanalei may not know any other kids who didn’t complete elementary school, she also doesn’t know many others who toured over 50+ countries by the time they turned 12. Traveling at a young age offers many proven pro-educational benefits for children such as intercultural exposure, dispelling with stereotypes, igniting a sense of imagination and mental freedom, and enhancing social skills and interpersonal relationships.
Hanalei is one part of the globe-trotting trio known as the Unstoppable Family, with her mother, entrepreneur Rhonda Swan, and her father, semi-pro surfer Brian Swan. While she has formerly attended schools in the many countries they’ve lived in, Hanalei is now dedicated to a different approach to practical education – mastering the art of fashion designing, learning to build and scale a business from scratch, and convening online campaigns through her brand to spread awareness on the many benefits of earth-conscious fashion.
After traveling for over a decade, Hanalei’s family is currently settled in Uluwatu, Bali, where the plastic infestation reality was a jolting shock for the young girl.
“When I came to Bali, I quickly noticed the plastic on the beach and the mountains of piled, random trash,” she says. “It was nothing like any of the other countries I’d visited. After a quick search, I found out about fast fashion, the chemicals in textile dyes, the hundreds of gallons of water necessary to produce a cotton t-shirt – 750 to be exact – and the outsourcing to third world countries of the workforce just about my age.”
The fashion industry produces about 13 million tons of textile waste annually, with only 6-9% actually being recycled or reused. 60% of all materials used in the industry are made from plastic and non-decomposable materials, all contributing to the fast fashion trends where clothes are replicated directly from runways at lower costs, poorer quality, and zero concern from the environment.
“I remembered seeing photos of clean, beautiful beaches but now, those same beaches have become landfills,” Hanalei said as she recalls her return to Bali. “When I was 11, I started the #wearslow movement, which is about educating people on slow fashion, choosing sustainable materials, and thinking before you buy.”
Never too early
Guiding growing children toward identifying their talents and setting goals is an important parental responsibility. Hanalei’s parents, however, did not ask their child what she wanted to be in the future.
Rhonda and Brian asked Hanalei what she wanted to do now, in the present. Allowing children to explore the skill areas where they are genuinely interested lays a solid foundation for harnessing creativity.
“Most kids are asked, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’” Hanalei explains. “But I wasn’t asked that, I was asked, ‘What do you want to be now?’ This question changed my perspective on what I could do at such a young age, and instead of thinking I had to wait to become a fashion designer until I was 20 or 30, I decided to start designing at the age of 8 years old.”
Hanalei had always nursed a flair for drawing and sketching – doodling designs since she was five years old. It took a chance meeting during a storm for her parents to realize her potential as the family met LA-based professional fashion designer, Karen Keith. Karen chatted with Hanalei, skimmed through her sketchbook, and decided the girl was incredibly talented.
A union was formed that night and Karen became Hanalei’s mentor, teacher, and close friend.
For her 12th birthday, Hanalei debuted her first collection, the Unstoppable Collection, and had dozens of professional models showcasing her designs on a runway – from funky full-shirt hoodies and off-shoulder crop tops to mermaid-like silk gowns and corporate outfits, Hanalei’s prototypes all came to life in an event the teen describes “the best day of my life”.
While most home-schooling methods involve kids studying the same subjects being taught at school from the comfort of their homes, Hanalei’s classroom is her fashion workshop where she also learns accounting, payroll management, and the basics and core foundations of entrepreneurship.
“I have been to schools in many countries but I feel that I am learning through the real world right now,” Hanalei says. “I’m doing math through fashion and measuring and handling the real-world issues of running a business.”
Born into a family of entrepreneurs, Hanalei was exposed to the intricate world of business building from a young age. Today, the young girl is toeing her parent’s footsteps as she builds an inspiring brand focused on embodying women with confidence and elegance, while also pushing a movement for earth-friendly, sustainable fashion. All the fabrics used by Hanalei-Swan-HS Styles are produced from ethically sourced, biodegradable materials such as bamboo and modal. Her designs are available for purchase on her online store and for every outfit sold, her brand donates a uniform to a less-privileged kid in India.
“I get to choose who I want to be and what I want to do,” says Hanalei. “I dealt with not feeling confident in who I was and how I looked. And as I’ve overcome that, I want to inspire other young women to feel strong and powerful in who they truly are and love their reflection in the mirror.”