Malia Costa | Saltwater Splashes

An Interview with Kat Mische Elle

Malia Costa, share with us how you began your world of design?

I grew up with a single mother and even though I wasn’t an only child, my siblings were 16 and 17 years older and they were already in college by the time I was starting to walk and play. I didn’t have a lot of friends to share my time with where I lived so I was left to my imagination to occupy my time in my early years.

I had my sister’s leftover things remaining in the house to entertain myself with. Because my sister was a seamstress, she left behind a sewing machine with a closet full of fabrics and every type of color thread you could think of. I learned how to use the machine and to thread needles and I began making little gifts for my friends at school and clothing for my dolls.

I would sew together little pencil bags and cross-stitch pillows out of fabrics. I would recycle old jeans, pillowcases, and shirts from around the house. I used whatever I could find at home because I was just a child and too young to buy anything. I was creative and worked with what I had access to.

I loved giving new life to something that had once lived.

I was always in creation mode, even when I was out in nature. I had the most fun when I was able to go for a hike and pick up all the flowers and green foliage, turning them into little wreaths by the time I was back home. I loved the fire I felt in me being able to create something out of anything. I could do this out of sticks, sand, flowers, fabric, and the ocean.

When I decided to start making designs for clothing, I discovered how exciting it was to create something for bodies. The figures and the movements and the magic of designing material that would flow with them inspired me!

How does it start for you? Do you see the person and envision how you could design an outfit for them with the right fabrics? Or do you see blends of colors, and from that create something in your designs?  

It can start in either place, but I’m mostly motivated by creating clothing to be beautiful and functional.  

This part of me comes from designing furniture for a long time. I designed hardwood furniture, so functionality was huge for me.  When I turned to design clothes, it was going to be an important part of my creations as well.  I am especially focused on that from being a mother.

All my designs are classic styles. They range from 10 years ago to my most popular style that just came out.  

I have seen your line of clothes and I would call them Fabulous Functional Fashion pieces!

Yes! They are designed to work with you through your day.  They bring comfort into your life while not having to sacrifice looking great.  My designs help to get things done while rocking your style and feeling young all day long.

hawaiian swimsuits

How did you master this?

So, the journey took a full circle. After I was making furniture, I graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art where I majored in Functional Figure and Functional Sculpture. There was always a meaning behind whatever I was making. I was developing skills in all different mediums with welding, woodworking, and sculpture. When finishing school, I really wanted to be a woodworker and make amazing pieces of furniture. I did that for quite a few years until I started suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome. Woodworking is extremely physical on your body and I had to stop. I then went into interior design. When I decided to have children, I wanted to be able to work from home and that led me back to the sewing machine and I began designing clothes.

Since this was one of the skills that I had growing up it came very easy to me to pick up where I left off except now bringing back a broader set of knowledge into the creation of my designs.

I really wanted to come up with something of my own that I could wear every day that becomes a two-in-one or multifunctional outfit. I wanted to create a few looks with just one piece. When I was playing around by waring and testing patterns out and about, I was constantly asked by women who saw me in them, “Can you make me one in my size?”

I really wanted to come up with something of my own that I could wear every day that becomes a two-in-one or multifunctional outfit. I wanted to create a few looks with just one piece. When I was playing around by waring and testing patterns out and about, I was constantly asked by women who saw me in them, “Can you make me one in my size?”

Being a figurative sculptor, I knew bodies. Everybody is totally different. Nobody is the same. So, it’s hard to create a line of clothes that you have a ‘small, medium, large’, etc., and truly be thinking of everyone.

My designs are very adjustable.  They were created so that one outfit could create a few different looks and can be adjusted to perfectly fit your body type or even your mood that day.

I created these outfits to be very flattering on the figure the way it was.  This was key for me because in my mind all bodies are flattering.  It’s about the line on the body. Certain fabrics have horizontal lines and that goes against my design religion. I don’t see it as flattering.

The fabric you use draws people in because first, they just simply like what they see and then the feel of it really shows the quality.

Yes! I’m told this all the time.

Tell me about your journey with your connection to fabric

I grew up as a dancer. My mom had me in dance school since I was three years old. And we had performances every year. There was a huge performance and every two years the biggest performance was held. I would practice all year long for these events and then I would get into my costume. Everything would become magic with the lights, the movement, and the music! It was such a beautiful experience for me, and I wanted to create something along those lines of movement with my designs but with breathable and organic fabric.

I recall when I was little, I was going through the fabric store one particular day, and I couldn’t stop touching and feeling all the fabrics that I could reach. I became obsessed with the touch and the opaqueness and the stretch of fabrics. I remember my sister always telling me “Stretchy fabrics are the hardest thing to sew.” She told me that I should stick with cotton and polyester. But all I could think about was how the stretchy fabric worked so well with the body. As years went on, I discovered that if you sew it exactly right with the right machines, then they work perfectly.

So, this is what helped you master the designs for your line.

Yes. Once I mastered that I was off and running.

This can also be a metaphor in life, right?  Finding the right fit?  If we feel restrictions, we can’t move and breathe in the most expansive ways possible.

Yes! And that was always important for me to be able to do, whether I was working, playing, or just living.

What age were you when you had your first official clothing line and where did you start?

I was 27 when I started just making things out of my home in my kitchen.

Just for fun.

But I knew I was going to make a business from it. I was going to come up with a line that would just totally rock in all styles and would fit any size.

And what were you going for?  Beachy wear dresses? Fancy? Not fancy?

I was first going for active swimwear.

Something that you could run around on the beach and not fall out of and that you could go surf and swim in, have waves tumbled upon you and you’d stay in your suit looking great.

I quickly had women surfers coming up to me asking for custom suits once they knew that what I was wearing was something I had made. Nobody was doing custom swimwear, so it blew people’s minds.

This led me to create my swimsuit line. All the swimsuits are reversible and easy to mix and match. Everything I make will compliment any of the other solids and patterns so there are many choices and creations that can take place depending on the customer’s individuality and taste. And the fabric I use is light but strong and can be worn as underwear if needed.

The fabric quality is very much key! I have researched the best fabrics and the Italian fabrics are the most luscious. My blends come with SPF and anti by bacterial properties too. The suits and clothing are designed to dry fast after swimming or sweating leaving you feeling clean and dry throughout the day.

Through my line, I’ve created a simple way of sewing it, unlike any other swimsuit brand does. I don’t use any elastic or any kind of latex in my clothes. I don’t use any type of plastic. It’s all eco-friendly and lasts so with all that combined it’s actually very healthy for you to wear.

I’m extremely mindful of all the details. For example, I avoid elastic because it’s very binding and hinders circulation Wearing a sports bra that has a huge band of elastic under it can put some restrictions on easy blood flow to your heart.

And your focus for swimwear?

It’s super solid fabric that is just as light and airy as underwear. Kids can go play and swim and pass out for a nap and you don’t have to worry about what they are wearing being wet. It dries fast. It’s not going to cause a rash.

Parents also like buying our tops as bras for their pre-teen girls too. They are perfect for it! The girls can have a little color on the strap and still be supported in a comfortable way while not having to worry about anything else that a preteen needs to worry about in clothes. They just need to be confident and have fun.

Where has your clothing line now evolved?

Swimsuits for adults, kids, and teens are where I started but I expanded from there. I expanded to flowy loose tops and dresses along with an entire line for young and adult men too.  

What about custom clothing requests?

Yes! I’m excited to create with someone’s vision.

What was the inspiration for your clothing line PIKAI?

The name means “Saltwater Splashes” in Hawaiian. It’s also the name of a Hawaiian ancient, traditional saltwater cleansing ceremony.  The ceremony cleanses you from harmful energies and toxins.  This was the perfect name for my brand because I started with swimsuits, and I grew up spending time in the ocean.  

And how many years has PIKAI been in business now?

For 12 years. We had our world-famous location where both local and international travelers would visit as a destination spot in Kona before Covid but we are just an online store now.

My team and I also travel and do trunk shows around the world. These are private trunk shows at resorts or parties. It’s really fun!

When we are traveling, we post on Instagram where we are and if anybody is in the vicinity, they can meet up with us!

What are some of the most important responses you have received from your customers?

I have had customers reaching out to me about people who are going through cancer. Some of those experiences shared with me how they could wear my clothes and feel comfortable in them even with the sensitivity and pain their bodies might be going thru. The comfort they felt was like being in pajamas but still felt good about their appearance outside of the house with my designs.  

It was humbling in reading this feedback. Happy to know that I have been doing something right.

Since 2020, has your vision for your clothing line grown?

I’m reaching more people now because more people are online people are coming out and asking for what they need and what makes them feel amazing.

Hearing the feedback affects my vision for the next season’s designs. We have started working with two new different types of material. a lighter fabric for dresses and cover-ups.

What season of this year can we expect to see those?

The summer season. We are always coming up with new prints as well as new styles for the year during that season. It’s our busiest time of year.

What’s the easiest way for people to find you?

The best way to contact me is through my website pikaihawaii.com. Also, Instagram @PikaiSwimHawaii for our most up-to-date information.

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