Not Your Grandmother's Muumuu

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Not Your Grandmother's Muumuu

When you think of a muumuu, you probably think of a heavy cotton dress with puffy sleeves and a shapeless tunic that falls to the floor, maybe with a ruffle around the bottom. You probably think of Hawaii and big, colorful floral prints. And you definitely think of your grandmother.
 
Am I right?
 
Well, Deb Mascia is here to show how wrong we both are. Because I’m pretty sure Cameron Diaz, Cate Blanchett, Michelle Obama and Susan Sarandon wouldn’t be caught dead wearing their grandmother’s muumuu. But they might, as Michelle Obama and her daughters have done, wear a dress re-made from the fabric of a muumuu that once belonged to tutu (grandmother). And they are all wearing one-of-a-kind, wearable art creations sporting Deb’s label Muumuu Heaven.
 
Muumuu Heaven is a boutique in Kailua on Oahu’s windward coast where your grandmother’s muumuu goes to be reincarnated into something quite stylish—stylish enough for celebrities and a president’s wife to wear, stylish enough to wear on the Red Carpet and to presidential inaugurations.
 
Deb was running late when I stopped in the shop recently. She hadn’t had time for make-up that morning, and her hair was thrown back into a pony tail, but she was wearing a sassy, blue-and-white striped dress. “That’s cute.” I said. Two words and Deb was off and running.
 
The dress was new, I learned. The pattern was inspired by a woman’s dress that Deb saw in New York City where she’d recently been combing vintage clothing shops for muumuu. (Miami is another such hotspot.) The new dress is called, fittingly, “Lady Liberty.”
 
Deb rushed into a back room and emerged with three copies of the same dress, all in different fabrics. “This would look great on you,” she said and pulled out her iPhone to show me two photos of Deb wearing the “Lady Liberty” in another fabric. “I made this for myself. But, then, Cameron Diaz bought it,” she said, smiled and performed a happy dance.
 
Deb Mascia has always been crafty. Born to an artist family in Australia, she eschewed the traditional lemonade stand to make and sell lavender sachets—with fabric liberated from a neighbor’s closet.
 
Not much has changed in Deb’s life in that regard. She still rummages through closets for fabric. Now, too, fabric is finding its way to her. She’s been named a benefactor in more than one will. Others clean out closets and gift Deb with the finds. When President Obama’s tutu died, Deb received a treasure trove of goodies. “You’re The Great Recycler,” she was told.
 
Re-purposing someone else’s rubbish isn’t new for Deb. She pulled me into the shop’s bathroom and pointed out a towel rod. Its first life was as the arm of a chair. Deb found it sitting on the side of the road. A rack on which clothes hang once served a tow truck.
 
“Half the fun is the discovery,” Deb said and picked up a cosmetic bag. “This was once a kite-boarder’s kite.” Apparently, it had gotten torn and the surfer stuffed it in a rubbish bin. Deb rescued it.
 
Deb participates in the program 1% For the Planet, directing her donations to the preservation of coral reefs in Hawaii.
 
Muumuu Heaven opened in February 2007 in 1,200 square foot of space tucked in the back corner of a shopping center in Kailua. Since, then, Deb’s expanded her shop size to 3,400 square feet and added a new concept, Muumuu Home, where she sells home furnishings and some furniture—all recycled, re-purposed and reincarnated. Deb incorporates every last piece of scrap into something else, be it blankets, pillows, napkins, stuffed animals or decorative mobile décor.
 
The store also features the work of other artists, all who embrace the same environmentally respectful philosophy.
 
Deb convinced Dale Hope, author of The Aloha Shirt and second-generation Honolulu clothier, to release his extensive collection of men’s aloha shirts from storage. They numbered and labeled each one, “Hope for Man” and now make the vintage shirts available in their original incarnation for others.
 
Following her own advice, in 2011, Deb will introduce a new line, Hana Hou by Muumuu Heaven. Or, “recycled-recycled.” The program will allow Muumuu Heaven customers to return their existing dresses, skirts, tunics and pants to be re-styled into something new.
 
“People used to darn stocks,” Deb said. “We’ve lost that value. Instead, we go to Costco and buy a new package of socks for $3.99.”
 
Muumuu Heaven is more than a store selling dresses. The shop is teaching a philosophy.
 
Deb is trying to bring back the world’s appreciation for goods one person, one dress at a time. Even one of her seamstresses is getting into the act. When Deb recently delivered fabric to her, the women presented Deb with her own sheet that had somehow gotten torn. “That’s it,” Deb said, “She gets it. That’s what Muumuu Heaven is all about.”
 
Deb got as excited as that little girl selling potpourri sachets, dancing on her tips toes, clapping her hands together when she told me this story.
 
And who wouldn’t when Cameron Diaz just bought 10 of your not-so-cheap frocks?

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