Michael Paz is a surfer/graphic designer who undertook a self-initiated daily assignment to create an “Aloha” design for the year 2012. What resulted was a massive collection of designs that encompass a range of both contemporary and vintage themes.We spoke with Michael to learn more.
What was your inspiration in creating Project Aloha?
I had been the art director at Hollister/A&F for the past 5 years. I was unexpectedly laid off in Sept. of 2011. I spent the following month desperately looking for work. Working tirelessly with one company for so long I didn’t have the spare time to do other work, especially with the kids and family. I needed to give my portfolio some new life. I grew up in central Oahu in Hawaii and I felt getting back in touch with the islands was what I needed. I also wanted to get back into designing t-shirts, as being an art director at Hollister left me little time to actually design. I wanted/needed to have something to do every day, so Project Aloha was born in early November 2011. I also wanted to reach out to my friends and family on Facebook, and give them a daily dose of Aloha from all the way over here in Ohio. I wanted to show how universal the Aloha Spirit is and to see if I still had the ability to design everyday.
What is your background in art/design?
I always loved to draw. I can’t remember not drawing as a kid. My mom is an amazing artist, so I probably got some of her genes. I took two years of basic graphic design in high school. I thought I wanted to be a screenprinter. I quickly found out that I wanted to design t-shirts not print them on a daily basis.
In 1989, after graduating high school, I started a surf brand in Hawaii called NSU-North Shore Underground. Hawaiianbuilt, a sub-brand was started 2 years later. It became a full time job so I never got a chance to further any kind of art training or education.
We moved to California and I continued to work at NSU Hawaiianbuilt for nearly 10 years but ended up walking away from it because of some poor business decisions my partner and I both made. Michael Tomson asked me to become the art director at Gotcha and MCD, which if I was asked while in high school what my dream job would be, I’d have said Gotcha for sure. It was a tremendous opportunity to work with Michael, he is still one of my biggest influences. I owe much of where I’m at today to his belief in me.
In January of 2000, a headhunter contacted me about a position in Columbus working with Abercrombie and Fitch. Working at Abercrombie really whips you into shape design-wise. Fast paced and endless amounts of work taught me some valuable lessons. One of the most important is making something you created 5 minutes ago look like it has been on a t-shirt for the past 40 years. While I don’t agree with some of their business practices, my time there was more than worth it. I learned from the best.
What does Aloha mean to you?
It means so many different things, but I ultimately think that you can brighten someone’s day with an unconditional spirit, the Aloha Spirit. Have you told someone Aloha today? It never goes unnoticed and is always appreciated. My daily posts are meant to reach out and do just that.
What are some of the challenges in creating a design everyday?
The creating of a new design is not as much of a challenge, I should be able to do one easily for the rest of my life if I needed to. My wife is awesome, she also works from home and we’ve been able to balance our schedules to try and help one another, she has been super supportive despite the fact that I don’t have a steady full time income. That’s when you have freelance clients with deadlines and kids you need to shuttle to soccer games, or maybe go on vacation.
When I vowed to have one ready every day, that meant they had to be finished before I leave or I’m working while on the road. I choose to have them queued up and waiting. When I was in Hawaii recently for nearly 2 weeks, I had to finish 13 designs in the span of 3 days. I usually plan better than that, but I took on more freelance because it is important so that I can still feed my kids. Aloha never sleeps!
What has been the response to Project Aloha?
At first I think it was such a neat idea that I quickly amassed a bunch of “likes” on my Facebook page. But after 6 months, it seemed that it’s novelty had worn off. Maybe people thought that I couldn’t do it and were watching to see if I’d fail. It became clear that I had no intention of quitting. Soon after I started, and this has been steady, I would get a note here or there saying that they look forward to seeing the daily posts of Aloha. I’ve been told that it makes them smile. That makes it worth it right there.
What’s next for Project Aloha?
I’ve decided to take some of the more popular ones and actually turn them into “Aloha” shirts. Because of my desire to be a designer for a living, this seemed like the right thing to do. So far, the folks who’ve ordered my tees have been nothing but satisfied. Working at A&F made me change my standards and people seem to love the quality. I will soon have 366 designs (Leap Year), and I would love to have a retail space where I can showcase more than 10 designs at a time. I’d love to have a vintage t-shirt shop with over 200 different designs to choose from, albeit they’d all say Aloha! I also think that a coffee table book featuring all the designs would be pretty cool. The Year of Aloha, maybe. Oh, and my portfolio is stacked right now.