A Conversation with Marika Emi

Salvage Public visited Marika's studio in Mānoa Valley to pour through her personal collection of clothing, much of it vintage aloha pieces, and paired them with pieces from our collection.  Marika launched Tropic Editions and it's namesake publication, Tropic Zine in 2018, with a curatorial emphasis on experimentation, critique, and collaboration. Each year, Tropic Zine connects artists, writers, and creatives across the tropical diaspora through thematic volumes.



 SP: Aloha e Marika, Thanks for doing this with us. We thought of you to start off this series since youʻre so connected to fashion and the way you mix various modern influences in with your collection of vintage “Aloha Wear,” some of which you wear out and some you just hang on to. When did you realize your collection had become something of an archive?

ME: I didn’t start to think of it as an archive until I started taking it seriously as a research project around the time I started Tropic. The original concept for Tropic was a fashion publication. It was not meant to be as serious a publication as it eventually became, I think it was just supposed to be a fun way to gather people around to tell cultural stories through clothing and through personal style.

Salvage Public Pua Rugby and Nakeʻu Awai

SP: Fashion is still a big part of Issue 1, but it became an important forum for local writers and artists as well. In Issue 2, it expands into other parts of the world, the Philippines to be specific. Do you foresee Issue 3 following a format based a different place that has cultural connections to Hawaiʻi?

ME: Each issue will be totally different actually, It wonʻt be place based, although it will be thematic in a different way. And fashion will always be a link in Tropic, because I think you can address pretty much anything through clothing and the way that people express their personal identity through style.

SP: Is it important to you that the types of projects that you put out through Tropic Editions are accessible to a wide audience? Or are you focusing on a niche readership that is more keyed-in to the things youʻre thinking about?

ME: One of my goals for Tropic Editions is to be able to continually surprise people by the various kinds of publications, the formats, the artists and the writers involved. I hope that each publication is completely unique; I think the audience should change with each publication but that people will appreciate the press for identifying artists, and issues, and formats that are not being done by anyone else right now. Which is a pretty tall order! A lot of the same people and topics do get featured in local publications, over some of the quieter stories that may not be as immediately gratifying.

I actually think that Salvage Public is both a quiet brand as well as a steadfast loud brand. I’m really interested in branding and I like to gather inspiration from projects that have a very strong and magnetic brand identity and to use that as way of working through the branding of my own projects. One of my ideas about Tropic is to continuously rebrand, so that when you think of it you’re not just thinking of one image, one logo, or one audience, or one type-face.

Salvage Public Wahine Camp Collar and Marika's Personal Vintage

 Salvage Public City Lights T-shirt and Marika's Personal Vintage

Salvage Public Pua Palaka Military Jacket

SP: I often see how the deconstructed Lēʻahi that is our logo is both very resonant with a local and Hawaiian audience and yet visitors can also participate in the reference if theyʻre paying attention.

ME: I also think that SP is a powerful subversion of minimalist branding that has very little meaning! I think as an aesthetic, people are attracted to minimalist branding but so often there is very minimal meaning…

SP: Thatʻs an excellent compliment, Mahalo. Why do you feel itʻs important to be doing what youʻre doing in Hawai‘i Nei? There are so many places that I think you could thrive in this world.

ME: I can’t really imagine doing it anywhere else, Hawai‘i is such a home base for me, though I’ve lived other places I feel like really important for me be stationed here right now. I think itʻs important to reinforce that moment where itʻs like: I live here, I choose to live here because this is where I want to be and the network that I want to create is located here and spreading outward other places. I canʻt imagine doing this project anywhere else.


Salvage Public Palm Camp Collar

SP: I think the creative coalition that youʻre working with and building is really exciting and impactful and is another reason we wanted to learn more. It seems that you all compliment and contrast each otherʻs projects in a compelling way, while working independently…

ME: Because I donʻt feel strongly affiliated with any very established organizations, it’s pretty liberating. We have to be our own burgeoning institutions ourselves. I think itʻs helpful to think of our community as an eco-system, weʻre all living on these islands with limited resources so it only makes sense to help each other out as much as possible to make things happen and also hopefully enjoy it while its happening.

SP: In addition to all things fashion, art and publishing, youʻre known for being an amazing cook and for hosting vegan dinner gatherings, youʻre almost a plant-based cuisine ambassador yea!?

ME: Iʻm just interested in ingredients! I’ve been vegan for like 16 years, but to me itʻs not so much about identifying a certain way as it is celebrating what that even means, being able to eat an abundance of local plants. I never feel like meat or dairy is a key ingredient in any recipe that I canʻt adapt, whether it be like culturing vegan cheeses and yogurts as it were. I never talk about my food as being vegan, it’s more like: here it is, itʻs delicious, these are the ingredients I used and youʻre gonna enjoy it!

SP: Ooooh Invite us over!?