HONOLULU - Local clothing designer Amos Kotomori likes to give his age as "ten dog years." This major figure in Hawaii's fashion scene has brushed shoulders with the top designers of the world, and has created a legacy here in his home state. He's survived some major health scares, only to emerge as someone who is Aging Well.

We're at the serene hilltop home of Kotomori, and sitting in his sacred space: at his bedroom altar. He rings the bell and sits in a minute of prayer. This is how Kotomori greets the day. With the sound of silence – and breath. "Listening and silence are gifts," he says.

Each breath reminds him he's alive. "When someone says you've got six months to live or that you've got 90% blockage [of your heart], every breath is a gift," he pronounces.

Nine years ago, doctors told the fashion designer he had Stage 4 colon, bladder, and hip bone cancer. "I went through 54 24-hour long chemo sessions. About five months later, I was told I had emergency blockage," he recalls.

He says 90% of his heart was blocked, so he had open-heart surgery. His illness was a surprise to him, because he'd been working a lot, putting on 20 fashion shows just the week before. For decades, Kotomori was a force in Hawaii's arts scene, producing runway shows; designing clothing, jewelry and sets; and running a casting agency, Amos Kotomori Inc. 

And then, health issues halted it. Kotomori got through it by thinking positive. "How you think makes a difference. A thought is a chemical and that thought permeates every cell in your body. If you're not feeling well or happy, simply change the thought," decided Kotomori.

He thought about what made him happy: his passion for fashion. On the same day he started chemotherapy, he launched Amos Kotomori Designs. "Fashion is art for me. It's a lifestyle," he asserts.

 

 

The aloha shirt collection debuted in Neiman Marcus in 2010. He puts his energy and intention into every design. Take, for example, this blue shirt he named "Rope"- because rope is made of little fibers. For the wearer, "it's up to them to put the pieces together to make a rope strong enough to hold on to," explains Kotomori. If you're looking for a shirt for somebody, he wants you to trust your gut and go with whatever shirt calls to you.

It's been nine years since Neiman Marcus started carrying Kotomori's shirts, but they are more than a piece of wearable art to him. Each shirt is a validation of his life, and his life's work. "That's the way my life's been. It's filled with good people, with inspiration, with gratitude," he smiles.

He says he's in remission from cancer, and he's grateful to live moment to moment, remembering more now than ever that "it's not about the destination, it's about the journey."