Photography by Rachel Weill
The Hawaiian lei may be ubiquitous—what tourist hasn’t been draped with one upon arrival?—but these now commercialized garlands came from utilitarian beginnings, as a way to transport foraged flowers without damaging them. And since their arrival from Polynesia more than a millennium ago, they’ve served many purposes in traditional culture, from hierarchical to medicinal.
It is these sorts of meanings that Maui native Lauren Shearer seeks to impart at her studio, Hawaii Flora + Fauna. While she’s been making lei since grade school, in 2016 she quit her five piecemeal jobs to go full-time artisan. Today, she operates out of an old pineapple company building (“There’s a conveyor belt right outside,” she says) in Makawao, Upcountry Maui, where she spends between 30 minutes and seven hours making each one-of-a-kind lei. True to her brand’s name, she uses a wide variety of local flora (māmane, sandalwood flower) and fauna (centipedes, chicken vertebrae, and feathers), but she most enjoys focusing on invasive species such as koa haole and African tulip tree. “I’m doing my part to clean up the ecosystem,” she says. “I love using lei as an educational tool to make people more aware of the richness of this land.”
Traditionally, lei are meant to be kept—either draped over a framed photo or taken apart and preserved. “If dried properly,” Shearer says, “one of my lei can last forever.” From $50, hawaiiflorafauna.com