By Lindsay Wang
The first thing that pops up when you navigate to the Sumofish website is a banner full of bright, colorful designs: a sumo wrestler surfs a wave on a sushi boat, a smiling white octopus holding a surfboard wears a hamburger patty and fried egg as a hat and the Golden Gate Bridge has become a crouching dragon. Each of these unique illustrations finds common ground in taking inspiration from their creator’s Japanese and Hawaiian roots.
“All the designs are rooted in Japanese and/or Hawai’i culture and aesthetic,” Brandt Fuse, co-owner of T-shirt and design brand Sumofish, wrote in an email to AsAmNews. “Often utilizing Japanese food, sumo, hanafuda, samurai cards, daruma, etc for the base image, and often incorporating kanji writing related to the design.”
Given his Hawaiian roots, it’s no wonder then that Fuse has been touched by the news out of Maui. He’s quickly designed a t-shirt to raise money for Maui fire relief.
“We feel a connection to Maui with friends, customers there, and being a vendor at Maui Matsuri in past years,” he said. “Being from Hawai’i too, we wanted to support how we can, and provide an avenue for our customers to donate.”
For Fuse, the Maui Phoenix design seen in the Instagram post below was especially meaningful because of his personal connections to the island.
“I like using hanafuda card graphics in my designs,” Fuse said. “I thought the phoenix card was especially appropriate for the Maui fundraiser T-shirts, as it represents renewal, perseverance, and a rising from the ashes that we all hope for the devastated communities on Maui. I put Maui’s official flower, the lokelani rose, below the phoenix, and ‘Maui’ in katakana.”When crafting his designs, Fuse often thinks about what each of the different elements symbolizes and how they work together to convey a message. This was particularly true in the case of the T-shirt he designed for a fundraiser to support victims of the Maui wildfires, which have become the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century.
According to Fuse, who grew up in Hawai’i before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1998, Sumofish began as a passion project. After working as a graphic designer for a couple years, he went freelance and launched Sumofish with his wife and business partner Joni in 2002.
“It started as a handful of Japanese themed-designs, first selling at a booth at the Nihonmachi Street Fair, and then other craft fairs and festivals, and a few stores,” Fuse wrote in an email to AsAmNews. “In a few years, we were selling at Japanese festivals around the country from Boston to Hawai’i.”
The vibrant graffiti style of Sumofish designs is attention-grabbing—and beyond the aesthetics, it serves a practical purpose as well. “I like bold lines and bright colors, especially for t-shirt art, as it’s visible from a distance, and feel [it] works well with the Japanese/Hawai’i theme designs and characters,” Fuse said.
While presale for the fundraiser T-shirts ended on Wednesday, more shirts will be available on the website after the initial shipment on Sep. 12. Fundraiser decals will continue to be available. 100% of all proceeds from sales of the Maui Phoenix T-shirt and decals will be donated to Hawai’i Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund, which allocates funds to different areas of need on Maui.
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