Defend Hawaii brand controversial and growing


Hawaii MMA turned lifestyle brand Defend Hawaii is becoming popular, but has endured some controversy along the way.

The sheer volume of SUVs and trucks that are now plastered with the Defend Hawaii logo — the one featuring an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle—got us wondering who’s behind the brand and why it’s resonating with people.

It turns out that the street-wear-turned-lifestyle company has seen its share of controversy. It’s been widely misunderstood as everything from a pro-Second Amendment campaign to a symbol for the Hawaiian sovereignty movement.

We met up with Defend Hawaii owner Mike Malone and operations manager Chris Meheula in Kaneohe to talk about the brand, now in 13 local shops on Oahu, as well as on the Neighbor Islands and in Japan.

Malone, a former mixed martial arts fighter, said Defend Hawaii began as an MMA brand, as a way for athletes to “rep Hawaii” as they were fighting on the Mainland and abroad. The original creator (who remains nameless) got the idea for the logo from Defend Brooklyn, a small underground street brand, and she sold shirts at fights out of the back of her car. Malone bought Defend Hawaii in 2009.

“The gun design was the only original design that we kept,” Malone says. “It was the strongest way to say Defend Hawaii. We’ve tried other things, with spears, brass knuckles, but nothing was as strong.”

What it means to “Defend Hawaii” is up to interpretation. Generally, though, the pair says it’s about the aloha spirit. “Whether you’re born and raised or you’re a tourist, everyone has a feeling about Hawaii and these Islands. They have a love for it. Most people respect it, and that’s where Defend Hawaii comes from. It’s about defending everything that Hawaii means to you,” Meheula says.

While Malone is a gun enthusiast, he says the brand is not about that.

“Some people see a gun and that’s what they associate us with right off the bat. But they don’t know we have hundreds of designs,” Malone says, although he admits the AR-15 design is the most popular.

State Rep. Kaniela Ing of Maui was an early critic of the brand, writing a blog post in 2010 that went viral. “Some of these designs didn’t seem like the aloha I grew up learning,” Ing says.

Some Hawaiian activists were offended by a depiction of King Kamehameha holding a rifle. Shirts emblazoned with “iKill” were immediately pulled from shelves. Some of the early designs were ill-conceived, Malone admits, and “not the direction we wanted to go in.”

Ing has softened a bit, calling the brand’s newer designs a step in the right direction. “The value of the brand to me is the discussions it has fueled: from Hawaiian sovereignty to broader issues of race relations in Hawaii.”

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tags: Defend Hawaii   Mike Malone   


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Recent Comments »

GroverSexyArea site profile image  

7/29/14 6:22 PM by GroverSexyArea

*RESURRECTION SPELL!*the Swastika is an ANCIENT SYMBOL that preceded the Nazis by THOUSANDS OF YEARS, but for the last CENTURY it has been MOSTLY associated with the Nazis and their displaying a regular swastika is at best AMBIGUOUS. someone with that tattoo is either a Nazi, or PROVOCATIVE. being accused as a Nazi is a normal response to that provocation. if one wanted a spiritual or Buddhist swastika, why not use the COUNTER-CLOCKWISE version ? it would be possible to get a swastika tattoo MODIFIED, so that it's the counterclockwise version.less ambiguous + spiritual lesson learnedor else one is either a Nazi or insists on being ambigous about it. no offense. each of us has our hangups that obstruct our transcendence.

INDK site profile image  

7/16/14 3:22 PM by INDK

I've never been to Hawaii, but it's lovely. I see zero wrong with, the shirt.

AgedCaviar site profile image  

7/16/14 2:23 PM by AgedCaviar

Just curious because I see these shirts and stickers all the time. It seemed like people here know the guy so I asked about him on a thread created to discuss his company. Not gonna go outta my way to look into it, just not gonna support the brand. My right as a consumer.

JoeHurley site profile image  

7/16/14 10:34 AM by JoeHurley

If you're really so oncerned about him, his tattoos and shirts that you are bitching on here and harassing people about it then why not make the effort to contact him directly and get your answers? You've put more effort arguing on here than it would take to reach him personally. Seems like you would rather talk about him behind his back on a public forum he is not a member of than speak to him and get things resolved.

Bick Koxer site profile image  

7/16/14 9:12 AM by Bick Koxer

Lol what's with the ominous SNITCH comment?

sandbaglol site profile image  

7/16/14 7:37 AM by sandbaglol

buddhist meaning? dunno...he just doesn't strike me as a spiritual kind of guy

john joe site profile image  

7/16/14 7:11 AM by john joe

i was gonna say the swastika could be in its original meaning, as the eastern/buddhist symbol of continuity and the wheel of lifebut to the right of it there appears to be an imperial german eagle tattoo so,.. i dunnoto the left is the old Bad Boy logo;

AgedCaviar site profile image  

7/16/14 12:36 AM by AgedCaviar

Where was he born? Where'd he grow up? Where'd he do his time? Just curious and his clothing designs and those tats sort of beg the question. The Swastika tat is off-putting to say the least. I don't support companies owned by people with swastika tats. That's just a general rule of thumb for me.

ocbadapple site profile image  

7/14/14 10:24 PM by ocbadapple

Mike Malone is an awesome guy, and far from a white supremacist. I could not explain why he has tattoo to be honest. I know him very well, but never really asked about it.His girl isn't white, they have kids together. So he's def not a nazi. its almost funny to me, i have no idea what the story is behind it. LOLHis brand does well in Hawaii. and he owns the trademarks for other states.

AgedCaviar site profile image  

7/13/14 6:25 AM by AgedCaviar

In Detroit, any non-felon can legally carry (concealed) with a little training and the proper paperwork.