Hawaii in her Eyes

For over twenty years, Flora Tobby has worked representing XCVI in Hawaii, bringing our chic and coastal-cool, often beach-friendly styles to stores on the island far and wide. 

Calling from Oahu, Hawaii on a Friday, Flora tells me of the experiences that led her to living on the island. 

Born and raised in the Bay Area to Hawaiian parents and grandparents, Flora always felt that “Hawaii was calling.” Growing up, she recounts people enjoying spending time with her larger-than-life parents.

“My ohana—family—they brought lots of aloha to the Bay with them,” Flora reminisces. “They were always in colorful Hawaiian-wear and spoke Pidgin.” The Hawaiian spirit endured in Flora’s upbringing, and she’d visit her extended family on the island over the years. 

“My heart was here. I wanted to live here—always.”

Flora and her husband eventually made the jump, relocating to Hawaii in 1996. She began working as a sales representative, enjoying the flexibility the role granted. In the year 2000, a mutual friend in business suggested she take a look at XCVI. 

After connecting with National Sales Manager Aida de la Cruz and seeing designer Lilia Gorodnitski’s casual-chic, breezy, and movable ensembles, Flora absolutely fell in love with the brand, feeling strongly that it embodied Hawaiian style. She decided then and there to bring XCVI to Hawaii.

The start of the new millennium set the whole world abuzz, and fashion drew influence from all that had led up to this moment, bridging tactical with feminine and loungewear with formal attire alike. Fashion represented change, and XCVI’s European-meets-Californian influence embodied the many elements at play. Above all, XCVI was comfortable, wearable, and unique, entering the new decade stylishly emboldened by all the transformation afoot. With Flora at the helm, XCVI was met with celebration in Hawaii. 

“The brand translated really well here,” she explains. “People wear casual clothes in Hawaii because it’s hot, they’re outdoors.” Easily layered and consistently lightweight, XCVI made sense for visitors and locals alike. 

“It really is fashion you can live in,” Flora says, citing XCVI’s motto—of clothing for real life, to truly live in—that fell right into place in Hawaii. Throughout the decades, the brand has extended into dozens of boutiques across the island, fitting in seamlessly with the Hawaiian lifestyle.

A photo of Flora in her home office, surrounded by XCVI clothing.

“They’ve proven themselves over the years. People will come to me and say ‘I have a pair of pants from fifteen years ago’,” recounts Flora proudly. “It’s wash and wear, wear to the office, the soccer game, anywhere. It all works here really well.” 

Beyond treasuring the clothing, Flora holds close her relationships with everyone in the tight-knit, family-built community of XCVI. Flora and the XCVI ohana remain connected and invested in one another’s lives. 

On Tuesday, August 8, 2023 a series of wind-driven wildfires broke out in Maui, forcing evacuations, causing extensive damage, and killing and injuring hundreds in the town of Lahaina. Thousands of people lost everything and are attempting to recover—in every sense of the word—from this massive tragedy with very limited resources and still in the thick of the damage. 

We quickly connected with Flora, learning about several organizations we could contribute to that are providing direct relief for survivors. Among them, the Hawaii Community Foundation, Aloha United Way’s “Maui Relief Fund”, Maui Mutual Aid, and Maui Food Bank giving immediate aid to people struggling in the wake of this insurmountable trauma. 

Flora tells me that even in Honolulu, the winds were strong, and that the shock and pain of Lahaina has radiated to the whole of Hawaii. 

“I still can’t imagine Lahaina is gone,” she says. “People are ohana there. Lahaina was a destination. People called each other auntie and uncle. It’s a family-oriented community.”

Beyond being a major tourist hub, Lahaina was—and is—a community of people who care deeply about one another, an infrastructure of intimate bonds that make Hawaii what it is.

“Hawaii is the place of aloha,” continues Flora. “Hawaii is the land of love. It’s a beautiful paradise. And of course, there’s always trouble in paradise. But we have a beautiful culture and values.”

It is precisely this ever-present undercurrent of love and community history that make Hawaii what it is. Beyond its lush beauty, Hawaii holds ohana close, contributing to the incredible feeling and atmosphere people experience when visiting. Caring about others is deeply embedded in the culture. 

As Lahaina—and Hawaii as a whole—recover from the fires, we have the opportunity to give back to this incredible, beautiful island, recognizing that it’s not just a tourist destination, but home to incredible people. 

“Many people have been priced out of paradise,” explains Flora. Burgeoning cost-of-living and overwhelming tourist presence led to an upsurge in native Hawaiians having to leave the island in order to continue supporting their families. 

“We’re on the world stage right now,” says Flora. “This catastrophe has put eyes on Hawaii, and I can only hope that the good that will come from it is an example of aloha and ohana that people will witness.”

She tells me of stories coming out in the wake of the fires describing immense courage and heroism, from five-star chefs cooking in shelters to life-risking rescues in the face of danger to people banding together to get on boats and bring supplies.

“The importance of coming together has already been proven,” Flora states of the generosity seen across the world, explaining how paying attention to this tragedy also means seeing the good in how people come together in the aftermath. We all have something to give, and we can all pay our respects to Lahaina Town. 

“There are still thousands of people without power,” Flora says. “It’s a very emotional time. People are losing businesses right and left.” 

Multiple boutiques that have long carried XCVI are devastated. Among them are Moonbow Tropics on Front Street and a Maui Clothing Company location, both of which were consumed in fire. Many other boutiques are suffering damage and facing a massive struggle with business in the wake of these horrific events, such as Cinnamon Girl at Whalers Village, Lily’s on Market, and Collections Maui Inc.

Flora, like many Hawaiians, only hopes that people continue to pay attention to Lahaina and support the island in its recovery.  “It is a constant on my mind and in my heart. But the people of Hawaii are very resilient. We’re going to take care of each other.”

In the same way Hawaiians care for one another, those of us on the mainland can so too reach out, doing and giving what we can in this trying time and as the healing continues. 

Aloha is a verb, an action,” Flora concludes. “What good can come of this?”

We’re asking the same question, and extending our hands and hearts to Lahaina, today and beyond. For ways to continue helping Maui, please see the list below.