Hardworking Hawaii: Masako Bridal in business 43 years downsizes to survive pandemic

Hardworking Hawaii

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The lack of tourism for over half a year has been devastating for the local economy.

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One of those businesses struggling, yet hoping to survive, is Masako Formals, a bridal and kimono store that’s been in business for 43 years.

Masako Formals opened in Ala Moana in 1977.

Kumiko Okimoto’s mother opened the business because it was her dream to move to Hawaii from Japan.

“She decided to come to Hawaii for a second life. She wanted to retire here,” said Okimoto, who has since taken over the family business.

Okimoto’s mother chose to start a wedding dress store in Honolulu because she noticed that more and more Japanese couples wanted a destination wedding in the islands.

The first location for Masako Formals was tiny.

“Very, very small,” Okimoto explained. “About less than 500 square feet.”

Over the years, the family business grew. Eventually, Masako Formals took over a large store front on Cooke Street.

The business became a popular wedding dress shop for Japanese couples.

“Usually, they dress up from the store, and they go wedding with the limo, but no more … So it’s really sad,” Okimoto said.

Prior to the pandemic, Japanese brides accounted for 70% of their business.

Last year, Okimoto said that they were dressing 20 brides a day, but because of the lack of tourism, the business has dried up.

COVID-19 forced Okimoto to make the tough decision to downsize.

“Because the other place is big, you know, 5,000 square feet, so I had to downsize and cut all the expenses,” she explained.

Okimoto said she is trying to keep the four-decades-long business going, but it’s even harder to survive a pandemic alone.

“After my mother passed, it was my husband, and then my husband passed, and now it’s only myself … So this is my challenge,” she said.

Okimoto does have the help from her staff, like Zoe Pastorfield-Li who is trying to get more local brides to find the dress at Masako Bridal.

“Last year, we started doing rental dresses as well,” Pastorfield-Li said. “So it’s helping folks that have, maybe, a lower budget for their wedding.”

The wedding dress shop is now located on Queen Street.

“We sanitize the entire area where we do the fittings, in-between each fitting,” she explained about the new protocols. “Then we also have to limit our number of guests. So guests are limited to two guests plus the bride.”

The business is also now hoping more locals will experience the Japanese tradition of kimono.

Masako Formals has been known for dressing wedding couples, families and children in kimono since 1977.

Okimoto welcomes anyone who is interested in taking pictures at a discounted price from now through Jan. 31.

Between kimono and wedding gowns, this long-time local business hopes to continue dressing Hawaii for years to come.

“I’m getting married in two weeks, so people are still getting married,” Pastorfield-Li said. “And I think brides still want an amazing dress, and that’s not going to change.”

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