Tucked away inside Ching Young Village in Hanalei Town, you have a chance to create your own personalized mementos of Kauai, the kind you won’t find anywhere else. Stepping inside Spinning Dolphin Designs, your eyes are immediately drawn to the wall of t-shirts hung floor to ceiling and wrapped around the back. Each design is different, and each print is unique.

But wait, there are even more choices!

Pick out a pattern, then think about the kind of shirt you’d like it printed on. Owner Melanie and her menagerie of resident pets (dogs, cat and chicken on the day we last visited) are happy to bring out whatever style, color and size you need. She has boxes of them, and honestly, I’m always amazed that every time, she can find exactly what I need (often with choices in brand) on the first grab.

Kids (and the big kids in all of us adults) love to watch as she pulls out the screen of the design you’ve selected, carefully straightens the shirt on a form, and rolls on the ink. That ink is special too, a constant magical gooey mess that never dries. On our last visit, Melanie shared that they’ve had a tub of shocking pink open for over twenty years and it’s still soft and usable.

Ink being applied to my hoodie

The design frames are special too, some of them dating back thirty-five years to before Melanie bought the business twenty-five years ago. Luckily, they survived the storm flooding of April 2018. Some of them could not be replaced. Unfortunately, the decades-worth of scribbles on the wall from delighted customers didn’t fare so well. Guess we’ll all need to add new words for them!

The shirt goes into an oven for baking. That’s how the hand-screened ink dries to permanence, and when I say permanent, I mean it. I have t-shirts I bought ten years ago and wear all the time, and they still look as detailed and brilliant as the day I carried them out of the store.

On our recent trip, I stocked up on t’s and sweatshirts, while John filled every gap possible in his tank shirts. Every time we wear one of them, we smile with warm memories. These kinds of souvenirs can’t be bought at a ubiquitous tourist store.

If you don’t have time to wait the five to ten minutes it takes to produce your shirt, the shop has items already printed in a variety of designs and styles. But a little time is worth it for the unique gift that will keep you grinning for years.

Visit Spinning Dolphin Designs, located inside Ching Young Village Shopping Center, 5-5190 Kuhio Hwy, Hanalei, Kauai, (808) 826-7461.

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