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Swan Songs

Hanalei Swan may be 11 years old but she’s packed more bags and trotted the globe far beyond the wildest dreams of many adults. Images: Ryerson Anselmo for Costes Portrait. Words: Ondy Sweeting

With 36 countries down and still counting, Hanalei the artist, fashion designer, model and international speaker calls Bali home.

She spreads a positive message of self-love and confidence to other kids and parents through her regular talks and her Instagram page, which has over 46,000 followers.

“I am open to the idea that as a kid I can accomplish many things and through social media I can leave a mark on this world. I post about fashion and me and mom write my posts so they always include a life lesson or an inspiration,” Hanalei says.

The dynamic tween believes that her parents Rhonda and Brian are responsible for her ability to recognise the epic possibilities that life offers the young.

“Most kids are asked what they want to be when they grow up, but I was never asked that. I was asked what I want to do now. This question changed my perspective of what I can do and taught me that I don’t have to wait until I am 20 to become a fashion designer,” she says.

Hanalei admits that being an only child offered her long hours drawing and sketching the beautiful places that she visited.

But it wasn’t until the family arrived in Bali that her design skills became apparent.

“I was discovered by a fashion designer from LA called Karen. We had a power out and went to stay in a hotel. My mom and dad started chatting with Karen and I fell asleep on the sofa in the restaurant. When mom asked Karen what she did for a living in Bali and she said she was a designer, apparently I woke up immediately and said: ‘I’m a designer, too!’

“Karen asked to see my sketch book and said my work was like nothing she had ever seen and that it should be made. It’s how I got started,” she says.

Rhonda and Brian built the Canggu studio as Hanalei’s creative space and they have five staff producing collections, which will soon be available through TS Stores as well as outlets in the USA and UK.

Hanalei’s lines include kids’ wear with funky hoodie dresses and boots that are named after Bali dogs, plus the resort collection. She has a fitness and yoga range in development.

The Australian swimwear label Veve want to stock Hanalei’s resort wear and the child is making customs boots for The Beautiful Girls – the all-male hipster Australian roots band. She is also designing a piece for the ultra-glam androgynous cross-dresser, Kyle Farmery.

“I want to create more than a company, I want to create a movement. There is a message behind my collection and that is to inspire people to accomplish many things. With the ways of the internet, kids can make money from making a video about toys and billions of people can see it,” she says.

She wants to bring kids interested in fashion and design into her studio to teach them production skills.

“We can help them with the process of creating a product from the first drawing through to a finished piece.”

As an international speaker, Hanalei has learned at the knee of her mother – a motivational speaker who builds brands and is an international marketing consultant.

“I run events for entrepreneurs through our Unstoppable Family business and within that is Hanalei’s Unstoppable Kids program. Hanalei devised that program. It teaches kids how to think as entrepreneurs rather than employees and we will develop it to become an online program,” Rhonda says.

Hanalei started speaking at her mother’s events when she was six years old and her talks are based in fashion and art. A personal goal is to deliver a TED Talk.

“We aim to teach kids how to be their best self and to live their best life possible,” Rhonda says with echoes of Oprah.

Hanalei is home schooled with her business HS Styles acting as her classroom.

“I have the opportunity to show Hanalei the world and to create a business. She learns accounting and payrolI. I love to work with her. She’s my favourite client,” says Rhonda.

“I have been to schools in many countries but I feel that I am learning through the real world right now,” Hanalei says. “I’m doing math through fashion and measuring and handling the real world issues of running a business.” Having been a catalogue model, she now eschews that world in preference of self-discovery.

“I want to know who I am and I need to develop as a human with a message before returning to the industry.” The world awaits.

Visit Hanalei’s website here

Robert Ian Bonnick