Made on Maui: Small businesses hope shoppers will buy local this holiday season
November 26, 2022, 9:26 AM HST
Katy Kahele Tsark, owner and designer of Kahele Maui, was busy talking to customers about the variety of bags, headwraps and accessories that are made in their “little workshop boutique in Kīhei.”
“This is our favorite time of year, of course,” she said.
Kahele Maui was one of several local small businesses that set up booths in the Azeka Shopping Center parking lot on Black Friday during the monthly Kīhei 4th Friday event.
Tsark, with the help of her daughter/manager, was putting a clutch into a package: “We just made it this afternoon so we didnʻt have time to put it in a package. But that’s a Christmas problem that we don’t mind having.”
Many small businesses across Maui and the country count on strong sales during the holiday season to make or break a year.
For small vendors, it’s wonderful to be able to have the in-person events again after the COVID-19 pandemic led to many canceled events or social distancing that kept the crowds down.
“In-person is key to our business,” Tsark said. “I love the feedback and to see old customers come back sometimes wearing what they bought here a year ago.”
The cooler weather was ideal for Upcountry Aloha entrepreneurs Lily Everett and Sean Warren, who are partners in business and engaged to be married. They were modeling their “Upcountry Comf’is,” made from towels and blankets.
“We are big SCUBA divers and we couldn’t find any cool ponchos, so I taught myself to sew,” Everett said. “I made the first one out of a Costco towel.”
They said their designs are ideal for the beach or the top of Haleakalā — and because they are so roomy they can be used as a “changing room.”
Everett spent much of her childhood in Hawai’i before raising a family in Minnesota and running a boutique in Indiana. She moved back to Hawai’i and landing in Pukalani. Warren, who attended Harvard University, provides his customer service knowledge from years of developing education software in Arizona.
They have teamed up with local artist Emily Farewell, who provides some of her art for their special collection of ponchos.
Farewell also had a booth set up at Kīhei 4th Friday. She moved to Pāʻia from Upstate New York and has hustled to get her artwork in 18 shops around Maui. She said her art is “bold and colorful” with inspiration from the island. It helps that her favorite color is “teal,” the color of the ocean.
Every small business entrepreneur has a story. Lenore Robinson used to be a hairdresser but about five years ago, she and her husband started renovating the downstairs of their home.
“The stone countertops were going to cost more than our brand new car,” she said.
Robinson started watching videos on how to work with resin, and she turned her new skill into the business Island Virtual in Kīhei. She said she loves doing the in-person events to showcase her art because “we always get really good leads for your bigger countertop projects. It’s really about selling yourself”
So when her business partner and husband failed to get a potential customer’s contact information, Robinson left the booth to retrieve it.
“I failed my one job tonight,” her husband, Sean Robinson, said smiling.
A smiling Amy Charoen, originally from Bangkok, Thailand, was manning her booth selling organic soap. She started Endless Tropical in 2018, turning her hobby into a business.
She was a marketing and office manager looking for more creativity in her life. Her sister had a luxury property cleaning business and found it difficult to find good natural products that were locally made to represent the aloha lifestyle.
“I used to make soap for myself and family in Thailand,” Charoen said.
But when she saw that Maui had a niche she could fill, she took professional soap making classes. She said on her website she “tried and failed so many formulas until I got it just right.”
Endless Tropical’s soaps are made from natural oils, including coconut, olive and macadamia nut. They are “handcrafted, from hand pouring, mixing, blending, cutting, stamping, wrapping, packaging, everything!”
Hex Press Maui also was at Kīhei 4th Friday to press their designs into shirts and items people could buy or bring. Bo & Tia Brady own the company with the slogan “wearable art.”
They are based in Makawao, but bring their portable press to various craft fairs and events. While many of their designs are island inspired, “we are nerds so we do Harry Potter and Star Wars designs too,” Bo Brady said.
During this holiday season, small business owners on Maui are hoping people will consider buying local.