The meaning of “Made in Hawaii” is subject to change

Mainland products like Frito-Lay’s Maui Style Chips and Keurig Dr. Pepper’s Hawaiian Punches benefit from the Hawaii brand even though they are unaffiliated with the state.

Outside businesses are adopting the Hawaii brand because it appeals to many people and represents our healthy, vibrant, and fresh lifestyle, according to Dennis Ling, an administrator in the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism.

However, it is difficult to discourage outsiders from using Hawaii in their brand names and marketing. According to Ling, the state cannot penalize such mainland companies because “state and interstate trade laws allow them to do so.”

“But at least we can, to some extent, try to deter those who are obviously abusing anything that says ‘Made in Hawaii.’ ”

A DBEDT report found that 35% of local companies with Hawaii-related product names said their sales were impacted by companies that had no affiliations with the state but sold similar Hawaii-related named products. 37 local businesses took part in the survey. The report estimates that the direct revenue lost to Hawaiian businesses from such misleading marketing was $14.4 million in 2019.

The State Department of Agriculture oversees the Made in Hawaii with Aloha branding program. An official says they only have one staff member to investigate complaints.

A product is considered “Made in Hawai’i” when 51% of the materials and labor required to make it come from Hawai’i. A company that falsely labels its products as “Made in Hawaii” can be fined up to $2,000 per day and cease and desist under state law.

Relaxation of Made in Hawaii rules

The state legislature passed a resolution earlier this year requiring DBEDT to conduct a study of the “Made in Hawaii” and “Hawai’i Made” marks and create a plan to promote and enforce the use of those marks. (

According to Ling, who is leading the study, DBEDT is considering changing the requirements for a Hawaiian brand because “there are a lot of products that don’t qualify for the label.”

Food is easy to quantify as “Made in Hawaii,” says Ling. For products in apparel, art, jewelry, and gifts, “it’s hard to say it’s 51% unless you count the labor,” since companies source most or all of their materials elsewhere.

For this reason, DBEDT proposes different tiers or product-specific categories, such as groceries, apparel, and gifts, to “support the businesses that can truly benefit from the Made in Hawaii label to increase sales.”

DBEDT is also considering incentives such as tax credits, grants and advertising support to encourage companies to use the Hawaii brand.

Keep the brand authentic

Above, Ed Sugimoto has his Aloha Revolution shirts made at Cindy Tees in Kalihi. | Photo: Aaron Yoshino

Ed Sugimoto products are considered “Made in Hawaii” under applicable regulations. He founded his clothing and lifestyle brand Aloha Revolution in 2012 with a VH07V logo designed to look like the word “ALOHA” upside down. His catchphrase is, “Whenever you look down, it’s a reminder to keep Aloha in our hearts.”

“Just the meaning itself that people can identify with. Not just locals, but mainlanders who come here know the spirit of Aloha,” says Sugimoto.

The company sources most of its unprinted shirts from the mainland or from local retailers such as American T-Shirt Co., according to Sugimoto. But Aloha Revolution is considered Made in Hawaii because it is screen printed, labelled, distributed and sold locally. One of the company’s main screen printers is Cindy Tees in Kalihi.

Initially, Aloha Revolution only sold online and at pop-up events across O’ahu. It opened a store at Waimalu Shopping Center during the pandemic, and Sugimoto says the company’s products have been sold in 49 states, as well as Japan, Germany, South Korea and Canada.

He says his brand’s goal is to spread the Aloha spirit among visitors and around the world.

“Hopefully if they buy our shirt, wear it, they can tell everyone else about it.”

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“leave the money here”
10 22 Feature Hawaii Brand Beer Lab Hello

Beer Lab HI co-founders Derek Taughi, left, and Kevin Teruya enjoy a few favorites at their Waipio Brewery and Taproom. | Photo: Aaron Yoshino

The founders of Beer laboratory HIwhich is also considered a “Made in Hawaii” brand under applicable regulations, has a strong belief in operating locally, which helps keep money circulating in the local economy, says Nicolas Wong, a co-founder of the company.

The brewery opened in 2016 at its original location in Mō’ili’ili and now has two more in Waipi’o and Pearlridge.

Wong says he and the other two co-founders wanted to create flavors that “are some of the tastes, smells and sounds that we experience in our daily lives in Hawaii.” That’s why they source ingredients locally whenever they can.

“For us growing up here, locality is the crack seed shop, it’s the Manapua man, plate lunch,” he says. The beers they’ve created reflect that: Krack Seed Kuawa is an ale with Li Hing Mui and guava; Sam-I-Yam is a cloudy IPA with Ube Yam; and pale ales like ‘ehukai and takos.

Beer Lab HI also works with other local companies such as Family shop Asato, Mari’s Gardens and in-4mation. His collaboration with Zippys included a pastry stout flavored with Zippy’s Dobash Cake.

Collaborations help the local economy grow, says Wong. “We take community connection, connection with Hawaiian culture, really, really seriously. It’s different if you were born and raised here, will live here, will live here. They have a slightly stronger connection when it comes to taking care of this place.”

Wong says Beer Lab often donates a portion of its profits to HI. For example, it cooperated with 50. State fools, a local non-profit organization dedicated to the professional development of local firefighters. The company created a blurry IPA in honor of the newest class of firefighters in July and donated a portion of sales to the nonprofit.

Aloha Revolution does similar things. For example, Sugimoto has a shirt with the “VH07V” logo and the colors of the Honolulu Little League World Cup Team. All proceeds from the sale of the jersey go to the team and their families.

economic growth and education

Meli James and Brittany Heyd created the accelerator mana up in 2017 to help local entrepreneurs grow and market their consumer goods businesses. This year, 11 companies were selected for Mana Up’s seventh cohort, including six with Hawaiian owners.

Three-quarters of the companies in his current and previous cohorts manufacture in the state, according to James, with 60% sourcing at least one raw material locally.

Though most Mana Up companies make their products here, James says it’s not a requirement because she and Heyd “believe strongly in companies” being formed here that have good mission statements and sustain local livelihoods and create employment opportunities and to contribute to the diversification of the economy.

“I would hate to see us limit ourselves so much to what is made in Hawaii that we exclude great companies that are here that are growing and creating jobs,” says James.

She notes, “There are certain things we can’t do here.” She quotes hayna company from Mana Up’s third cohort, founded by professional surf photographer Zak Noyle, that sells “eco-conscious” rubber slippers made elsewhere.

“Hawai’i was built on small businesses, and as we have more and more of these entrepreneurs building small businesses, we need to support these assets that really give our businesses a head start,” she says.

The role of tourism

In 2019, the peak of tourism before the pandemic, visitors spent $17 billion in Hawaii, according to Kalani Ka’anā’anā, chief brand officer of the Hawai’i Tourism Authority. Last year, visitors spent $13 billion.

Ka’anā’anā says there are “opportunities for education through the showcase of local products and local businesses” as the state moves towards a regenerative tourism model.

When visitor spending goes into local businesses, “they stay here longer and have more impact on the state,” he says.

James says the state is seeing a tremendous shift in spending, “away from products that just kind of clapped ‘aloha’ and had no story.” Today, local businesses and the state are focusing their efforts more on storytelling and visitor education about Hawaii and its culture.

Ka’anā’anā says that this is also a goal of Malama Hawaii by HTA program and that he wants visitors to recognize Hawaii as “a place of deep meaning, deep spirituality, deep mana – that this place is unique, respect for the indigenous culture of this place”.

He doesn’t see Hawaii as a “brand” but as “the people and place and the relationships we have with that place.”

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