Businesses Adapt to Virtual Made in Maui County Fest

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

Kala’e Tangonan of Kupu A’e, a Molokai business that creates kupuna-inspired wearable art, said she hasn’t missed a year in the eight years the Made in Maui County Festival has been running, and she doesn’t plan to stop now. Even though the popular product show will be held virtually on Nov. 5-6 for a second year because of COVID, which posed technological challenges for her, Tangonan is determined to continue the business’ presence at the event. 

“It’s a commitment thing — integrity as a small business,” she said. “People believe in me so I’m going to still go [to the festival]… All the small businesses in the county really advocated to have this fair, everyone hustled for us.”

Kupu A’e is one of two Molokai businesses participating as a vendor this year – a big dip from the 10 to 14 that normally are selected to attend. Hulalei Designs, owned by Lehua Greenwell, will also be selling jewelry and apparel at the festival. Buyers can visit madeinmauicountyfestival.com for a shop-from-your-couch experience for local crafts, food, clothing, art, jewelry and home goods. 

The virtual format offers vendors both strengths and weaknesses. Being able to connect with customers online from around the world can broaden sales, while the face to face interaction of previous years provides a stronger platform for many vendors. 

Kuha’o Business Center’s new Small Business Specialist Tylor Tanaka said the ability to tell the story behind your product is important for many Molokai artists. 

“That story is really why people buy local grown products,” said Tanaka. While that can be lost virtually, he added that the online showcase does allow live chats between buyers and vendors, however, as well as the opportunity to connect vendors with wholesale buyers, which was an important aspect of the in-person event to launch small businesses to the next level of sales. 

Having the virtual-only event also requires vendors to set up a website or online marketplace for their products, which can be valuable but also was potentially intimidating when considering whether to participate this year. 

Tessie Juario of the Kuha’o Business Center said some previous Molokai vendors were just not comfortable with the virtual format and online presence. She said if Molokai businesses are wanting to expand online but not sure where to start, reach out to the Business Center and it can host workshops to help local entrepreneurs develop a website, learn social media networking and other skills.

For Tangonan, developing a website was a struggle.

“I didn’t have any formal training in online [platforms], I have a hard time with that, but it’s changing mindset,” she said. “Especially when COVID came, that helped open up doors for a whole new thing.”

Her family business had just established a gift shop at the Ho’olehua Airport when the pandemic hit. 

“That was devastating,” she said. “Now we’re trying to pick up the pieces and keep going. But the business is sustaining itself so I didn’t really give up yet.”

During last year’s virtual Made in Maui County Festival, Tangonan said Kupu A’e’s online shop got about 130 visitors – and made less than one quarter of the revenue usually generated during the in-person festival. 

But she’s hopeful for this year. 

The virtual event includes an opening ceremony and musical guests, and events like cooking demos, an online fashion show as well as live chats with vendors. Tangonan said vendors are also available during the event in a live feed showroom feature or shoppers can go straight to vendors’ websites to buy there.

In addition to participating in this weekend’s showcase Kupu is planning a re-opening of their physical Molokai storefront at Holomua Junction. 

 “We’re not big but we still get to do what we love to do, and we still get to stay home and take care of our keiki. It hasn’t taken off to where I’m making a million dollars, but that wasn’t the purpose,” said Tangonan. “Everything is made on Molokai by my family, and that means more to me than a million dollars. I don’t want to do anything for the rest of my life, I only want to do art so I’m making it work.”

The Made in Maui County Festival is presented by the Maui Chamber of Commerce, with title sponsor Hawaiian Airlines. 

“We are thrilled to showcase Maui’s local businesses and amazing products to the world,” said Pamela Tumpap, Maui Chamber President. “Attendees from all over the world may join and shop from the comfort of their home and wholesale buyers will find unique and quality products for their markets and/or retail stores.”

Those wishing to attend and shop can register at madeinmauicountyfestival.com


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