A Hub for All Things Molokaʻi

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Molokaʻi, often referred to as the “Friendly Isle,” is not only known for its breathtaking landscapes and strong sense of community but also for its thriving entrepreneurial spirit deeply rooted in Hawaiian culture and values. Despite the challenges of operating a business on an island with a population of just under 7,500, Molokaʻi’s innovative and resilient entrepreneurs have found ways to flourish by embracing their cultural heritage and collaborating with one another.

At the heart of Molokaʻi’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is the concept of kūpaʻa, commitment. This value is exemplified by the island’s business owners who remain dedicated to their craft and their community, even in the face of adversity. By working together and supporting one another, these entrepreneurs have created a thriving network of locally owned businesses that not only provide unique products and services but also contribute to the island’s economic sustainability.

Photo: Molokaʻi Keiki
Molokaʻi Keiki proud to wear their island pride. – Courtesy: Arianna Patterson

One shining example of Molokaʻi’s entrepreneurial spirit is All Things Molokaʽi, a collective of local artisans and makers who have come together to showcase their talents and share their creations with the world. Founded by Wailani Tanaka, a born and raised Molokai girl from Manaʻe, All Things Molokai has become a hub for locally crafted products, including apparel, jewelry, home goods and more. The store is located in the heart of Kaunakakai town.

Tanaka’s journey as an entrepreneur is deeply connected to her Hawaiian roots and upbringing. Growing up, she was immersed in the practice of making mea Hawaiʻi, or Hawaiian things, for various cultural events and celebrations, such as hula performances, May Day festivities, Makahiki ceremonies, and lūʻau. Through these experiences, Tanaka not only learned valuable skills but also witnessed the hard work and dedication of her parents and community members, who tirelessly contributed to the perpetuation of Hawaiian culture.

Photo: Lanakila Designs on shirt and hat
Ola Keanini featuring Lanakila Designs on shirt and hat. Courtesy: Lace Nartatez

“Creating this collective space for our hui of Molokaʻi makers has really been a game-changer for our island’s entrepreneurial spirit and economy,” Tanaka shared. “When I first moved home over 10 years ago, I personally couldn’t find many Molokaʻi-made products in our town’s shops, yet there were so many of my hoa (friends) and anake (aunties) creating beautiful products at home.”

Recognizing the need for a platform to showcase these talented artisans, Tanaka established All Things Molokai, focusing on providing a home for locally made products created by the island’s kupaʻ āina, people of the land. The response was overwhelming, with an incredible array of Molokaʻi-made items flowing into the store within the first year.

The success of All Things Molokaʽi can be attributed to the strong sense of laulima, cooperation, that is deeply ingrained in Hawaiian culture. By collaborating and supporting one another, the collective’s artists and makers have been able to thrive, even without the burden of high operational costs associated with running individual brick-and-mortar stores.

“Our shop allows our homemakers to focus on their creative hands and minds, without the huge operational expenses of a brick and mortar,” Tanaka explained. “It is just so awesome to see the Molokaʻi makers that have been doing it for over 40 years and those just blooming this year! We have mothers and daughter duos and sometimes, three generations deep, friends, husbands and wives, strangers that became co-makers, so many different paths of life creating for our one space, and it is that uniqueness in each one of us that brings the vibe of All Things Molokai to life.”

The entrepreneurial spirit on Molokaʻi is not only driven by the desire to create and sell products but also by a deep sense of aloha ʻāina, or love for the land. Many of the island’s businesses prioritize sustainability and the use of locally sourced materials, ensuring that their practices align with the values of environmental stewardship and cultural preservation. This connection to the land and the concept of mālama, or to care for, is evident in the way Molokaʻi’s entrepreneurs approach their businesses. From utilizing sustainable production methods to minimizing waste and maximizing resources, these business owners demonstrate a deep respect for their island home and a commitment to preserving it for future generations.

In addition to their environmental consciousness, Molokaʻi’s entrepreneurs also prioritize the wellbeing of their community. The success of businesses like All Things Molokai not only benefits the individual artisans and makers but also strengthens the island’s economy by keeping money circulating within the community.

“And the beauty of it all is all that revenue generated goes right back into our community,” Tanaka emphasized. “Just like the ahupuaʻ a system of old, we are all interdependent of each other to make our little shop continue to go and grow and know that we are all stronger together than we are apart.”

This spirit of lōkahi, unity, is the driving force behind Molokaʻi’s thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem. By working together, leveraging their unique skills and talents, and staying true to their Hawaiian values, these business owners have created a model for sustainable, community-driven entrepreneurship that can inspire other small communities around the world.

In the words of Tanaka, “We hope to inspire the next generation so when they look around and see all of us doing what we love to do and in the place that we call home, they will hopefully want to do the same thing, but in their own way rooted in all of us and this place we all call home, Molokaʻi!”