Cultivating Economic Development


OHA partners with the DBEDT to bring e-commerce knowledge to Native Hawaiian business owners

It was billed as the e-commerce event of the year.

Representatives from 76 Native Hawaiian-owned businesses were among the 250 attendees who gathered in February at the Ala Moana Hotel for the first-ever “Made in Hawaiʻi Presents: Your Future in E-Commerce” conference presented by the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT).

During a variety of sessions and panels, industry leaders shared tips and insights on how Hawaiʻi entrepreneurs can succeed in the e-commerce world, with expert guidance offered to businesses of all sizes and experience.

“This conference provided invaluable guidance to local manufacturers and retailers seeking to expand their reach beyond our shores in the digital marketplace,” said James Tokioka, DBEDT director. “Mahalo to our partners Amazon and Shopify for their support in empowering our local businesses to thrive globally.”

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs waived fees and offered free registration to 76 Native Hawaiian-owned businesses that signed up for the conference.

“One of our key strategies at OHA is to cultivate economic development in our community. We want to help increase the number of Native Hawaiian-owned businesses and we want to help establish new markets for Native Hawaiian products,” said OHA CEO/Ka Pouhana Stacy Kealohalani Ferreira.

“These beneficiary business owners were able to learn more about e-commerce straight from speakers representing companies like Amazon and Spotify, and it doesn’t get any better than that. I am so thankful to DBEDT Director Tokioka for partnering with us in putting on this conference and I look forward to future collaborations between DBEDT and OHA.”

Conference goers discussed the gamut of e-commerce issues including working with a third-party platform, setting up an online store, product selection, basic and advanced marketing strategies, retaining customers, and even the use of artificial intelligence in digital marketing.

The list of speakers and panelists included heavyweights like Bobby Co, Amazon Marketplace seller growth team leader, Shopify’s Brand Marketing Director Chris Schmicker, Coco Moon Hawaiʻi founder Amber Thibaut, founder Ellen Ng, Hibiscus Interactive founder Ted Saihara and Big Island Coffee Roasters co-founder Kelleigh Stewart.

Kailee Freitas is the owner of Mahina Made, a local lifestyle brand that has become known for its lei t-shirts. She operates primarily online and is looking into opening a brick and mortar retail store as well.

“As a business owner, I’m always looking for opportunities where we can learn to scale and grow – here locally and then reaching customers beyond Hawai’i as well. Itʻs a pleasure and an honor to be a Native Hawaiian business here in Hawaiʻi, and to have the support of organizations like OHA that allow us to grow and expand,” Freitas said.

Leomana Turalde is a young entrepreneur and the owner of Palelā Hawaiʻi. He sells “Hawaiʻiʻs Official Sunblock” which is good for both the ocean and the body. He said he was particularly attracted to an e-commerce conference.

“One of the main reasons I wanted to come was because I sell mostly online. I grew up like most of the Hawaiians in my community in Keaukaha not having computers. So for me to understand how to sell on Etsy, on Shopify, on Amazon, itʻs a huge information boom for my life and my family. Iʻm very thankful for this opportunity to come and learn how to sell online,” Turalde said.

“I know there were many many Native Hawaiian small businesses and aspiring small businesses here, and it was chicken skin to hear Native Hawaiian speakers out in the lobby talking and conversing with each other,” Tokioka said.

“I know weʻre going to continue partnerships like this. Weʻve met with (OHA CEO) Stacy (Ferreira) to talk about networks and outreach from DBEDT with OHA because its a part of their mission to help Native Hawaiian businesses thrive. This is just one of the many events we hope to have with OHA.”

Photo: Kaʻanoʻi Akaka
Kaʻanoʻi Akaka
Keha Hawaiʻi

“I have an online store that I’m hoping to expand, so I’m excited to learn more today.”
Photo: Leomana Turalde
Leomana Turalde
Palelā Sunblock

“For me to understand how to sell on Shopify and on Amazon is a huge informational boom for my life and my family.”
Photo: Kailee FreitasKailee Freitas
Mahina Made

“Mahalo nui to OHA for sponsoring us to attend this event. It’s a pleasure and an honor to be a Native Hawaiian business here in Hawai’i.”
Photo: Maui Iokepa-Guerrero
Maui Iokepa-Guerrero
Hua Ulu ʻĀina

“I kēia manawa, ke ʻulu nei mākou me ka ʻike, e kau i nā kiʻi o nā mea kanu Hawaiʻi, nā mea Hawaiʻi, a pela aku. A pela pū me nā kaleka.”
Photo: Kara Gibler
Kara Gibler
Moku Swim Academy

“As we expand and grow, we are looking at e-commerce to meet our customersʻ needs & maybe even expand to other islands.”
Photo: Ty TynanTy Tynan
ʻOhana First Home Care

“I have a Native Hawaiian technology company and we’re figuring out the best route to grow utilizing e-commerce.”