Inaugural event draws thousands despite steady rainfall at Maui Arts & Cultural Center
WAILKU, Maui, HI – A steady downpour only seemed to whet the appetite of thousands of residents and visitors who turned out Saturday, November 8th for businesses showcasing their locally made products at the first-ever Made in Maui County Festival.
Within the first 90 minutes of the daylong event, more than 2,000 people walked through the gates of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, snatching up orange logo festival bags and buying a variety of items at what was being dubbed the largest product vendor show in the county. By day’s end, event organizers counted more than 9,000 in attendance. “I’m absolutely thrilled,” said Teena Rasmussen, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development. “We’re so grateful for support of the community, our sponsors, our vendors, volunteers and the general public.”
Prior to the event opening at 8 a.m., festival attendees formed a line that stretched from the MACC’s entrance to the street. “This is good for Maui,” said Kerwin Iwahori, a self-employed Wailuku resident. “It’s great for both businesses and our people. Overall there were no surprises, but I really didn’t know there were these many local products out there.”
More than 130 vendors showcased locally made products from hot dogs to handmade Christmas cards. The vendors at this sold-out inaugural event had to have their businesses based in Maui County and offer products that met a minimum 51 percent Hawaii value-added valuation. The event’s product mix, quality and creativity also were considered during a selection process that attracted more than 150 applications.
On Friday, before the festival opened to the public, an invitation-only event was held for specially invited retailers and wholesalers. Steve and Vicki Pillar of Moku Pua, which produces natural body care and fragrance items at the Maui Tropical Plantation, negotiated five new wholesale accounts in one day. Vicki Pillar said she’s also excited about the potential of offering her line at a new venue that sees 500 people on a daily basis. “This is huge for us,” Pillar said as she drafted sales and met hundreds of new customers on Saturday. “We’re exploding. We’re getting a lot of exposure and this can only mean better business.”
Jennifer Lawrence, an artist and owner of Jennifer’s Gourds, has been in business for some 15 years, now offering whimsical animal sculptures, ornaments and decorative pieces at a Wailea hotel and an art gallery. “This is gives me an opportunity to meet the public,” she said as she greeted customers Andy and Sherry Wright of Mechanicsville, Va. “I would like to reach more, and at an event like this one, you just never know.”
The Wrights’ first-time visit to Maui was supposed to wrap up Saturday with a helicopter ride, but the inclement weather foiled their plans. They had heard about the festival at a gallery and then saw signs on the road that led them to the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. “I love this kind of thing,” Sherry Wright said. “Now we can pick up last-minute gifts for our family and friends,” she said. Andy Wright added: “It’s great to find something that’s locally made. It’s special, really nice."
About dozen Molokai vendors traveled to Maui to show their wares at the Made in Maui County Festival, including tattoo artist Lyndon Dela Cruz, the owner and operator of Lanakila Designs. With his siblings’ help, Dela Cruz set up a tent to show off customized graphic designs that can be placed on cars, coolers, cups, school folders, glasses and even boats. “Coming from Molokai, to see people come out in the rain, it’s terrific. I like talking to people,” he said. Dela Cruz, who has had other businesses, including a pet shop and a moving and storage service, said the festival boosted his confidence in himself and in Lanakila Design, a fledgling venture just two years old. He said he’s connected with a bunch of Maui customers that he wouldn’t have had without the festival exposure. “This is his passion. He’s been an artist since he was little,” said Sweet McKee, Dela Cruz’s sister who helped field customers on Saturday. “It’s awesome to see him go like this.”
Twenty-six-year-old Leila Comeaux teamed up with her mother, Eileen, to showcase the family business, Hana Herb & Flowers. Leila Comeaux said mom runs the farming side of the company while she produces products including coconut oil, lip balms and a variety of wood work made from koa, pine and monkeypod.
Leila’s products, made in her home in Hana, are sold at a variety of locales around the island. She said she would like to return to college to study business and learn more about making her small venture grow. “I’m really about sustainability at the end of the day,” she said.
Leila Comeaux said she was surprised at the number of retailers who were interested not only in carrying her products, but in taking orders for her wood work to use to display items in a storefront or a business. “I’m excited about it because I love to build too. I’m building my own home and people are interested in wood and handmade items.”
Patterned after the successful Made in Hawaii Festival on Oahu, which annually attracts more than 35,000 attendees, Maui County’s own version hopes to capitalize on the successful formula used by their Oahu counterpart. Rasmussen said a post-event survey will be taken and a decision on how to move forward will follow. However, based on the resounding success of this year’s event, a festival for 2015 is almost a sure bet.