Island Wise

This is MIH, but is that?
Image: Pan-pacific press bureau, 1935

MIH: Impossible?

The State’s incentive to “Buy Hawaii, Give Aloha,” recently announced by Governor Abercrombie, is based on the idea that consumers confine holiday shopping to local businesses selling locally created products. But, what does being “Made in Hawaii” mean, and how strict is such a label? Amy Hammond, executive director of the Made In Hawaii Festival, says that although it’s virtually impossible for most manufacturers to make something completely out of Hawaiian products–cardboard, plastics or jars are not manufactured here, for example–with limitations, creativity can thrive. “Obviously we’re not growing cotton here and milling it,” she says, “but we can sew items [or] maybe use a dye made out of an authentically local product . . . There’s a high value to creativity.” Regulation is a different story, however, which is why the festival defaults to HRS §486-119. The statute states that no product can be self-described as “Made in Hawaii” if it has not had “fifty-one percent of its wholesale value added by manufacture, assembly, fabrication, or production within the State.” Barely over half? Is that so hard? “It depends on the category for your items,” says Hammond. “There may be people trying to manufacture something and all the ingredients are coming from a different place. [At that point,] it’s really just assembly,” she says. “They have to have some sort of creativity in it.”

So what comes first? Should store owners put more locally made stuff on their shelves for us to buy, or should we be more discerning when we shop? Consumers have the strongest vote, says Lauren Zirbel, executive director of the Hawaii Food Industry Association. “Buying local has become a real priority for shoppers, and as a result of that the sales . . . and the product supply has increased,” she says, adding a caveat: “But we don’t have enough product supply to meet demands for local goods,” forcing the successful companies to outsource their products to keep up with demand. Zirbel says that’s all the more reason to “encourage and invest in local manufacturing. [We need to] become a little bit more self-sufficient and self-reliant.” We’ve got to start the revolution on the ground level, at the cash registers of local merchants.