Q&A with Maile Meyer, owner of Native Books/Na Mea Hawaii
How do you feel about the Made in Hawaii brand, is it a good business choice?
Supporting locally made products is a philosophical position. It’s a good business choice to me because every dollar spent at Native Books stays in our local economy, many times over; it’s a true multiplier. It’s very satisfying working with local artists, practitioners and crafters. They are some of the finest people I know.
Made in Hawaii has value, but it is definitely being exploited by people who only use the label to make a profit. To me, selling and developing local products is a commitment to supporting our Island people, creative industries and Island resources. It’s hard work, with little or no profit, but it’s purposeful work. We want to offer local people choices in how to live their lives–a little bit of extra income can make a huge difference when you don’t need a lot to begin with.
I know that it’s hard for larger businesses to make commitments to local producers because the costs are so high, but I know lots of businesses are trying, to the best of their ability, to do so. There’s a shift in mindset and the world is changing; there are more and more reasons to buy local. Unfortunately, because the Made in Hawaii brand has appeal in the market, many businesses create products that “feel” or “look” like they were locally made, but they’re not. These people are clearly looking to deceive people to make a profit. That’s awful, and unfortunately it works. People need to get educated about the difference.
What are your criteria for selecting your Made in Hawaii wares?
We have a pretty simple criteria–it has to be principally made locally, ideally by the artist and/or their family members. I like to focus on the maker’s intent. Are they making something to share and sell or is it only about selling? Typically, when it’s only about selling, people are trying to make it as cheap as possible. Cheap is not a characteristic of great Made in Hawaii products–quality and pride are the things that come to mind.
What do your think about the current Made in Hawaii label law?
It’s tough to get a consensus on these things, but to me, the 51 percent value added requirement feels too lenient. My hope is that the intent of the label law was to create clarity and guidelines to protect the integrity of our locally made products. When the standard is too low (51 percent), it’s too tempting; it doesn’t take much to “make it locally,” even though it’s principally an import. Lots of people try to get away with this, and I’m not even talking about the people that blatantly lie about their products, just so they can cash in on the Made in Hawaii brand. Talk about exploitation–we should all be concerned.
Is it true that you helped select gifts for over 9,500 APEC guests?
We were happy to learn that the Hawaii APEC host committee was gifting the world leaders original oils drawn by local artist Kelly Sueda. We were asked to construct a presentation box, which we did for the 21 dignitaries. The 9,500 APEC goodie boxes were filled with some of the best locally made products. Those businesses did us all proud! Now, if we can just stop giving the imported orchid lei, I’ll be happy.
Yeah, no kidding! What makes a person really adopt this philosophy?
My feeling these days is that we all need to be affirming, and make a commitment to get behind the things we care about, even on the smallest scale. There are many great “buy local” opportunities and events, craft fairs and art shows throughout Honolulu. Go to them, especially if they are in your neighborhood. Tithe to your community, spread a few dollars around, it makes a huge difference, because it doesn’t take much to make a difference.