Made In Hawaii
By Elima Pangorang
Maile Meyer, owner of Ward Centre’s unique Hawaiiana shop Na Mea Hawaii, radiates an admirable passion for the Hawaiian culture, traditions and its people. That fervor is expressed through every single product in her store — from Hawaiian books, many written in olelo Hawaii, to locally made jewelry, accessories and clothing for men, women and children. It’s no doubt there’s much to explore in Na Mea Hawaii’s humble space.
Supporting local takes on its own meaning at Na Mea Hawaii, where the store’s goal is to present more than just products, but also deep meaning in every detail, from a small hem, to a page or carving. “We started 30 years ago with books and ‘making’ — supporting the makers by buying what we can,” began Meyer. “We are trying to do what these women do here, they picked it — climbed trees — they cleaned it, and they’re weaving it,” she said, referring to a lauhala at Na Mea’s sister store Kipuka just a few doors down with instructor “Aunty Lorna.”
Every single item in Na Mea Hawaii is made from a different maker of Hawaii, from the Big Island to Kauai. The support goes beyond sourcing local products for Meyer, but also supporting families and individuals so they can make a living while also having the freedom of choice.
“In the end I think you need more choice for how to live,” added Meyer. She believes being a maker and selling homemade products help in instances such as if a family member might need help, one can go and be there for that member; or if a child has a field trip, parents don’t have to miss out on that.
“Most of our makers are people who can give themselves a choice because they get to choose what they do with their time,” she continued. “If they make their own things, then we’ll sell their things. In the end, I’m still trying to reset this model so it benefits, as much as possible, local people of all ethnicities.”
The reciprocal relationship and business tactic that Meyer promotes — which she also refers to as a bridge business — helps to boost communal values and traditions to her customers as well as employees.
Meyers’ staff are a diverse group of people who come together with one goal, fostering Hawaiian and local culture through sharing knowledge, products and passion.
Max Mukai, for example, has been an employee at Na Mea Hawaii for four years and explained that his favorite part of the job is interacting with customers.
“I love teaching people who visit the store and telling them why this place is here and to try these cultural share these things people make and the traditions.”
As an added bonus, Mukai is a maker himself.
“I like to make lei hulu (feather lei), but none of them are in (the store) yet. Each one I make right now I have to give them away, but the next one I’m gonna have it in here,” he enthused.
To be on the team at Na Mea Hawaii, Meyer seeks candidates who are hard working, curious and are connected in some meaningful way to things “of place,” which in this case would be connected to Hawaii.
“If they are interested in knowing more about place that’s a wonderful trait,” Meyer mentioned. “They don’t have to be Hawaiian, they just have to love hula or hiking, or laau, or lomi, anything really — just know where they are, be rooted of what’s unique about here (in Hawaii).”
Another important part of the business is Na Mea Hawaii’s books. The store originally started with a focus on books when it opened three decades ago under a different name, Native Books and Beautiful Things. Meyer makes it a point to keep that part of the business thriving, as books continue to be great vessels of knowledge.
Meyer closed by mentioning the debut of a new book, Ku‘e Petitions, which features Hawaiian signatures from old Hawaii, post-contact, to keep the Hawaiian Kingdom alive. She shared that not only is it a significant source for a history in culture and its people, but also a place for people to look up and connect with their genealogy, as there are a plethora of Hawaiians’ signatures.
To apply at Na Mea Hawaii or to just browse through its extensive collection of Hawaiian products stop into its store at Ward Centre seven days a week.
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COMPANY: Na Mea Hawaii
LOCATION: Ward Centre 1200 Ala Moana Blvd., Ste. 270
OWNER: Maile Meyer
NOTEWORTHY: Na Mea Hawaii has a sister store just a few doors away called Kipuka. It is where the company’s various classes are held including lauhala weaving, kanikapila, Hawaiian language, hula and more. Learn more by visiting the website or calling.
ANTHONY CONSILLIO PHOTOS