About Those Souvenirs: Made in Hawaii?

Travel Blog  •  Pam Mandel  •  06.08.09 | 10:22 AM ET

Picture from magical-world via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I find souvenir shopping tricky. I like things that really scream of place or are packed with a trip’s significance—no pressure, souvenir makers! I was eager to buy a Hawaiian-made uke on my last trip, though the one I ended up getting is more global than I’d have ideally liked—the parts are made in Indonesia and shipped to Oahu for assembly. Is it made in Hawaii? Sort of.

While shopping at Hilo Hattie’s, I checked the garment labels—China, mostly, though my husband got a barkcloth shirt at a street market that’s Hawaiian-made. Most of my vintage aloha shirts have “Made in Hawaii” tags in them, though I didn’t get them in Hawaii, I found them in thrift stores here on the mainland.

On my last trip to Kona, I spent way too much time chatting with a shop owner, a healthy guy who’d just turned 70, about his merchandise. He told me he’s always tried really hard to sell only locally made crafts, but pointed out a tableware set made from coconut. “Those things were really popular, so I ordered a crate of them. Unpacked ’em, they all had ‘Made in Philippines’ stickers on them. I won’t be ordering them again.”

The “Made in Hawaii” label has to meet legal requirements, which have been revised slightly in a new bill that kicks in on July 1. From the Honolulu Star Bulletin:

Under current state law, a box of chocolates, for instance, can be made up of chocolate imported from elsewhere, but if more than 51 percent of the finished product was processed and packaged here, it could be labeled as “made in Hawaii.”

Every stage of production can count—from transportation to refrigeration, packaging, graphics, design and assembly—according to Matthew Loke, an administrator at the state Department of Agriculture.

The guy I bought my uke from was totally candid about its provenance, but other sellers aren’t so on the level. A little more from the Star Bulletin:

Michael Among, owner of T-shirt company Neva Say Neva, said he’s known of vendors who simply take an imported item, cut off the label and replace it with a “made in Hawaii” one.

Christine Gomez, a Honolulu jewelry maker, testified that many vendors have claimed their products are “Made in Hawaii” when they are not.

“For many vendors, that means they are allowed to take an imported item and just enhance it by either gluing something on top or stringing a few things on a cord,” said Gomez in written testimony.

There’s a big Made in Hawaii festival in August—the application package includes a complicated formula that determines whether or not your product actually is “Made in Hawaii,” if you come out at 51%, you get to use the label.

I’m not sure the “Made in Hawaii” label is enough. I wonder about other things—what percentage of the profits stay in the islands? Is the business locally owned or run? Where do the source materials come from? It’s paralyzing. Sure, I bought a uke, it was sort of Hawaiian-made. But all that thinking about Hawaiian “stuff” meant that the uke was the only thing I bought.

Pam Mandel is a freelance writer and photographer from Seattle, Washington. Her work has appeared in a variety of print, radio, and web publications and she's contributed to two guidebooks, one on British Columbia and one on Hawaii. She plays the ukulele, has an internal beacon that is surprisingly capable of locating the best baked goods in town, almost any town, and speaks German with a Styrian accent. Learn more on her personal blog at Nerd's Eye View.

1 Comment for About Those Souvenirs: Made in Hawaii?

Powered by Tofu 06.08.09 | 11:44 AM ET

I usually just stick to wearable accessories, like scarves, belts etc, since I’m not a big souvenir person anyway. The funniest for me, was finding “Made in China” on things in Panama. :)

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