Some gifts seem to reach from the shelves and grab you. You just know, this is the one. You grab the tiny tiki, turn it over and see that dreaded sticker: Made in China. You pause and think, “What the heck? Aunt Helen will never know.” Oftentimes, a gift like that is just what you may be looking for—but if you want something truly made in Hawaii, a handcrafted treasure, you have to dig a little deeper.
Here’s a little list of crafts you’ll find at markets and boutiques that are more likely to be made locally and capture the spirit of your island vacation.
Lauhala are the leaves of the hala tree, which ancient Hawaiians would weave into a myriad of useful (and decorative) items. From bracelets and hats to baskets and placemats, the art of lauhala weaving produces many items that, while delicate to transport, make excellent, useful and beautiful gifts.
Kapa is the result of an incredibly laborious process. There’s no other way to make it than to soak, pound and dye mulberry tree bark by hand. Kapa was used mostly for special occasion garments in ancient times, but you can find kapa adorning the front of book covers, as framed wall decorations and in many different prints and colors.
The most fun items to shop for are handmade soaps. Pick up a soap bar, give it a smell and note which flowers are used for the fragrance. Try classic infusions like pikake, gardenia, plumeria and honey. Vendors are usually more than happy to discuss how they’re made, too.
Items carved from wood, especially from the koa tree, are considered more precious (the koa is highly revered in Hawaiian culture) and can be shaped into a wide variety of items such as clocks, jewelry, stationary stands and art carvings. There are often events at nearby resorts and fairs or festivals that provide tutorials on how to make these crafts yourself, sometimes for free. Talk about a thoughtful gift!
Photos by Shutterstock/Eva Browning, Troflmov Denis, Subbotina Anna, and K. Geijer