30 Years of the Made in Hawaiʻi Festival

By Alexis Chapman

There are dozens of great festivals, fairs, and other events around our state each year, but there’s only one Made in Hawaiʻi Festival. This year marks the 30th Annual Made in Hawaiʻi Festival and we think it’s going to be one of the biggest and best ever! It’s not just the size of the Made in Hawaiʻi Festival that makes it unique; the history, the economic impact, the guarantee of truly locally made products, the entertainment, the food, the sponsors, and the Made in Hawaiʻi Festival Community all combine to make this an event like no other.

The History of the Made in Hawaiʻi Festival

Thirty years ago, Representative David Morihara had an idea for a Festival. He saw the struggles that our local small manufacturers faced, and he had an idea to create an event that would help them thrive. A multiday festival featuring only Hawaiʻi made products that could connect local businesses with not just customers but also retailer buyers was a big idea, and it could have remained just an idea. While many undoubtedly saw the value of Morihara’s vision, few were eager to take on the challenge. The expense, logistics, organization, and management capacity needed to pull off the Made in Hawaiʻi Festival were all unknown variables at the time. Morihara shared his idea with numerous groups but at first there were no takers. David had recently taken over his family grocery store Morihara Store in Kula Maui and was an HFIA Member, so the Representative had a connection with HFIA even outside the legislature, and eventually he reached out to HFIA.

One person, who had earned a reputation for never shying away from a challenge was HFIA’s Dick Botti. He saw the potential of the Made in Hawaiʻi Festival and knew that HFIA could make it a reality. Getting the HFIA Board on board could have proved tricky for anyone else, but they knew they could trust Dick. From this seed of an idea Dick, Representative Morihara, HFIA’s leadership, and local vendors worked to cultivate an event like no other. In 1995 the Made in Hawaiʻi Festival came to life. The first Festival featured just a few dozen booths of locally made clothes, crafts, art, and food. It was a modest start but the soul of what makes the Festival so special was there. Vendors of truly locally made products were able to connect directly with customers and retail buyers. And shoppers knew that what they were getting was authentically made in Hawaiʻi.

Economic Impact

Representative Morihara’s idea was not just about growing a Hawaiʻi business, or a few Hawaiʻi businesses, it was about growing Hawaiʻi business, and it has done just that. In a 2008 interview Dick Botti said, “We like to think of the festival as a small-business incubator. That’s why we invite the buyers. If buyers come, they see new items and they can negotiate a price on quantity and will be able to keep these businesses growing and making products for the next year.”

The Festival can be a vital tool for local businesses to launch a new endeavor, test or showcase new products, reach new customers, connect with retail buyers, and boost sales. For individual businesses the economic impact of the Festival can be huge, some work all year to create product to sell at the Festival and it makes up a large percentage of their annual sales. Other businesses large and small utilize the Festival as a product launch. The great Festival PR and huge crowds mean businesses can get a lot of eyes on a new product and have good data to measure customer response. Buyers Hours are one of the most economically important aspects of the Made in Hawaii Festival, and one of things that set it apart from other events. Each year for two hours before the Festival opens to the public over 1500 retail buyers from all over Hawaiʻi, the mainland, and abroad are invited into the Festival to shop and meet with vendors. For vendors looking to scale up this is an unparallel opportunity to connect with the next link in the supply chain.

HFIA is well aware of how important the Festival can be to keeping these local businesses going. In 2020 when it was not possible to have a live Festival HFIA decided to create something new, an online Made in Hawaiʻi Festival Marketplace. The Marketplace was a logistical challenge and a significant financial burden for the Association, but HFIA knew that to keep these businesses going, they had to stay connected with their customers. The Online Marketplace was a success for many vendors and allowed them to make up some of their lost revenue to do pandemic related closures and restrictions.

The positive economic impact of the Made in Hawaiʻi Festival doesn’t end with the Festival vendors themselves. When the Festival began it was not common to see stores selling a lot of locally made authentic Hawaiian products. Now “local” and “Made in Hawaiʻi” are proudly used as advertising call outs for products on shelves and there are businesses around the state that focus on selling primarily Hawaiʻi products. The Made in Hawaiʻi Festival has worked with other agencies and organizations like the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Businesses Economic Development and Tourism, Mana Up, and others to help ensure that the market for locally made products continues to grow and that customers get a chance to know the value of Made in Hawaiʻi.

Truly Made in Hawaiʻi

The defining characteristic of the Made in Hawaiʻi Festival is that products have to be legitimately made here in the state. Specifically, that means all products sold at the Made in Hawaiʻi Festival must be at minimum 51% value added in Hawaiʻi. This is codified by law in the Hawaiʻi Revised Status. In 2009 HFIA supported legislation to strengthen the regulations ensuring that the words “Made in Hawaiʻi” could only be applied to products that were legitimately created in the state. Vendors who apply to the Festival must confirm that their products meet these requirements before being accepted.

Most Festival vendors exceed the 51% threshold, and some take it even further. Using locally grown agricultural products and locally sourced materials to manufacture value-added products means local farmers benefit too. It also means customers are getting more local bang for their buck. Of course, there are a wide range of food and beverage vendors at the that take this approach and make a huge range of delicious food from Hawaiʻi grown fruits and veggies. Other vendors are sourcing local raw materials too. Made in Hawaii Festival skin care and cosmetic brands are using local ingredients, jewelry makers artisans and crafters of all types use local wood, shells, and other materials. As demand for these products grows new opportunities are created and even more Made in Hawaiʻi businesses can thrive.


High caliber entertainment has been a part of the Made in Hawaiʻi Festival since it’s inception and is another defining characteristic of the event. Alan Yamamoto has been the Made in Hawaiʻi Festival’s Entertainment Coordinator since the beginning and is a big part of why Made in Hawaiʻi Festival entertainment includes such big names every year. In 1995 when Alan was brough on board to coordinate entertainment for the he was already working with the Na Hoku Hanohano Award winning artists already and was able to bring them to the Festival. Since then, the Na Hoku Award winners along with Grammy nominees, rising stars, and local legends have all played the Made in Hawaii Festival. Alan recalls that these talented local performers helped set the Festival apart from the beginning, “It wasn’t the same stuff that you would here at the touristy places in Waikiki.” This was an important distinction and set a tone for the life of the Festival as an event that celebrated Hawaii centered authentic contemporary local culture.

As food became a more integral part of the Festival Chef Demos were added to the entertainment lineup. Now Festival goers can have a chance to watch celebrity chef. Of course one of the most entertaining aspects of the Festival every year is the cooking demo emcee Derek Kurisu. As Derek noted in the opening ceremony of the Festival last year, he is himself “made in Hawaiʻi” and he is a local institution. Derek’s energy and joy for all things Made in Hawaii is infectious and helps bring the spirit and the flavor of the Made in Hawaii Festival to life each year.

One iconic piece of the Festival entertainment lineup that was lost and then found is the Fashion show. The first few Made in Hawaiʻi Festivals had fashion shows, but with the size of the Festival at the time the clothing vendors didn’t think it was worth the logistical challenge of putting on a full show. Now with the Festival drawing close to 50,000 people Fashions have just recently come back and will be part of the 2024 Festival as well.

These are just a few of the areas where food businesses should be ready to see AI making changes to the industry. It’s likely that almost every facet of our food systems will be impacted by AI at some point in the next few years. Being ready to adopt.

A Taste of Made in Hawaiʻi

The Made in Hawaiʻi Festival is an exceptional place to get to experience locally made food. The Festival features a huge array of delicious food and drinks. There are new products made with local staples like kalo and ulu; classic favorite baked goods like shortbread cookies, banana bread, and pie; traditional local foods; internationally inspired treats; and of course, a huge variety of products featuring coffee, chocolate, mac nut, tea, jerky, li hing mui and the list goes on and on. Because of the variety of products, the innovation of local food manufacturers, and the launch of new products at the Festival every year attendees are guaranteed to come across a something new. To entice shoppers further many Festival food vendors generously offer samples.

No one is quite sure how samples became such an iconic part of the Made in Hawaii Festival. Due to the concession rules at the Festival’s original venue there were relatively few food vendors, in spite of it being produced by the Hawaii Food Industry Association. One long time vendor recalls that at one of the early Made in Hawaiʻi Festival someone wanted to give out samples, but no one was quite sure if that was allowed to or not. This was in the days before cell phones, so someone hopped on a bike and rode over to the Capitol to check. Apparently, the word from the Capitol was good and samples soon became one of the most celebrated aspects of the Festival. Unfortunately, in 2021 due to health regulations related to the pandemic samples were tightly restricted. But that same year, Coca-Cola Bottling of Hawaii, a subsidiary of the Odom Corporation stepped in with a new idea and the Made in Hawaii Festival Beer Garden was born. Even if Festival attendees couldn’t sample quite as many foods as before they could enjoy locally canned and bottled Coca-Cola products, and locally made beer from companies like Kona Brewing. The Beer Garden is now a highlight of the Festival and a delicious example of how the Made in Hawaii Festival continues to evolve and change.

The Made in Hawaiʻi Festival Community

HFIA, the Festival Management Team, the Sponsors, the vendors, entertainers, volunteers, retail buyers, and of course the attendees all form a community that knows the value of Hawaiʻi made products and local businesses. While the economic impact of the Festival can be measured, there are other values that cannot be quantified. The Made in Hawaiʻi Festival is a celebration of authentic contemporary Hawaiʻi culture. The Festival shows how the fashion, art, music, and food of Hawaiʻi is rooted in tradition, and evolves and becomes enriched as new makers learn from the past and innovate for the future. Hawaiʻi’s diversity and multicultural identity is on full display at the Festival and there is truly something for everyone. The Festival is a showcase of the things that make Hawaiʻi unique and connect us.

This unity and care for each other that is so much a part of Hawaiʻi culture was demonstrated in a big way during the Made in Hawaiʻi Festival last year. The devastating fires on August 8, 2023, shook our state. In the immediate aftermath of the fires, it was unclear if the Festival could or should proceed. After a great deal of thoughtful discussion among HFIA leadership, the Festival management team, the Hawaiʻi Convention center, and our Maui vendors, a decision was made to go ahead with the Festival and use it as an opportunity to raise funds for those on Maui who had been impacted by this tragedy. All profits from the sale of 2023 Made in Hawaiʻi Festival t-shirts were donated to the Maui Strong Fund and attendees were also able to make a donation while purchasing tickets. Overall, the 2023 Made in Hawaiʻi Festival raised over $50,000 for the Maui Strong Fund.

Our state has faced more than its share of challenges in the last few years, and we don’t know what the future will bring. We do know that this incredible event will endure. From just over 60 vendor booths at the first Festival to over 600 booths this year it’s clear that the spirit of the Made in Hawaiʻi Festival is strong and vibrant and growing each year. To everyone who is a part of the Made in Hawaiʻi Festival community, mahalo nui loa for being a part of this, and we’ll see you at the Festival!