A winning business

  • Photo courtesy Nicolette Aguinaldo

    Hoa Kai’s Kelly and Andrew Kakalia enjoy the beach with their sons Eli, 4, and Cliffy, 5.

  • Photo courtesy Hoa Kai

    Hoa Kai owner Kelly Kakalia and her mom Gini Bynum sell Turkish towels at a pop-up sale.

LIHUE — A local family business will be getting a push thanks to the Catch a Wave Business Competition sponsored by Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay on May 18. A panel of expert judges selected Hoa Kai as the first-place winner of the Kauai-style “Shark Tank” entrepreneurial competition.

The family-operated business was founded by Kapaa High graduate Kelly Kakalia and her husband, Kauai High graduate Andrew, in 2016. The Wailua couple, who has lived on Kauai their whole lives, discovered the perfect beach towels for their family of four, including two young boys, a full-time lifeguard and a working mom.

“Spending the majority of our free time on Kauai’s beautiful beaches, we were constantly washing and drying tons of towels,” Kakalia said. “”It’s so humid and wet that a lot of my towels would stink and not dry all the way, so we did our research.”

The couple learned that Turkish towels have been loomed for centuries by skilled craftsmen who raise cotton in southeast Turkey and began importing the lightweight designer towels handmade with 100 percent cotton.

“Now we carry just one beach bag for all four of us because the towels are so lightweight and easily dust off the sand,” Kakalia said. “We just dry ourselves off, hang the towels in the sun for a few minutes to dry and pack them back up.”

Hoa Kai became committed to supporting families in a small Turkish village near the Syrian border who are incredible weavers who produce quality products computer-controlled looms can’t copy.

The competition judges awarded the business first place for their efforts in supporting the weavers and importing a quality product to Hawaii as well as internationally.

“It was nice for my efforts to be validated and recognized by the judges for everything I’ve been doing for the last two years by people who are all very successful business owners,” Kakalia said. “The business competition was fun, because definitely my business is my passion and I’m kinda competitive, too.”

She is the daughter of the late County Councilmember Tim Bynum and Gini Bynum of Wailua.

As first-place winner, Hoa Kai will receive $5,000 in grants, as well as 10 hours of mentorship with a highly qualified mentor and a complimentary first-year membership into the Kauai Chamber of Commerce. The judge and seasoned entrepreneur who will be providing mentorship, Warren Doi, works with the Hawaii Technology Development Corporation and will be helping guide Hoa Kai to success with promotion, business strategies and funding from state grants for manufacturing and capital expenditures.

“They help you have a good business strategy and learn from past entrepreneur endeavors,” Kakalia said. “This is my first business, so it’s nice to have a mentor who could sit alongside.”

Kakalia has been working with the Hawaii Pacific Asian Export Council and has had lots of online sales to Japan, so this year they are traveling to Tokyo with the Hawaii Business Association to have a booth at the Tokyo International Gift Show in September. The prize money will be used for the trip and booth fees to help expand their Japanese market.

“Eventually we’d like to branch out and become an overall surf brand,” Kakalia said, “but for now the majority of our business comes from towels.”

Currently, they distribute products to retailers in Japan, the Mainland and Hawaii, including Kauai stores like Deja Vu Surf Hawaii and Poipu Surf.

“We’re looking forward to continuing to support these companies in their business success and are excited to watch them grow,” said competition organizer Greg Horn. “If any businesses on Kauai are interested in applying for the competition in 2019, they can go to catchawavekauai.com and get on the email list for future communications.”

The 2018 competition’s second-place winner was Fit Lab Kauai, while two businesses, Mele Wraps and The Spot, tied for third.

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John Steinhorst, reporter, can be reached at 245-0435 or jsteinhorst@thegardenisland.com.

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