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A little block of Oahu soap sits by my sink, and when I close my eyes and wash my face, its scent of coconut oil and ginger flower always transports me back to the island where I bought it. Such is the power of made-in-Hawaii souvenirs, those distinctive mementos that evoke precious memories of time spent in the 50th state.
From bite-size custom chocolates and gourmet tropical jams to elegant seashell necklaces and wide-brimmed woven hats, products that are made locally are inherently tied to the destination, said Stacey Martin Alford, director of travel industry sales for the Oahu Visitors Bureau.
“Knowing that the item was made in Hawaii and most often made by hand adds a special emotional connection to something as simple as a bar of soap or a candle,” Alford said.
Even if visitors don’t actually buy items with their roots in Oahu, they can benefit from taking the time to meet the island’s retailers and talking with them firsthand.
“Learning about the products made in Hawaii and the people who create them forms a special bond between a visitor and our island,” Alford said. “Knowing the stories and traditions of our kamaaina [longtime locals] fosters a deeper appreciation and cultural connection that leaves travelers longing to return.”
Hawaiian specialty items such as a koa wood bowl, an original painting, a beautiful quilt or a feather lei created by a master crafter are especially valuable collectables because of the talented people who make them.
One of the best places to look for intrinsically Hawaiian keepsakes is Ala Moana Center, a 290-store Honolulu treasure trove of island memorabilia. There, at a boutique called Martin and MacArthur, clients can find high-quality furniture and gift items created out of koa. Another Ala Moana gem is Philip Rickard Honolulu, whose high-end heirloom jewelry with traditional Hawaiian designs is carefully customized for each client.
In Waikiki, a gold mine for local souvenirs is the 110-store Royal Hawaiian Center, home of Aloha Aina Boutique and its casual beach attire. Simply Wood Studios draws shoppers with its handcrafted arts and gifts, while Bob’s Ukulele delights music lovers with its private label four-stringed instruments. Browsers can discover additional bounty at the center’s Royal Hawaiian Quilt as well as Island Soap and Candleworks.
To the west of the island, Naked Cow Dairy produces cheese spreads, flavored butters and gourmet feta bottled in olive oil with herbs. Clients can purchase Naked Cow’s products in certain supermarkets, but it’s much more fun to buy them at one of Oahu’s farmers’ markets, where visitors can hobnob with local growers, crafters and retailers.
A major showcase of island products takes place each summer during the three-day Made in Hawaii Festival, held at Honolulu’s Neal Blaisdell Exhibition Hall. Coming up this year from Aug. 16-18, it’s a shopper’s dream-come-true filled with local books, art, gifts, fashions, plants, crafts, produce, cooking demonstrations, food and ongoing entertainment.