Lyle Fujikawa ’86 feels like he’s been preparing his whole career for his current endeavor, to drive much-needed e-commerce sales to Hawai‘i businesses. As an economic development specialist for the State Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, the Punahou alumnus is heading up the new “Buy Hawai‘i, Give Aloha” portal website (https://buy.hawaii.gov), which promotes local businesses and Island-made products.
The State-run site had been in the works for several years before the emergence of COVID-19, but now with the pandemic continuing to take its toll economically, the project was fast-tracked. “Here in Hawai‘i, we’ve been depending on tourists and brick-and-mortar stores, and now we know that doesn’t work” Fujikawa said. “It’s proven that e-commerce is necessary, and it’s a natural progression because technology is so strong, and it will keep growing.”
The site features some 180 retailers, restaurants, farmers, manufacturers and marketplaces, allowing shoppers a one-stop experience to purchase Hawai‘i-made goods. Among those showcased is House of Mana Up, an online marketplace run by Meli James ’96 that includes products by Students for PunsUnited, a fundraising effort to increase financial aid for Punahou families economically affected by the pandemic. Alumni-run businesses, including La Gelateria (Kenwei Chong ’86), Aloha Kai Jewelry (Shera Chee ’86 Mercer) and Kahala Sportswear (owned by Tori Richard, with CEO Josh Feldman ’91), are also in the mix.
Although many local businesses have had e-commerce platforms, they’ve had difficulty letting potential customers know about their offerings, Fujikawa says. “Ultimately, our role is promotion. It’s an overall umbrella and brand campaign to give them marketing power, with an end goal of helping businesses sell to the mainland and overseas.”
The first marketing push, which includes public service announcements on Hawaii News Now, is aimed at local residents looking to support local businesses. When people buy from Hawai‘i companies, they’re helping sustain our economy and helping small business owners keep their employees, Fujikawa says. “People get it that if you shop locally, you keep the capital here and keep growing the economy organically. People get this, but we can do a lot more.”
State businesses that make more than 75% of their total product offerings in the Islands can apply online to be listed on the site. Buy Hawai‘i, Give Aloha is also working with Innovate Hawai‘i and Shop Small Hawai‘i to offer free resources such as marketing workshops and coaching to help companies grow their businesses and navigate the current economic challenges.
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