Love supporting local businesses? So do we! As the exclusive airline partner of Mana Up, we are proud to continue our Meet the Makers virtual monthly event series showcasing Hawaiʻi entrepreneurs and their products on the Hawaiian Airlines and Mana Up Facebook pages.
Want to experience the local products made by Ao Organics Hawaii, Wai Meli and past Mana Up Makers, including Chef Sheldon Simeon, Mānoa Chocolate and Big Island Coffee Roasters? You can purchase their exclusive product sets at HouseofManaUp.com/Meet-the-Makers. Shoppers who use their Hawaiian Airlines® Bank of Hawaii World Elite Mastercard® earn two additional bonus HawaiianMiles per $1 spent on all purchases.*
When Ao Organics Hawaii Founder Chelsa Davis learned she would have her third child in 2016, she turned her attention to the ingredients in the household products her beach-loving family had been using, starting with their sunscreen. “Once I learned how toxic the sunscreens we were using were, [my family] completely stopped using them. But at the time, it was challenging to find a brand that was 100% organic,” she said.
This gap in the market led to Davis formulating her organic sunscreen and becoming more aware of the impacts that everyday products were having on the environment.
“I took to learning more about reef safety and how these sunscreens were damaging our ocean ecosystems. As a native Hawaiian, ocean lover, and daughter of a surfer, learning how chemical sunscreens and most popular store-bought products harm our bodies and the environment inspired me to teach others. I wanted to empower and educate others to understand the impacts of the products they use on our wai (ocean) and the ‘āina (land)," she shared.
Through this awareness, Ao Organics Hawaii took root. What started with Davis' homemade sunscreen grew to a full spectrum of all-natural, organic facial and body products. Each item, from ʻōlena (turmeric) and honey facial cleanser to coconut-mango lip balm, are crafted in her Honokaʻa studio on the Island of Hawaiʻi, and in small batches with local ingredients.
“Luckily, I have my husband who also works with me and helps me with daily tasks, like making our sunscreen batches and handling our deliveries,” Davis said. “Our work weeks are busy, and we’re usually prepping 100 or more orders a week on top of fulfilling wholesale orders. We do everything in our workshop.
"Owning your own business requires a lot of self-discipline and patience; it is nothing like a nine-to-five job, and there are many days that we work beyond that. However, I wouldn’t trade what I do for the world; it's worth every minute because I get to do what I love, spend time with my husband and children, and make an impact in the world,” she added.
Ao Organics Hawaii joined Mana Up’s business cohort in 2020. Davis has since rebranded her company, hired a marketing team, and expanded sales enough to invest in larger equipment for more efficient production.
“When shoppers support Ao Organics Hawaii, they support families and the community. Each purchase elevates a kanaka (native Hawaiian)-owned business that integrates core cultural values into its business to keep the health of the ‘āina and community a priority,” Davis shared.
If you ever wondered what it's like to be a beekeeper, Kawika Sebag, founder of Wai Meli honey, will tell you it's quite the demanding gig.
"It's a whole lot of labor-intensive work […] requiring heavy lifting, sweating in a bee suit under the Hawaiian sun, and getting stung regularly," he explained. However, Sebag will also be the first to say his job is one of the most rewarding and hard work "is what it takes to produce the best honey in the world."
Sebag picked up apiculture as a hobby in college and ran with it in 2011 when he co-found Wai Meli, a raw, organic honey venture on his farm in Pa‘auilo on the Island of Hawaiʻi. Sebag and his team spend their days caring for hundreds of beehives, staving off pests, relocating hives during seasonal changes, harvesting several tons of raw honey at a time, processing the yield and preparing it for kitchen pantries across the country.
Sebag and his team’s passion and dedication led to Wai Meli becoming one of Hawaiʻi's premier honey brands, with its unique, rich flavor profiles attributed to its bee-first business model.
"Honeybees are the backbone of agriculture, providing pollination for one in every three bites that humans consume," he explained. "At Wai Meli, we focus on the health and regeneration of the honeybee population with organic practices that ensure our honeybees' health is a top priority (which is not the standard across [the honey industry]). The way we keep our bees – and subsequently process our honey – ensures the full nutritive range and medicinal qualities inherently found in raw honey remain. In contrast, conventionally produced honey is stripped of those enzymes, amino acids and beneficial properties."
Today, Wai Meli continues to grow, thanks in part to the guidance Sebag has received through Mana Up. Since Wai Meli joined the accelerator’s cohort of small businesses in 2018, it has seen steady growth in gross sales, streamlined management practices, and forged new and profitable relationships with corporate distributors. "The wealth of opportunity and guidance [provided by Mana Up] has been instrumental to our farm's growth,” Sebag said.
*Partner bonus miles earned through this offer are in addition to standard miles earned using your Hawaiian Airlines® Bank of Hawaii World Elite Mastercard®. No miles are awarded on cash back transactions. Please allow 4-6 weeks for miles to post to your HawaiianMiles account. HawaiianMiles standard terms and conditions apply. Additional restrictions may apply, see partner for details. Barclays Bank Delaware is not affiliated with Mana Up or the merchants participating in the Meet the Makers series or the HawaiianMiles Marketplace.
The Hawaiian Airlines® Bank of Hawaii World Elite Mastercard® is issued by Barclays Bank Delaware (Barclays) pursuant to a license by Mastercard International Incorporated. Mastercard, World Mastercard, and World Elite Mastercard are registered trademarks, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.