Owner & Illustrator, Kākou Collective LLC
Business Certification Training and Marketing Bootcamp participant
Kea Peters is the owner of Kākou Collective LLC, which specializes in stationery that features her very own artwork highlighting plants that are native, endemic, and indigenous to Hawaii. She started the company in 2017 to do freelance graphic design work for other businesses and has since transformed and expanded into creating her own products.
When Kea became a mother in January 2019, she took a break from the business to care for her son. Toward the end of that year, a friend asked if she wanted to share a booth space at a national planner convention in Waikiki. At the time, Kākou Collective was a service-based business without any products, but Kea quickly purchased a used printer and made planner stickers featuring native and endemic plants. To her surprise and delight, she received an overwhelming amount of support from the attendees.
“I wasn’t confident in myself at the time. Since I hadn’t seen that (native plants) in the planner and stationery world, I wasn’t sure if people wanted it because it wasn’t out there already. I made what I liked because if it didn’t sell, I would use it,” she explained.
Fast forward to March 2020 at the brink of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kea had already committed to attending an international planner convention in California. Although the event was down from 2,000 attendees to just 300 and ended a day early, she still made a profit and managed to catch the last flight back to Hawaii before the shutdowns began. Given that little was known about the coronavirus at the time, Kea opted to self-quarantine and was left with her laptop, sketchbook, and pens for two weeks.
“I looked at native plants to give myself a way to be outside without being outside,” she said. “When I came out, I decided to go on Instagram Live and teach others how to draw different plants from Hawaii.”
This transparency is what Kea believes has set her business apart from others.
“I’ve shared how to draw things that I sell. Not many people do that. I wholeheartedly believe that I hold no claim or right to the puakenikeni or other plants. Everyone has a connection to them,” she said. “I’m also transparent about the process. I share lots of behind-the-scenes things, and I’ve made lots of small business friends because of that. In Hawaii, we’re lucky to have entrepreneurs willing to share with each other.”
Kea also noted that those who make and sell products aren’t necessarily the artists, whereas everything she sells was drawn by her hands and inspired by her experiences and connections. As part of her ongoing efforts to support the local economy, she champions making her products in Hawaii. Despite making items more expensive, she has found that her customers appreciate and support this initiative because of its positive impact.
These combined efforts have paid off exponentially. Between March and November 2020, Kākou Collective’s Instagram following grew from less than 700 to over 10,000, and today, there are over 25,000 individuals and businesses following the account.
In 2021, Kea was accepted into the Mana Up accelerator program, and has since continued collaborating with other small businesses and taking advantage of available resources to learn how to be better a business owner and grow.
“The number one item we’re known for right now is our lei wraps, which are vinyl stickers that you can put on your water bottle,” Kea shared, noting that her first collection of washi tape sold out in less than four minutes, and her Made in Hawaii stationery and apparel have also been top sellers. “Everything has original artwork and incorporates subjects with cultural significance to Hawaii.”
Kea’s business journey hasn’t been easy. She describes her continuous work to be vulnerable, which is reflected in her social media posts about money and challenges with being ok when others don’t like she does. “All of this comes from a seat of vulnerability, and it’s a requirement of being a small business owner,” she said. “You have to be willing to take risks and open yourself up to failure.”
She also emphasizes that words matter and has been working with her son on the vocabulary to express his emotions. This all ties into the products she sells because she knows that customers may be writing their to-do lists, hopes, dreams, and ambitions. “We’re very thoughtful about what we make because someone’s literal mana (power or life force) is going into the product or carrying on the mana of someone else,” she shared.
Kea first learned about the MBDA Enterprising Women of Color Business Center from another client, Camille Heung, owner of Valia Honolulu, who encouraged her to take the Business Certification Training. “It rocked my world completely and set off a bunch of to-dos for me,” Kea said. She also participated in the Marketing Bootcamp and Shop Small Hawaii projects through her connection with YWCA Oʻahu.
This year, Kea is preparing to release a capsule collection of Made in Hawaii aloha wear and her first-ever notebook and planner.
To her fellow woman entrepreneurs and small business owners, Kea offers the following advice: “Invest in yourself, especially if you’re a mom. When we’re moms, we’re doing so many things for other people, and we cut ourselves short. You can’t pour from an empty cup. When you invest in yourself, you fill your cup, and you can pour it into other areas. Investing in your business, falling back in love with a passion project—you can’t put a dollar price on that. Whatever the workshop costs, you’re going to get back tenfold. If you’re at a point where you can’t pay, there are so many nonprofits that fight tooth and nail for small businesses and create wonderful workshops.”