Owner, Honi Hala
Selected to be part of the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Enterprising Women of Color Business Center’s Small Business Marketing Bootcamp; marketing counseling client
Born and raised in Washington state, Pūlama Long often visited family in Hawai’i. After high school, she moved to Hawai’i Island to live with her grandmother, and later to O’ahu to attend the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa where she majored in Hawaiian Studies. It was during this period that she took her first ulana lauhala (weaving) classes instructed by two kumu (teachers).
Upon graduating, she went on to work at Paepae o Heʻeia, a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring and revitalizing the 88-acre Heʻeia Fishpond in Kāneʻohe. “I got into education and teaching culture to students and working with a lot of public schools,” said Pūlama, who eventually began developing curriculum for the organization.
Pūlama also realized her responsibility as a Native Hawaiian woman and part of the Hawaiian diaspora, and the power behind returning to her ancestral homeland and reconnecting with her family. In December 2017, she launched Honi Hala as a way to sell her curated woven jewelry with the community. She decided to not only make and sell her products but utilize her background in education as well to develop workshops to share the cultural practice of weaving with others.
“When I first starting weaving, we made hinaʻi (woven baskets) for iwi kūpuna (ancestral bones) that were coming back from museums abroad,” Pūlama explained. “That was the point of understanding my responsibility, that I wasn’t put here to be an individual, but to get more into my roots and how those roots are connected to the present day and to be a part of the present-day and thriving society.”
Today, Honi Hala is known for its signature handwoven hoop earrings as well as other jewelry pieces and hair accessories that contain moʻolelo (stories) behind each design. Pūlama also has a large following on Instagram and TikTok where she teaches ‘ike kūpuna (knowledge from elders) and ulana lauhala.
“I’m very much an advocate for bringing cultural practice into schools,” Pūlama said. “I work with teachers from the university all the way to the public schools. My values and messaging are very clear on how ancestral knowledge is just as important as any other subject in school.”
Throughout her business journey, Pūlama’s biggest challenge has been accessing resources that are not only specific to women but are provided by those who have a lens and framework of cultural awareness, advocacy, and equality, and what those elements look like in business. She’s most proud of being able to build her business and overcoming her own doubts.
“I felt very underestimated when I first started Honi Hala because there weren’t a lot of entrepreneurs taking that cultural route,” Pūlama reflected, noting that there also weren’t many people wearing woven jewelry. “I’ve been able to attract people who are interested in this and see that this is actually a real need, and to develop in that space and get support from the community.”
She credits her university professors and kumu hula (hula teacher) for giving her the confidence, motivation, and strength to pursue her business endeavor. “I was privileged to have access to cultural education, skilled teachers, and awesome mentors throughout my young adult life,” she said.
After discovering the MBDA Enterprising Women of Color Business Center through Instagram, Pūlama participated in the Small Business Marketing Bootcamp and free marketing counseling services. “They have all helped me out tremendously,” she said. “You could also tell by the things they (the facilitators) said and how they directed conversations that they listen to the community, knew of the issues, and weren’t afraid of having difficult conversations. It was really helpful having them look at my Instagram and suggesting workshop opportunities. That type of support and understanding is so much appreciated and meaningful.”
In the future, Pūlama plans to grow the education side of Honi Hala by developing more programming and curriculum for public schools. She hopes to build community education into a sustainable business and eventually be able to train interns.
To her fellow woman entrepreneurs and small business owners, Pūlama offers the following advice: “If you want to pursue entrepreneurship, you have to build relationships with people. I’ve worked with another woman-owned business that does graphic design, and I know my money is going to another wāhine (woman)-owned business. I’ve also done collabs with others. We need to have that type of a trusted support system that includes reciprocation. Especially in Hawaii, it’s hard to be out here. Find a hui (team) where you simultaneously support each other in business and opportunities.”