Her Story Impressed Me

Q&A With Hoa Kai Surf

I recently met with Kelly Kakalia, co-owner of Hoa Kai Turkish towels.  I’ve watched this local Kauai business grow over the past few years.  Their playful marketing is what caught my eye along with the simplicity of the products they offer. I knew I needed to meet Kelly.  I knew I could learn from her as an entrepreneur.  Her insights went above and beyond what I was expecting.   At 28 years of age this woman exudes drive, intelligence and openness in a unique down-for-whatever way.  Here’s how her adventure in entrepreneurship began:

 

 The idea for Hoa Kai

 She had no background as a business owner but that didn’t matter.  The idea for Hoa Kai came from of a poncho towel her son was gifted on his 3rd birthday.  This gift was used plenty since towels are sort of a big deal on an island.  She started to think it’d be cool to make something similar.  After spending a day “nerding out” on the internet she discovered Turkish towels.  The Turks are known for their intricate rug weaving techniques which they applied to towel making dating back to 7th century A.D.  Because the cotton grown in Turkey has especially long fibers, it spins into strong, soft threads which, when woven, possesses superior absorbent properties… perfect for making towels.  Hoakai has taken Turkish towels to another level by being the first company to ever print designs on them.

 

 How long did it take to bring the idea into reality?

 It took about 3 months for Hoa Kai to launch.  Kelly was working full time at night as a waitress/shift manager at a restaurant, while her husband worked as a lifeguard during the day.  She would go weeks without spending quality time with her husband while raising 2 boys under the age of 4, building a house, and working to build Hoa Kai.  During this time her Dad got diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer and got really sick fast.  She ended up becoming his fulltime care giver.  Watching her Dad die made her realize that she didn’t want to waste precious time.  She knew that meant she needed to quit her job and make Hoa Kai work.  She was lucky enough that her Dad got to see the beginning of Hoa Kai and that she quit her job 3 months before his passing.  She got to bounce ideas off of him and he got to see her enthusiasm and excitement at starting her first company. Kelly’s Dad was very involved politically on Kauai.  Her father, Tim Bynum helped pass the ban on plastic bags, helped write the bill to stop GMO companies here on Kauai from spraying toxic chemicals and raised funds to build the bike path and the amazing Kamalani Playground.  He was the biggest influence in Hoakai becoming a reality.   His legacy lives on.

 

What were some of the most important steps in creating Hoa Kai?  Most important connections? Most important events/synchronicities?

  •  Some of the most important steps for Hoa Kai were the bumps in the road.  Snafus that held up inventory for months ended up being of huge benefit.  Some of the manufacturing errors led to new partnerships that actually improved the quality of the towels.   

  • One of the most important connections came from reaching out to collaborate with artist Heather Brown.  This is where the idea formed to do prints on the Turkish towels.

  • One of the most important events was a locally held Kauai type of “Shark Tank” that Hoa Kai won.  This event connected Hoa Kai to top local business owners that have provided strong mentorship.

  • One of the most important synchronicities was making a new connection simply through an Instagram comment.  This connected Hoa Kai to all the major Hawaii surfing events, a perfect fit for Hoa Kai towels.

 

 As a business owner what advice would you give other aspiring entrepreneurs out there?

 Grit is Kelly’s favorite word.  She explained there’s always ups and downs in business, the key is learning how to stay motivated, positive and relaxed when times are discouraging.  Her tips are:

  • Find good mentors.

  • Focus on getting good at one thing.

  • Put yourself out there and be open to when opportunity comes around. 

  • Surround yourself with successful people. 

  • Read at least 10 pages a day from books that help the growth of your business.  One of Kelly’s book recommendations is The Slight of Edge by Jeff Olson.  A next on my list.

 

Kelly’s top core values:

  1.  God 

  2. Integrity

  3. Grit

 

What ways does Hoa Kai give back?

Hoa Kai helps Turkish families keep their weaving traditions alive, an art that has been handed down for generations.  Hoa Kai often donates towels to different organizations.  Hoa Kai’s donated to the Kauai Lifeguard Association, non-profit Friends of Bethany and continues to donate to different causes every year. 

 

 What is some important advice you would give your younger self?

 Nothing because she wouldn’t have listened anyway.  She needed to learn the hard way figuring it out for herself.

 

How do you describe success and how would you consider yourself successful?

 Kelly describes success from the words of Tony Robbins, “doing what you want, when you want, where you want, with whom you want, as much as you want”.  She’s not there quite yet but she’s grateful for all the growth so far.  She also considers success being so financially abundant that donating $1 million dollars to local causes is effortless.  I like the way you think Kelly!


This holiday season head over to www.hoakaisurf.com and see what all the buzz is about. My Hoa Kai towel is one of my most used belongings. It’s been on many adventures from mauka to makai. The best part about this gift is it’s so practical, so well made and supports small businesses. 

Kristin Brown