The first time I met Kapua Browning, Founder of Honua Skincare, she told me her story of why she left Hawaii with her family to live on the mainland. Having grown up in Hawaii myself, her story felt familiar and was especially relatable. She explained how hard it is for locals to thrive there, as careers are hard to maintain, and housing prices were unattainable. It’s a story I know well. We spoke about how she would eventually find her way back the islands, where she belongs.
Over the years Kapua would go back and forth to our home islands for extended stretches to visit her family and work with local farms to source ingredients. She’d always bring me something from her trip, Hawaiian vetiver oil, fresh turmeric, a bag of Hawaiian salt or shells. We even went back to our home island of O’ahu once, together, and hosted our Beauty Heroes + Honua beach cleanup event with Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, one of my favorite days in all Beauty Heroes history. This last spring, Kapua told me the good news, she was finally moving home with her family. Having had her close by, right here in Northern California, over the past few years, I was sad to see her go, but knew it was of course, the right thing.
Few companies are born from a deeper intention than that of Honua. From the very moment I met Kapua, she explained to me that Honua’s vision is to grow, support and cultivate traditional farming practices in Hawaii. In every conversation we have, she talks about the farmers she is working with back home before she tells me about anything else. Honua, which means earth in Hawaiian is what Kapua was born to protect. I invited Kapua to tell us her story in her own words; how she left, and how she found her way back home, at last.
Why did you originally leave Hawaii?
Unfortunately, over the past two decades, there has been a huge exodus of local Hawaiian families from the islands due the unattainable cost of living. This income inequality from wealthier ‘residents’ (mostly with second homes) is coupled with the increased presence of military that have higher than average cost of living allowances. The “middle class” in Hawaii lives at what our mainland counterparts would consider poverty levels. Most work several jobs, live paycheck to paycheck, have substandard housing conditions, very little expendable income and are living at the financial edge. We were one of these families. Although both my husband and I graduated from high school, went to college and had fulfilling careers… It wasn’t enough.
What are some of the good things that came from living on the mainland?
About a year into our move, I realized that we had been lucky to have grown up in Hawaii when we had, as there had been a great focus preserving traditional Hawaiian culture, agriculture and holistic healing. When we came to the mainland, we joined a Hawaiian Canoe Club in Petaluma, California where we lived, and met many Hawaiian blooded Aunties and Uncles from Hawaii who were raised without language and culture and left Hawaii with not much of the Hawaiian culture to share. My family and I were lucky enough to be raised in a time of Hawaiian cultural resurgence, and were able to learn more of the language, culture and dance. Having that appreciation of Hawaiian culture, we took this opportunity to give back and have my children and I teach these Kupuna (Hawaiian elders) the Hawaiian language, along with some chants and prayers. We offered free weekly classes with them, with Hawaiian style potluck and ‘talk story’ to follow. We were also able to travel a lot during this time and learn more about other ways of living. I remember the first time I went to New York, was with you Jeannie. It was amazing to be able to see a lot of the country stemming from our time on the mainland. And lastly, Honua was born on the mainland. I had started an apothecary spa in Hawaii and had been formulating skincare for years, but when I moved away and demand continued, it forced me to start a skincare line that could be shared with the world. Now I can give back to our Hawaiian farms on a much larger scale than I could have as a spa owner. These good things show me, there is a reason for everything, and it was all a part of my journey.
The housing and income inequality crisis continues in Hawaii, and it really needs to be addressed through our local government. It’s a complex issue of course.
Which ingredients in Honua skincare are sourced from Hawaii?
Our Kukui Nut Oil, Sandalwood, Ho’ola Honey, Turmeric, Astaxanthin and Vetiver all come from the island of Hawaii, what everyone calls the big island.
Our sunflower oil is grown and pressed on Maui
Some Kalo, Laukahi and some of our Noni are from O’ahu
Our Hawaiian salt, the rest of our Noni and Kalo and Hibiscus are all from Kaua’i
Can you tell us about some of the special projects and initiatives Honua has with local farmers on the islands?
We not only source our ingredients from a variety of Hawaiian farms, but we help farms that we don’t source from to thrive as well. This is equally if not more important, as we need to continue growing our plants as food and medicine first and foremost! It’s only when we have excess or figure out how to dry and extract what would have been wasted do, we create tremendous value for our farmers, communities, and families. So, our partnerships with these Hawaiian farms such as Ho’okua’āina, Papahana Kua’ola, Hui Aloha ‘Āina Momona, Hāloa ‘Āina all differ. It depends on what they need at the time.
We help by volunteering or working on the land (and gathering groups to kokua – participate), we have helped them by financially sponsoring interns, we donate and share our profits with them, and continue to sign petitions, spread community awareness, and help them to educate the world using our social platforms. We also hold reforestation events, beach cleanups, and continue our own personal education to ensure we keep adding value to our partner farms.
What is the overall state of farming in Hawaii? Is there a movement to return to indigenous farming practices?
Thankfully, yes, indigenous farming practices are reviving. We have many Aloha ‘Āina Warriors right now. All the ones mentioned above are great places to start if you want to research indigenous farming practices and their methods of educating the community and future leaders (our children). Most of these movements not only practice these indigenous farming practices, most also have community programs set up for our keiki (children) as well to teach them to be future farmers. This is key, as we don’t want our indigenous farming practices to end. We continue to fight for land though, as many indigenous farms face losing their leases to investors if they can’t come up with enough backing and financial resources. Visit Hui Aloha ‘Aina Momona to learn about their current struggle, and if you feel moved, to donate.
As an esthetician founded brand, you have a specific product development philosophy, can you share your outlook on new product development?
Yes, I’d love to. I geek out for months on end before even starting development on a new product, which is why our product release is slow and thoughtful. There are so many factors that come into play. How can I create something beautiful and unique enough to be different from anything, else, and use indigenous Hawaiian ingredients in a productive way on the skin? What layer of the skin will this product address? How does it differ from my current assortment, and what gap does it fill? What ingredients will function in this product and how can I source them ethically and close to home? I don’t create a product unless there has been a huge demand, or I feel there is a gap and personally need something that is not in my assortment. Or, if there is an ingredient I fall madly in love with and feel inspired to bring it to life in Honua.
We are thrilled to launch your newest product, Hibiscus Beauty Booster. What was the inspiration for this new addition to the Honua Skincare collection?
Well, I fell madly in love with Hawaiian Astaxanthin and after seeing how amazing it is on the skin, I wanted to use it in a product in a high concentration. These red microalgae sourced from the island of Hawaii are so good for the skin on so many levels. It’s a super-powerful antioxidant, it feeds the skin essential minerals, and it has been studied to have UV protection. My teenage daughter loves Hyaluronic Acid boosters and started buying them secretly (thanks tiktok) and adding them to her Honua ritual. I tried hers and knew I could do better! Once I made her a sample, with the astaxanthin, she was hooked and continued to ask when this new product was launching? I added another ingredient that works wonders on the skin, one that I knew would take this booster over the top, and that ingredient is hibiscus, which they call the Botox plant because of its ability to help firm and lift the appearance of the skin. It’s also a mild alpha hydroxy acid, so it it gently exfoliates the skin so the hyaluronic acid and astaxanthin really get to work. Hibiscus also has mucilage to give the skin a little extra plumping and surface hydration. With just three ingredients in their purest form, in high concentration, this beauty booster fills a gap in our line-up and helps to give the skin some major surface hydration, protection and LOVE! I’m so excited it’s finally here, Hibiscus Beauty Booster.
Amazing! I’m excited about this launch too. A couple more questions. First, what can people who want to support Hawaii do from afar?
Some of the local agricultural boxes ship to the mainland, which provides income for our farming Ohana/families. You can buy beautiful Hawaiian Honey products from Ho’ōla Farms and sustainable meats from Kaunamano Farm, if you’re lucky to find their products in stock. They are in high demand.
If you visit Hawaii as a tourist, what can you do to support the local people and culture?
Right now, with the pandemic, we are asking people to love Hawaii from afar. But, once it’s safe to come back, when you visit Hawaii, please:
- Support local restaurants, farms, and mom and pop shops rather than bigger companies and box stories
- Respect the land and animals… seems simple but tourists continue to touch, sit on, and disrespect our Hawaiian seals, sea turtles. Just enjoy their beauty from afar. As for the land, leave it better than what you found it is a great rule of thumb. This means picking up trash you see even if it’s not yours.
- Stay away from Hawaiian burial sites, and kapu (sacred/forbidden) areas (you will most likely see signs that ask you to stay out). Although some may be very interested in history, these areas are deeply sacred and should be respected.
- When you hike, make sure you clean your shoes off thoroughly, so no mud/dirt/seeds are taken with you or transferred to another hiking trail on the islands. This is one of the main causes of spreading plant diseases… as you can move seeds from one place to another where they may jeopardize other plants health.
- Visit farms and offer your help if they are taking volunteers. Spending a few hours pulling kalo (taro leaf) will give you a whole new respect for the Hawaiian culture, food, and traditions