Hawaii Strong: Through kapa making, this Waimanalo family crafts unique pandemic response

Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 5:25 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 10, 2021 at 9:01 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Every piece of kapa created at Pukoa Studios is the result of an ancient and treasured process.

It’s a lifestyle for Page Chang and her family, who at their home and living workshop in Waimanalo.

Together, they’re immersed in every aspect of the craft from homemade implements to wauke trees and natural dye materials grown in their backyard.

Each step of the kapa making process requires time and patience.

“There’s rhythm,” Chang said. “There’s repetition. It’s like as you go through every step, you get these little surprises. These little gifts that happen every time you finish making something.”

Chang, who’s only one of a few kapa practitioners in the state, started Pukoa about five years ago and she’s designed everything from large art pieces to wearable fashion, including jewelry, belts, and accessories ― all displayed at a downtown studio.

Pre-pandemic, the business had one of its busiest years. And then came the shutdowns.

“Every single festival was canceled,” Chang said. “Every retail store was closed. My studio downtown, they literally locked the building, so we couldn’t even get in. They gave us one day to go in and grab things. Shut down, everything pau.”

Despite the damage to the business, the community service had to go on ― such as lessons for about 100 students at five schools.

“I decided that we need to make sure these kids have access to kapa, so I started working on the computer and built a full kapa educational program online,” Chang said. “So basically an interactive slideshow and presented that to all of my classes.’

And with husband Geoff’s help, students got their own sets of tools and material.

Turning back to the business, it was time for Pukoa to go online, so Chang enlisted the help of her two daughters.

Perry Chang, who lives in San Diego, designed the website.

“It’s been a steep learning curve because I’m not a professional in any way,” Perry said. “This is all stuff that I learned from media classes in high school and videos and tutorials and all things like that.”

And Jasmine Chang handled the photo shoots and social media presence.

“The company was always more of an older generation of people that were kind of always interested and I feel like this website really helped us target younger people and give them access to look at our stuff,” Jasmine said.

And suddenly, kapa had a whole new clientele.

“The website not only brought the kapa to everyone, but at Christmas we did very well,” Page said. “First time I ever had to fulfill stuff and put it in boxes like ‘oh my gosh, this is a whole new thing,’ but people started buying the art pieces of kapa and paintings too. People that I never had really reached otherwise.”

With the online shop now populated and the downtown studio reopened, Chang is once again teaching in person and among her chief lessons, kapa is more than just a craft, it can be an industry and a way of sustainability.

As it sustained the Chang family, as well as, Pukoa Studios.

“It’s a big part of our lives and it was really cool to see my daughters step in too,” Geoff said. “Everybody came together and helped out and pushed through, no one ever quit.”

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