Kapono Chung, Ty McLaren, Hiro Shinn of Koa
More than a millennia before the 1850 sugar rush, Polynesian settlers formed Hawaii’s indigenous culture: fishing, farming and becoming the foundation for more than 527,000 kanaka maoli living today in the US.
Between 1850-1900, thousands of laborers from China, Portugal, Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Puerto Rico and Okinawa migrated to Hawaii, the cluster of islands located nearly equidistant between North America and Asia. Chinese laborers were some of the first migrants to arrive, and were also some of the first to collectively create a middle class alongside Portuguese cowboys (who were granted citizenship, land, and higher positions on the basis of their European heritage). Some of these workers (and, realistically, indentured servants), pushed on towards the mainland, but many stayed.
Thus formed the melting pot of Hawaii, a place battling between sustaining Polynesian indigenous culture, developing a truly pan-Asian state, fighting the tourist economy’s ongoing gentrification and exploitation alongside the daunting course of nature, as the future of several of the islands are likely to be submerged in less than 50 years.
This is why Hawaiians today, identifying with many aspects of Hawaii’s history, are now looking to find a balance between tradition, humanity and nature by noting the taste, smell and air of their homeland.
Ty, Kapono and Hiro, the founders of a Hawaiian beauty brand Koa, returned to the islands during Covid, reflecting on their home. For them, it’s a place where they feel like they truly belong. It provides a sense of balance. Kapono, who is also part Hawaiian, reflects on the common saying ‘Living Pono’, which means to be balanced.
“Living Pono is in the beauties of Hawaii– from the wisps of the warm ocean breeze to the crashing waves against monstrous mountains. From the beaming sun that warms the valleys to the pouring rain that blooms luscious green forests, these are just some of the Hawaiian adornments that come to mind when manifesting balance into Koa.”
The equilibrium of Hawaiian cultural elements is what sustains their visions for their brand and ignites the passion for what they do.
Below are some sensorial moments from the three friends.
In Hawaii the air smells like flowers and salt water. The moisture and heat on your skin feel healing and everything and everybody looks healthy. I love the food. I love the beach and I love the people. It is the one place that I totally blend in.
– Kapono Chung
Manoa is full of plants and flowers, so the air is sweet and vegetal. It’s quiet, but you can hear the sound of cars driving on the wet road and the Myna birds talking. The valley is always a lush green and after heavy rains you can see Manoa falls in the back of the valley. Driving into the valley in the afternoon, the sunset hits the mountains, and they almost look like they’re on fire, turning from green to golden yellow and orange.
– Ty McLaren
My mother is the strongest woman I know. She ventured out alone from Japan to the US in her early twenties, having picked up English by listening to American radio shows at night. She built a successful career in New York City before being stricken with intestinal cancer, which she fought through and then decided to have a baby (me) right after. She is a tiger mom but it comes from a deeply loving place. She has a wry sense of humor and despite going through many, many hardships always steps forward with purpose. It has been a great pleasure to spend the last year living with her at home in Hawaii.
– Hiro Shinn
Koa is a genderless, sustainable skincare brand founded by three young Hawaiians and dedicated to cultivating Japanese Yuzu, Hawaiian Kukui Nut and Pacific Giant Seaweed to balance the skin, self and planet.