When Amy Hammond began heading the annual Made in Hawaii Festival, back in 2000, there were just over 60 exhibitors showcasing home-grown goods, from apparel and jewelry to delish edibles. Some 420 vendors took part in this year’s three-day event, which attracted a record-breaking attendance of nearly 55,000 two weekends ago.
“I am constantly on the lookout for new vendors and unique products statewide. When I see a business with great potential, I pursue them (sometimes for years) to encourage their participation,” Hammond said. “We provide them with various methods of support to ensure … a good chance of succeeding at the festival.”
The event’s made-in-the-islands requirements stipulate that at least 51 percent of the wholesale value of each product up for sale must be added by manufacture, processing, or production within the state.
Each vendor completes a valuation form the festival developed with the state Department of Agriculture, which enforces the state’s Made in Hawaii statute.
As executive director, Hammond handles everything from vendor selection and securing sponsors and partners to marketing, advertising and overseeing site set-up at Blaisdell’s exhibition hall and arena.
The Columbus, Ohio, native moved here as a college student, after winning a pageant dance scholarship to the University of Hawaii — complete with a spot in the Rainbow Dancers lineup. Hammond later picked up another scholarship through which she joined the women’s varsity sailing team. Still an avid sailor, she said the sport keeps her rooted in the islands.
Years ago, when she started her own special events business, Hammond met the original Made in Hawaii Festival coordinator, who was then moving on to a new position. “Opportunity knocked,” she said. “It was serendipity that I have been able to manage the Made in Hawaii Festival all of these years. I have a genuine passion for this event, much like a parent. I don’t have children, but it feels like my baby and really is the end result of my life’s work so far.”
Question: Why do you think interest in the fest, which marked its 24th staging this month, is still growing?
Answer: There are several factors. … “Buying local” is an ever-growing priority or preference among residents. And for visitors, there’s no other venue like the Made in Hawaii Festival to find unique treasures and gifts. There are a lot of creative, entrepreneurial people across the islands with really unique and innovative products. … In our pre-festival marketing efforts, we strive to showcase as many of these new businesses as possible to give shoppers more reasons to come back each year.
Of course, there are many of our regular vendors (especially from neighbor islands) whose products aren’t available elsewhere on Oahu, so that’s an attraction. Many also have a loyal following of customers who line up for their products each year. Plus we offer ongoing cooking demonstrations featuring top chefs and entertainment with Na Hoku award artists, which are also big attractions.
Lastly, thanks to social media tools that increase our online presence and complement print and broadcast media, we are able to reach a wider (and younger) audience and grow our brand recognition locally, nationally and internationally. Likewise, vendors also help spread the word through their own social media platforms.
Q: How has the lineup of vendors changed over the years?
A: Although I still see a good number of mom-and-pop type operations, I am also seeing more companies with a bigger vision for their business who find the Made in Hawaii Festival is a valuable opportunity to introduce or test-market new products.
I like to describe the festival as a “business incubator.” Maui Lavender is a good example. They came to the festival as a startup that quickly became a festival favorite. Now their products are in such high demand that they have to outsource a portion of their lavender, so their products no longer qualify under our made-in-Hawaii guidelines. They are one of our favorite “graduates.” The success of businesses like them makes room for other new vendors to enter the festival.
Q: What sorts of items have you snapped up (as a shopper)?
A: I love hats and literally wear a variety of hats in all the different activities I participate in. I tend to buy a new hat each year — everything from elegant tea hats to lauhala hats and the haku leis to adorn them, including intricately woven feather and shell lei. I have quite a collection.
Q: Five years ago, Made in Hawaii generated at least $10 million in revenue for retailers, and another $14 million from wholesale orders over the course of the year, according to a vendor survey. Estimates regarding current figures?
A: I would say we are easily 5 percent to 7 percent higher than those figures now, especially with the internet as I am sure that many customers find it convenient to purchase or reorder products online. … Our “Buyers Only” trade show takes place before the festival opens to the public, and attracts buyers from across industries, from hospitality to food service to retail. It’s a convenient venue for buyers to meet with multiple vendors and see a variety of products all in one place, and it opens opportunities for our vendors to take large wholesale orders and establish new business relationships.
Q: What do you enjoy most about the festival?
A: Seeing the event come together. I feel like an artist creating a multidimensional art installation. The sights, sounds, smells and energy create an atmosphere that is exhilarating and intoxicating, which is why people love to attend live events. You never know what is going to happen.
Q: Your company, Special Events Hawaii Inc., focuses on marketing and event production. From that perspective, what’s key to sustaining interest in a large annual event like Made in Hawaii?
A: I always think about the experience I want when attending an event: I expect it to be well organized, interesting, fun and memorable. I am always looking for something new/different to feature each year. For example we have worked with the state’s DBEDT (Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism) to present a new product showcase — a show within the show; Outrigger Resorts now conducts its annual Kani Ka Pila Grille talent search at the festival; and in recent years we have added themes to the cooking demonstrations, such as chili and soup challenges that require the chefs to use set numbers of local produce and vendor products in their recipes in conjunction with the Agriculture Department’s “Buy Local, It Matters” campaign.
Q: What sorts of other events are in the works?
A: I am working on the Kauai Chocolate and Coffee Festival, with the Hanapepe Economic Alliance; and a Christmas expo (the Mele Kalikimaka Marketplace and Gingerbread Festival), which is gaining traction with vendors already requesting to participate.
I just finished the Mayor’s Office of Culture and the Arts Mango Jam at Honolulu Hale, Honolulu Magazine’s Best of Honolulu Fest, ESPN’s Sports Festival, Goodwill Goes Glam Gala and Roy Sakuma’s Ukulele Festival Hawaii.
Coming up next year I have the Kailua Town Party, Hawaii Book and Music Festival as well as the Hawaii Chocolate Festival. These are a sampling of the large-scale community events I specialize in as well as handling some other smaller events and marketing for a variety of clients.
Q: What advice would you give someone who aspires to pursue a similar sort of career?
A: Be ever mindful of your follow-through — deliver what is promised and exceed the expectation, if possible. Multi-tasking is the name of the game, and don’t procrastinate. If you want to be an event planner, you must be very organized and able to manage multiple things simultaneously while under extreme pressure. It is not for everyone; the pressure is intense, for sure.
… Last but not least, I get by with a little help from my friends. … Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to do this without my team of friends and their support. In the early days I used to handle the Kraft Foods account, and it is a standing joke if you knew me well you probably have worn the Kool-Aid Man costume. It was not a popular costume so I had to do a lot of coaxing. There is never a dull moment in the wonderful world of special events. … My motto is: “Make everyday a special event!”