Shadi Keehuweolani, Creator of Cultivar Goods | Zero-Waste Advocate


We interviewed Shadi Keehuweolani, the owner of cultivar goods, who’s on a mission to help people achieve a zero-waste lifestyle.

Tell me about yourself and where you grew up.

I was born in Honolulu but was raised on Hilo in a big multicultural home. Growing up, my parents owned a family store, Hana Hou, which sold an eclectic assortment of cultural and handmade products. My mom was very picky when it came to choosing which items to sell. Her goal was to not only provide beautiful and sustainable local goods, but also items with a story. She likes to know about the creator and their background so that she truly feels connected to the products. In that way, every single item in the store has a beautiful story.

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What is Cultivar Goods’ Origin story?

Cultivar Goods stemmed from this idea of living a better, more sustainable lifestyle that could serve our small Hilo community of 45,000 people. I have always been so inspired by the resourcefulness of our community. If people have the resources and want a certain item, people just make it. If they don’t have the necessary tools, they call someone on the mainland to bring it or create it. I think for this reason, Hilo has so many creatives. We needed to be, especially before the computer era.

Taking inspiration from our peoples’ resourcefulness and creativity, I wanted to further highlight and empower our community through Cultivar Goods. We’re a store that makes it easy for people on the island to live sustainably and embrace the zero waste lifestyle.

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Along with promoting zero-waste products, you also sell handmade items. How did you add that component to your selection of goods?

The handmade side of Cultivar started in Oaxaca, Mexico. A few years ago, a good friend and I decided to travel throughout Mexico, and I wanted to stop at a small town, San Luis Amatlán, known for its weaving culture. Upon arrival, we made our way to the only convenience store and asked the clerk if we could purchase baskets directly from the weavers.

After paying him 20 pesos, he made a town-wide announcement stating that foreigners wanted to buy weaved goods.

I remember waiting anxiously in our rental car for 20 minutes when, out of nowhere, we see a stream of women carrying trash bags and walking to the convenient store. When we entered the store, the women opened their trash bags to reveal beautiful, colorful weaving materials. It was an incredibly exciting moment.

At one point, the entire convenience store was covered in woven goods. We were there with multiple generations of weavers, laughing, weaving and drinking Mezcal. By the end of that evening, we had filled our entire car with baskets. Many of the women offered us to stay at their house, and we ended up dining with some of the women. It was a beautiful, unforgettable experience. We’ve gone back to that small village a dozen times in the past 3 years. It’s one of my favorite places in the world.

Since then, Cultivar Goods has been working with a third generation hand-dyed wool rug weaving family and these folks from Oaxaca.

Do you make any of your products?

I wish I had the time, because I would love to. One day, hopefully!

Do you think about the lifecycle of the products you sell?

Absolutely. I ended a relationship with someone who thought I was too obsessed with recycling. When choosing products, it’s important to look at the whole lifecycle of the product - how they handle their packaging, what happens before we see the product, etc. I definitely choose companies that share the same sustainable values. If we do have plastic products in our store, I would say 90% are recycled or reused.

I’m very thankful though, because our block has a special environmental-focused and sustainably-minded ecosystem. We act like a reef system where one fish feeds off another fish. If a shop on our street has recyclables, other neighboring shops try to reuse them.

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How can we as consumers be mindful about our daily purchases?

  • Unsubscribe from fashion email lists. Limit the temptations of buying into fast fashion.

  • Don’t buy it if you don’t need it. Life isn’t about getting things. Simplify your life and purchasing needs. While I do believe in treating yourself, I don’t believe in fast fashion. I try to reduce how much I purchase. Clothing-wise, I try to limit purchases to every 3 months at least.

  • Before buying a product, inspect everything. Look at the people who own the company. Find out what their values are. It’s very important to be picky at this moment, especially when we are presented with so many products. Many of us have access to technology that allows us to research products, so there’s no excuse to be supporting people whose mission and vision don’t align with yours.

  • Reduce buying plastic products. I try my best not to purchase products made out of plastic or fuel. We shouldn’t overcomplicate the creation of products. Just simplify. Buy natural fibers, things that will last, and if possible, classic and timeless pieces.

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Marushka Hirshon is a Tahitian-American nonprofit founder, community organizer and freelance journalist. She graduated from Stanford University with a B.S. in Science, Technology and Society with a focus in Environment and Sustainability. Follow