Banana Patch Inspiration

Joanna Carolan with her latest book, ‘The Magic Ukulele’. Coco Zickos photos

Joanna Carolan
Owner, Banana Patch Studio, Aloha Spice Company and Banana Patch Press

Please tell us about your business.

Banana Patch Studio in Hanapepe and Kilauea is an art gallery and gift store carrying Kaua‘i-made art, crafts and other goods. Hand-painted tiles, pottery, wonderful Hawaiian fabric goods, lotions, soaps and candles are among the items that I sell in these stores, where we feature six different local artists, including myself — I mostly work in watercolors. I also own Aloha Spice Company in Hanapepe, which carries food products and a line of organic seasonings made with Hawaiian sea salt and smoked on the island. My husband, Dr. Carolan, and I also own Banana Patch Press, which produces children’s books that he writes and I illustrate. All of my products sell to about 80 to 100 gift stores on all the islands as well.

When did you start your business?

I started Banana Patch Studio in 1991 in Lawai in an actual banana patch, which is how I came up with the name. It started as a production studio and I just did wholesale. When the hurricane hit in 1992, most of the gift stores closed, so I started doing hand-painted tiles for people’s kitchens and baths when they were rebuilding. I did one of the little tiles as a house-warming gift that said, “Mahalo for removing your shoes.” And then, as the gift stores started opening up again, stores wanted to carry the tiles. So we wholesaled those and the pottery until I outgrew the space in Lawai and bought the Hanapepe Pool Hall Building in 1999. It took four years to restore, and we opened in 2003.

Why did you start your business?

I’ve always loved art. I had gone to school to become an English teacher, and I really didn’t think I could make a living at art. But I loved it so much, I thought, why not try?

Carolan designs and creates her own ceramics

What is your latest children’s book?

We just released The Magic ‘Ukulele. The book is about an ‘ukulele and how music can take you on a journey. So even if you’re unable to travel, that’s part of the beauty of music, it can take you anywhere, particularly the ‘ukulele, which is an easy-to-transport instrument, and so it’s easy to play and easy to learn. It has worldwide popularity, and we’ve transported a lot of Hawaiian culture through this wonderful instrument.

What are your secrets to business success?

It really is a team effort of my 30 employees. I feel that it is something that, certainly, while I started it, would not be successful without so many people working together. That’s one of the things I really pride myself on, and really thank my staff for, is just what a great team we are, particularly in this economy and this climate.

What do you make in-house?

We do all of our own pottery lines, and all of our ceramic tiles are hand-painted here. I opened up the studio so people can know how everything gets made because people don’t really get to see that anymore. All of our manufacturing has gone overseas, so I thought it would be really interesting for people to see what they’re buying actually being made. To reduce our environmental footprint, we also installed photovoltaic panels that run our kilns.

How did you learn how to do ceramics, illustrating and painting?

Mostly just trial and error.

Carolan started hand-painting tiles in the early 1990s

Where were you born and where did you go to high school?

I was born in San Francisco and I attended Kapa‘a High School.

Where does your artistic inspiration come from?

Mostly from the beautiful island that we live on.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your business?

That we are making products here and it supports local families. It keeps our people employed and supports our economy.

What makes you get up every day and go to work?

My staff and the beauty of Kaua‘i that we get to share. Sharing aloha.

Kung Lung Center
Hanapepe Town