The Many Uses Of Bamboo

David “Julian” Ruppert
Owner, Bamboo Works

Please tell us about your business. Bamboo Works in Kapaa sells pretty much everything made of bamboo, from building materials to furniture, and from clothing to gifts, accessories and kitchen-ware. We also have a lot of things that aren’t actually bamboo, like artwork, coconut purses and other natural-fiber products such as tea grass rugs. Mostly the focus is bamboo with a lot of other things mixed in.

Why did you start this business? When I was living on Maui before moving to Kauai, there was a bamboo patch that I would pass every day, and I always thought it’d be cool to build a bamboo house. One of my neighbors happened to have all this bamboo that one of his former tenants had imported from Thailand, and asked if I wanted it. I built a bamboo gazebo. From there, in 1995 I was introduced to an architect who asked me if I wanted to work with him creating prefabricated bamboo structures and buildings. I built many bamboo structures and homes in the Hawaiian Islands over the years. I decided I wanted to do my own thing, and since I always liked to come over to Kauai to surf, and I knew no one was doing this kind of business on the island at the time, it seemed like a perfect place to open a business. Since construction was up, I thought I’d give it a try. So I moved over and started the business in 2001.

What’s the key to having small-business success on the island? You’ve got to change with the times. We’ve been in our current location for about five years; previously I was in the Kauai Design Center in Kapaa that had a lot of designers, home décor and architects in there, so we had similar clientele. When I was in there, I just did furniture and building materials, but when we moved, I had to mix it up. Since we have a lot of visitor traffic, I changed my product line to accommodate that, so now we sell a lot of clothing and gift items that we didn’t sell before. If I would have stayed in the building material and furniture market during that recession period, we would have had a hard time surviving. You’ve just got to keep it fresh, and I always try to bring in new products.

Why bamboo? I’ve just always had a fascination with it. It’s a great renewable resource. Unlike a tree, once you harvest it, you have to replant it – a tree might take 40 years to reach maturity. Bamboo you can harvest annually every year; you don’t have to replant.

How is bamboo clothing made? It’s a very similar process to rayon. The bamboo is pulverized into a pulp and spun into yarn. It’s super soft – they call it eco cashmere. It’s also naturally antibacterial, it wicks away moisture from your skin and it doesn’t hold odor.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of this business? I enjoy travelling and picking new products. I’ve been to Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand.

What’s the most challenging aspect of this business? Kauai is kind of a small market, and it’s hard to get things here that people need in a timely fashion.

What are the benefits of bamboo furniture? On the ecological level, it’s the renewability of it. Now, a lot of wood furniture is coming out of Indonesia, and the forests are totally depleted. Also, in Hawaii, bamboo furniture instantly imparts a tropical feeling. It fits.

What is bamboo’s durability? It’s just as durable as wood, except when it’s outside and exposed to the elements, you really have to put a finish on it. Interior, however, there are no issues. It’s just as good as wood furniture.

What makes you get up every day and go to work? I don’t feel like I’m going to work. I enjoy what I’m doing. It inspires me when customers really like the product and enjoy the store.

If you weren’t doing this and could do anything, what would it be? I’d be a professional traveler.

Open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (during Old Kapaa Town first Saturday art-walk until 9 p.m.), and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

4-1388 Kuhio Hwy., Kapaa