We build canoes.☝️This one is new. Click.
February 13, 2024
There were some great and thoughtful responses to my last email (which if you didn’t read, can be found here — a winding recap of the last few years in our quest to keep canoes made in Hawai’i). Perhaps my favorite response, "My Noio has a soul." I appreciate the encouragement. Our mission continues.
While our move is still in progress, we already feel the advantages of a better organized and smaller space. Tools are within reach, and we spend way less time walking! It'll be more efficient, and I am excited to focus more on the craft of building boats. For our team of builders, this means more variety of work, a little less focus on high-rate specialization, and more emphasis on the art of canoe building from start to finish.
With all these changes, we are also making a few updates to our pricing and custom options. Both a lower entry point starting at $5900, and way more custom paint options available.
Complete information on the Noio OC1 Order Form
A few other notes:
We are still taking deposits for the Gorge delivery! Please follow up with email@example.com if interested.
Our mailing address will remain the same.
The new location is behind our current building, open regular hours in starting in March.
We are slowly but steadily pushing out a number of older canoes at lower costs. Please inquire if interested!
More updates soon!
Thanks for reading.
December 29, 2023
As 2023 comes to a wrap, I want to share some detailed updates from us at Kamanu Composites. We're on the move again. Though it's less exciting than our last shop move three years ago. We are consolidating our shop to about half the space over the next four to six weeks. We've had a wild run since 2020, and I've led us a little too close to the rocks, to the point that we're no longer financially viable without substantial changes. It's a decision I've delayed making as long as possible. But, at this point, it's our best path forward and will enable our long-term sustainability. If you don't read further, please know that Noio production will not be interrupted. We are more confident than ever that it's the best canoe in the world and is the ONLY OC1 model exclusively made in Hawai'i.
More on the Noio further in this letter, but first, I want to say I am incredibly proud of our canoe-building team. They've delivered continually over a pretty chaotic few years. In 2020, we went from a company-wide layoff to a scrappy startup making face shields during the lockdowns. That led to a large contract where we employed 90+ people, producing 20,000+ face shields daily while continuing canoe production. It was a little bonkers. And it was a massive deal for us.
In 2021, we had significant working capital for the first time, and we faced three options:
- Close the business with a windfall: Sad but financially savvy.
- Sell new equipment from the face-shield project and return to our original operation: We'd spent a decade losing money or barely breaking even, and going back to that was not a viable option.
- Scale up: a risky way to spend life-changing money, but also the only path with the possibility of keeping local canoe building alive and providing a living wage for our team. YOLO! The choice was easy.
It's been almost three years since then. We have done a lot but haven't achieved the growth we set out for. Reflecting, I can attribute a lot to my failures. We didn't execute fast enough. We overextended ourselves on rent and labor costs. But also, there is the reality that outrigger canoes are a surprisingly small market. Of the type we paddle in Hawaii, some 80% are made in China, and we make up the bulk remaining percentage. We are climbing in market share, but manufacturing is still excruciatingly difficult. In Hawai'i, it's nearly impossible. We face high rent, electricity, insurance, materials, and labor costs. The odds are stacked against us.
I've always believed that we could innovate our way around it. To some extent, we have. The Noio has had an exceptional first season and continues to win over paddlers. We regularly deliver customer boats in the 16-17 lb weight range. We've made tremendous gains in quality and labor productivity. We've gone from about 10-12% market share in 2022 to almost 20% this year. Hawai'i, perhaps more than anywhere in the world, supports local. But with a few missteps, and now, with an industry-wide drop in canoe sales this year vs last, we don't believe we can sustainably sell 8-10 canoes a week that we need to for our current space to work. There are also several more capital-intensive step functions in manufacturing capability required before we could ever compete on price.
In hindsight, this decision should have been made eighteen months ago. But I was holding on to those hopes and dreams of growth. I've always believed in what we do. Our team gets to bring the coolest things into the world. By spending the vast majority of our revenue locally, we contribute to Hawai'i's economy. As witnessed by the pandemic, local manufacturing adds resilience to our islands. It's an endlessly challenging creative pursuit, skill, art, and application of technology. With the limited amount of craftsmanship like this happening in Hawaii, I feel it's vitally important that we continue. And, to be honest, I will be devastated if nearly 100% of OC-1s are made in China.
While our path is full of ups, downs, and big curves— my goal is the same as we started with in 2007: to build the world's best canoes in Hawai'i and create a lasting company that has a positive impact on the world.
Downsizing does mean a couple of steps back on diversification and max production capacity, but we save significant amounts on rent, insurance, and utilities, and most importantly we can achieve financial sustainability. By applying all our gains and improvements over the last three years in a smaller more focused shop, I fully believe our best is yet to come.
A few final and somewhat disconnected thoughts for anyone interested:
- I suspect those of you reading this are already some of our most dedicated supporters, and we probably don't say it enough– but thank you. Ultimately, we can only do what we do with your support.
- We are open to financial and business development partnerships. Unfortunately, our business model doesn't make for a wise investment, and there aren't a lot of composite products that make sense to build in Hawai'i. But if you're passionate about ensuring that outrigger canoes are built in Hawai'i, and you have capital or good ideas, then I'd love to talk.
- We're keeping critical assets like the autoclave and most CNC manufacturing equipment in the move. We are selling an Onsrud 145M CNC and UR10 5-axis robot. Let us know if you're interested.
- My software as a service project (GrugNotes.com – ai notes, wiki, and knowledge base) accounts for about 1/2000 of Kamanu Composites revenue! It's absurd but potentially a source of diversification outside of manufacturing. It’s free to sign up if you’d like more updates about it, and if you use note-taking software, please consider one that helps support local canoe-building! :)
- We have canoes in stock. Our average lead time has been around eight months for most of our existence, so we need to spread the word: the best doesn't mean the longest wait! If you or anyone you know is looking for a canoe, we regularly have stock canoes and custom lead times are one to three months.
- Marketing is something we will focus on in the New Year. We operate with nearly zero marketing budget, but we also realize an entire generation doesn't know our story. We'll share a little more on official social channels @kamanucomposites on Instagram – and I'll share more video content on YouTube. As a company, we have continuously operated quietly, somewhat guarding techniques, designs, etc. But times change, and so much of the exciting work we do is within the walls of our shop. I hope to share more of it.
- Retail and office will remain open for most of January—more updates to follow.
Thanks for reading and being the best customers and supporters of our dreams to build.
Aloha and Happy New Year to you all,
Co-founder & CEO
Kamanu Composites, LLC
We Build Canoes
September 25, 2023
We are looking for full-time canoe builders to join our team! In its most modern form, we are composite technicians using techniques and tools typically only seen in the aerospace industry. We are proud to do this locally in Kailua in our mission to build the world's best outrigger canoes. Positions start at $15 and range to $25/hr with experience. No direct experience is necessary, but examples of work, art, or projects demonstrating your skill, willingness to learn, and passion are helpful. An interest in paddling is always a plus.
The initial role will focus on finishing, the final step in canoe building that transforms our product from molded carbon fiber to an outrigger canoe! Tasks include detailed inspection, wet sanding, buffing, stickering, repairs, rigging, polishing, grinding, cleaning, organizing, and anything else that can help build great canoes. With experience, we encourage builders to learn all aspects of our production, including lamination work and spraying.
If interested, please email a cover letter and resume to firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 01, 2020
We’re proud to announce we’ve received an Innovation Grant for PPE Supply Chain from HTDC and the State of Hawai’i. The grant is a game-changer for us and will allow us to scale up our face shield production to tens of thousands per day. With the use of the funds, we’ll be hiring 30-50 people over the next 6 weeks.
During the initial stay-at-home order in March, we layed off 17 people and completely shut down our canoe building business. We thought it was the end of our business. One of our employees had the bright idea to donate our unused PPE that we use for canoe building to local hospitals. In dropping off a few thousand dollars in tyvek suits, gloves, and respirators, we saw the shortage situation first hand. It spurred us to want to help more, and in a couple of days, we figured out a way to make a face shield using material that we had in the shop. We planned to make a few hundred.
Within a week, we hired our outrigger canoe manufacturing team back, and in two weeks, we had shipped more face shields than we had canoes in 13 years. It both gave us a concrete way to help with the pandemic and also allowed us to keep our people employed.
We now have over 800,000 face shields on order and have been ramping up production as much as possible to meet that demand. But, given our machine, space, and labor constraints, we are currently maxed out at 10,000 weekly face shields. The HTDC grant enables us to pursue several large equipment purchases to produce up to 100,000 face shields per week by the end of October from our Kailua warehouse. Our goal is to produce 900,000 face shields by the end of the year while continuing to produce four or five outrigger canoes per week. Not only will this increase PPE capacity in Hawai’i, but it enables us to help provide needed jobs.
With increased manufacturing capacity and efficiencies, we’ve reduced our prices significantly to $4 for any quantity and will be giving away ten thousand free shields over the next five months to anyone in Hawai’i that needs them. We’re also making replacement screens available for $2 -- allowing the reuse of the foam band and elastic strap. Which is a feature we haven’t seen in the world of inexpensive face shields.
We hope that improving public health conditions in 2021 will reduce the demand for face shields. However, the equipment purchases enabled by the grant increase our resilience in future pandemics, as we will quickly be able to transition back to face shields in the unfortunate event that they become necessary again.
We feel fortunate to have received the backing of HTDC and the State of Hawai’i, and will use this momentum to help Hawai'i in the best way we know-how. Designing and manufacturing products in Hawai’i is what we've done since 2007 and will continue to do for the rest of our lives. The HTDC grant increases our community’s resilience while encouraging economic diversification and keeping our front line workers more protected. We’re thankful to all of our loyal customers who have enabled us to survive as a company for all of these years, and we’re thankful to be part of the HTDC program and do our part for Hawai’i.
If you’re interested in joining our team through the end of the year at our Kailua facility, please email email@example.com with a brief cover-letter and resume. Starting pay is $15 an hour, with higher paying positions available, as well as bonuses for night time work and production incentives. And if your organization is in need of face shields and can’t afford to purchase them, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with an overview of what you do and how many you need. We can’t guarantee that we’ll be able to provide everyone who needs a shield, but we’ll do our best!
May 16, 2020
We are open, however due to social distancing requirements and because our Kailua shop is a manufacturing facility, please make appointment before visiting. Thank you!