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Aloha for Japan Revealed Hawaii’s Heart

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Who Raised the Money and Where It Went


Businesses Show Aloha for Japan

Early on March 10, 2011, 10 community-minded T-shirt makers, whose business is tracking new trends, were tossing around ideas to add juice to Hawaii’s global marketing effort. The merchandisers set a meeting to talk face to face the next day – Friday, March 11 – which turned out to be the morning after a powerful earthquake and tsunami flattened parts of Japan.

“We decided to meet anyway,” says Brian “BJ” Sabate, of Butigroove, who started folding T-shirts for his father’s business in the sixth grade and has been on his own since 2000.

Overnight, Kyle Shimabukuro, of HiLife Clothing, had created a simple but dramatic logo, Sabate recalls. “After the meeting, a bunch of us went to my warehouse and started printing shirts. We printed 600 and distributed 300 that day.”

Radio host and events coordinator Grant “Lanai” Tabura took Aloha for Japan shirts to TV stations that night in time for the 10 o’clock news. Sales started briskly, Sabate says, and, “It just snowballed.”

The coalition of Hawaii T-shirt makers called GRP Home Co. (pronounced “group home”) distributed between 20,000 and 25,000 fundraising shirts, which became symbols of aloha on both sides of the Pacific.

GRP Home members – the Aloha Army, Barefoot League, Butigroove, Fitted Hawaii, HiLife Clothing, In4mation brands – decided against printing any corporate logo on the shirt front. “A single palaka block and message was printed on the back to show unity for a greater cause,” Shimabukuro says.

From March to mid-August, the people of Hawaii coordinated hundreds of Aloha for Japan collection points, donation drives, concerts, art shows and other fundraising events through a single website, leaving the shirt makers to do their thing: make shirts. “We learned so much and we made such great contacts, some of us want to keep on working for the benefit of people in need,” Sabate says. “We are still donating and selling T-shirts.”

Hawaii businesses, large and small, collectively and individually, found ways to help.

Kurt Osaki, president of Osaki Creative Group, watched disturbing TV coverage of the massive destruction all night and early into the morning of March 11. At 5 a.m., he sent an urgent text to his friend and business partner, Duane Kurisu, founder and chairman of aio. The message simply said: “We gotta do something.”

Kurisu immediately set up the With Aloha Foundation, and a personal connection alerted aio to the situation at Tohoku University Hospital in Sendai. The teaching hospital was working around the clock to care for as many as 1,000 emergency-room patients at a time, while providing food, shelter and comfort to others who were stranded. “We were moved by what was going on there,” says Susan Eichor, president and COO of aio, the parent company of Hawaii Business magazine.

With Aloha organized an April 9 fundraiser at the Pagoda Restaurant and Banquet Rooms that attracted more than 2,000 donors. Each gave $50 or more to enjoy food and entertainment provided free by concerned individuals, groups and businesses. The first check for the Tohoku University Hospital Relief Fund was for $150,000.

“Donations kept coming,” Eichor says. By year’s end, aio had donated a total of $220,000 to support the hospital’s heroic efforts.

Many Hawaii residents visited Japan to share their aloha in person. Among them were Lloyd Kawakami, president of Iolani Sportswear, and his sons, members of the family trio Manoa DNA. They delivered donations of food and water to shelters in Sendai and Miyagi prefectures, then entertained the evacuees.


Photos: Tsunami Debris Project, CBI

Radiation Cleanup

After the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Honolulu-based CBI Polymers donated a shipment of its DeconGel decontaminant and services worth $250,000 to help remove radiological waste from the area.

CBI’s team entered the Fukushima Exclusion Zone in April to show the Japanese Medical Association and other potential partners that DeconGel could remove up to 90 percent of radiological isotopes in a single application (see a picture from the demonstration below).

In August, the U.S. Department of Commerce gave an Export Achievement Award to CBI, one of Skai Ventures’ companies, for its role in Japan’s cleanup and for helping Hungary cope with a disastrous chemical spill.

Five months after CBI’s Japan donation, team members returned to decontaminate outdoor areas of the Asahimachi Baptist School and Little Lamb Kindergarten, making it safe for children to play there again.

DeconGel is also proving its worth in the marketplace, says Galen Ho, CEO of CBI. The company had already made inroads into Japan’s nuclear energy, defense and public-buildings market before the disaster, but substantial sales had to wait until CBI built partnerships and until Japanese federal emergency funds reached the prefectures and remediation agencies.

By year’s end, things fell into place. “We saw a significant increase in orders from Japan in the last quarter of 2011,” Ho says. “We believe this is a reflection that the government of Japan is moving closer to commencing decontamination work on a large scale.”

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