This Mānoa Couple Makes Fresh Charcoal and Tea Tree Soap in Their Home
Enterprising couple Wendy and Mike Hee’s ode to home, sweet home is as fresh and as clean as it gets.
Photos: Odeelo Dayondon
Wendy, Mike and Aka: The My Mānoa team.
Enclaves of cottage-style houses tucked among trees heavy with fruit; gracefully sloping mountains sheltering hidden hiking trails and whirling flower vines; a fine veil of tropical mist. For many, Mānoa Valley is the embodiment of paradise. But, for soap makers Mike and Wendy Hee, it’s simply “home,” and they’re grateful for that every day.
Not to mention inspired. Three years ago, when the couple (an IT consultant and operations manager by day) scored the perfect house in the neighborhood they’d always dreamed of, they finally had the space to work on some of their sustainable passion projects. Thus was born My Mānoa, an invigorating collection of handcrafted soaps made in small batches with organic and natural ingredients right from their wee homestead.
The endeavor was one that Mike had long wanted to begin. “About 10 years ago, someone gave me a bar of homemade olive oil soap and I really liked the way it made my skin feel,” he says. “I told Wendy about my experience and she took the idea and ran with it.”
The first few batches the Hees made just for themselves. “Then we started giving it away as gifts and eventually opened a small online shop,” says Wendy. It was the ideal project for celebrating the things the duo loved most about Mānoa—old-school charm, a sense of fun and a strong connection to nature.
Conceptual packaging is a huge part of My MĀnoa’s aesthetic. Left to right: Mike readies the latest batch—the slicer ensures tidy, even bricks. Freshly cut green tea soap bars. Wendy sews each Muslin tea bag by hand.
Central to My Mānoa’s cache of products is charcoal and tea tree soap, made with activated charcoal, perfect for drawing out impurities and toxins. The Hees also make an invigorating Kona coffee soap (think of it as an exfoliating wake-up call for your skin), antioxidant-rich green tea soap, organic beeswax surf wax and laundry detergent in soothing lavender. Wendy, who is in charge of cooking up each batch, along with handling production and customer service, goes through dry runs and scent testing to ensure that each soap is perfect. Mike dives in with his graphic design skills, spearheading branding and packaging.
The Hees pay great attention to the My Mānoa look. Most of the soaps come packaged in rustic, brown-paper pouches labeled with a simple, typewriterlike font. All incorporate a playful air. The green tea soap, for example, is nestled inside a hand-sewn muslin “tea bag,” the coffee soap comes in a roll-top paper sack reminiscent of a coffee bag and the charcoal is—you guessed it—tucked inside a teeny charcoal sack.
Sustainability is also a key aspect of the business, with low-impact ingredients and practices central to the My Mānoa way. Every scrap of leftover soap is used to make liquid soap for the house, and all packaging materials are environmentally friendly, avoiding any unnecessary waste.
My Mānoa has come a long way from its quiet roots. Now, its products can be found in local boutiques throughout Honolulu and the brand has been tapped by a local spa to craft unique soaps for its guests. Talk about cleaning up.
For the Hees, however, it’s always been about creating, designing, spreading the Mānoa love and—hopefully—inspiring others to upcycle or create ecofriendly products in their own homes. My Mānoa may be just taking off, but, for them, it is already beyond successful. As Wendy says, “The best way to be successful is to do what you love, and enjoy doing it. Good things inevitably follow from there.” Now, that’s a fresh perspective.
My Mānoa is available at mymanoa.com, at the Green Mountain gift shop, 2819 Ka‘onawai Place, 808-200-5975, and the Sugarcane gift shop, 1137 11th Ave., Suite 101, 808-739-2263.