Shared from Pacific Business News
dave pang
Dave Pang, founder of Malama Eco Products, shows his company’s eco friendly plates that are made from sugar cane Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, in Honolulu  |  Photo Credit: EUGENE TANNER | PBN

Nine years ago, David Pang’s business — introducing compostable and biodegradable tableware and utensils to Hawaii’s consumers — stemmed from a simple idea to “save money and save the aina.”

Pang, who grew up in the Islands, spent a lot of time outside and on beaches filled with litter.

“The business is rooted in one principle and that is: What is good for the environment?” Pang said in an interview with Pacific Business News. “People are always talking about cleaning up because plastic and chemicals are making their way into our streams, oceans and eventually the food that we eat … What if there aren’t any toxins or plastic to clean up? How do we minimize that impact?”

Pang is a partner with Hawaii-based Ilio Products, maker of Malama Eco Products, in addition to being a pet industry veteran with more than two decades of experience. He studied marketing at University of Hawaii at Manoa and later began his career with a Hawaii pet food and supplies distributor.

“I learned to listen to people,” he said. “If the masses like something, then give them what they want. If you remove your ego and listen to your customers, you will find success.”

Malama Eco Products is not Pang’s first business venture; in 1997, he started Global Sourcing, an import and export company specializing in pet supplies.

Pang became a partner with Ilio Products in 2008 and began importing eco-friendly products to Hawaii and the Mainland.

He said one of biggest challenges the company faced was the tariffs for importing.

“We know what it costs to run a business – we’ve been doing this for 15 years now,” Pang said. “We had to have hard conversations with retailers and had to raise the price of our products, but they understood — it is what it is.”

Among the nearly 10 retailers, Walmart and Longs Drugs are the largest clients. Longs even has its own brand, Paina, which is the same product, just with different packaging, specialized uniquely for them.

“Our retailer relationship is completely individualized. Each store has a different business philosophy and we work with them closely to best achieve their goals,” Pang said.

Pang also mentioned that, when compared to last year, the business has seen a nearly 300% jump in growth, which he attributes to customer education – especially with the recent passing of Honolulu’s Bill 40, the ban on single-use plastics.

“As a business, we have a neutral stand on the bill; however, I do feel lawmakers do need to get a better understanding of how nature works,” Pang said. “We have to try to find that medium ground between killing business and killing the environment.”

Now Pang’s goal is to manage the growth to be more consistent. Part of his strategy is keeping his 11 employees happy and staying true to the business’ mission.

“If we get 90% of people to do 1% of the work to do something about the environment, we’ll see significant change,” Pang said.

How will the plastics ban (Bill 40) impact business/the industry? Obviously, with the passage of Bill 40 on Oahu, there is great concern from many of our customers. I think the bill is a step in the right direction, but I fear the narrow language of the bill may leave out new technology that may be beneficial to Hawaii.

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