Lori Silva grew up Hawaiian. She started dancing hula when she was 5 years old. Her family pounded their own poi. Her grandmother was a Native Hawaiian activist and practiced laau lapaau, or Hawaiian medicine. When she got a sunburn, she got slathered in aloe and was sent outside to dry off. This was all she knew.
“When I was with my grandmother and we’d be on the beach doing things with plants, I just thought ‘Oh, everybody does this. It’s normal,’” says Silva. “Come to find out, it’s not.”
Today, Silva owns her own body care business, Napuaala. Her products are aloe-based and smell like the Hawaiian plants she grew up with. “It was something that I was passionate about,” she says. “It just came together, and I came up with this business. It was second nature.”
Planting the seed
Silva worked hard to lay the groundwork for her business. She put herself through beauty school, where she studied chemistry, and started her career as a hairdresser while working part time and raising her kids.
When she moved to the Mainland, she couldn’t find her favorite scent, pikake, so she decided to make it herself. She spent five years developing an authentic pikake scent. Then it took her 18 years and a move back home to launch her business.
Silva knew the chemistry, the plants, the skin care. When it came to sales, she was doing craft fairs and festivals like Made in Hawaii and Merrie Monarch. She knew she needed to do more, but what was next?
“I didn’t know that there were places you could go to get money for your capital, to scale. I didn’t even know what ‘upscale’ meant,” she says. “You could take a person like me who went to beauty school. But the business side wasn’t my strength, I just needed some help to figure out the ins and outs of running a business.”
Taking care of business
Silva connected with YWCA’s Minority Business Development Agency Enterprising Women of Color Business Center through the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement. The resource center provides free classes and counseling in business analysis, finance, marketing, and SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) to anyone who comes through their doors.
“That’s what they do,” says Silva. “They help people like me who have no clue what to do or what steps to take next.”
The center’s mission is to help minority women business owners find ways to grow. “We have been privileged to assist women entrepreneurs like Lori – who represents where there is a will, there is a way – in establishing and growing a business,” says Marla Momi Musick, center director. “Historically, minority women in particular have had a steeper mountain to climb, particularly when trying to access capital.”
Despite common barriers like lack of funding, limited business networks, and lack of confidence, 44,000 businesses statewide are majority-women-owned. “Recent research has confirmed that only 2% of all venture capital funding is awarded to women-owned businesses,” says Musick. “The center is focused on ensuring minority women-owned businesses can increase their competitive edge. We help our clients navigate our own and other community resources and opportunities to position them for growth.”
The center provided a neutral and confidential sounding board to help more than 3,300 clients learn how to refine and expand their businesses through accounting, marketing, insurance and bonds, human resources, legal, exporting, e-commerce, and more in their first year.
Silva completed the center’s certification program, which made her one of fewer than 30 certified Women-owned Small Businesses in Hawaii. The certification allows her to compete for government contracts that are set aside for women-owned, veteran-owned, service-disabledveteran-owned, and minority-owned businesses. She was also certified as a Women Business Enterprise, which allows her to compete for corporate contracts set aside for women-owned businesses.
“It’s women helping women, people helping people,” Silva says.