Why you should consider it:
Honolulu offers a laid-back surfer lifestyle as well as a thriving tourism industry. There are a lot of good opportunities in hospitality and plenty of creatives – from illustrators to fashion designers – who are riffing on the distinct aesthetics of Hawaii.
Who it’s good for:
Independent retailers and hospitality entrepreneurs preferring a slower pace of life to the mainland without sacrificing the bottom line.
Honolulu and Hawaii as a whole continue to offer higher salaries than elsewhere in the US, while scoring significantly lower in inequality measures. Plus, the economy is diversifying: startup survival rates are higher here than on the mainland.
Honolulu was slow to modernise its economy in comparison to other US state capitals, but has done so in the past five to 10 years, meaning people can move her with long-term feasibility and diverse business prospects. Innovative co-working spaces like BoxJelly have opened up recently, making it an increasingly attractive hub for freelance creatives and early-stage businesses. The pretty urban centre, with its crescent beach backed by palms, is also packed with independent retailers.
‘Great local design is recognised.’
Matthew Tapia was born and raised in Hawaii and moved around the island of Oahu while growing up. He worked as a graphic designer in New York before moving back to Honolulu 11 years ago. Here he talks about building a career as an illustrator.
What are the pros and cons of working as an illustrator in Honolulu?
‘The pros are probably the most obvious – I live in paradise. I go for a run most mornings, walk my dog every day, hike on the weekends and get out to the beach for a swim whenever I can. Outside of the high cost of living, the cons tend to be more work-specific. The market here for creative work is tight. But, thankfully, through the working relationships I’ve built over the years outside of Hawaii, I’ve been able to keep things moving along at a comfortable level.’
Have creatives benefited from the growth of the tourism and hospitality scene?
‘I would say the resurgence and growth has been as much a result of great local design and artwork being recognised as it has benefited from it. It’s circular in that way. There has always been an amazing pool of talent coming from this tiny, remote island in the middle of the ocean. Personally, I have enjoyed working more and more with local clients over the past 11 years since moving back from New York.’
What are the challenges of setting up your own business and studio in Honolulu?
‘It can be tough and costly at times – although I think that’s the case with any city. And although there is a great community here, it doesn’t compare to the sheer size of the artistic community in cities like New York and San Francisco. But the beauty, community and experiences you’ll have here make it work. It’s a trade-off, right?’
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This article was first published in Courier Issue 37, October/November 2020. To purchase the full issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.