Kihei Cotton Factory
Family Grew Cotton in Kihei
Maui’s south shore
from Kihei to Makena was one of Hawaii’s centers for cotton production.
Large tracts of the dry but fertile land along the south Maui coast were
planted in both imported domestic cotton varieties and the wild ma’o,
or native Hawaiian variety.
grandfather of Roy Suda, third generation operator of Suda's Store in
north Kihei, grew cotton on the family's farm behind the Foodland store
until after WWII. The area is now a residential development around Kaeala
the family grew cotton by default. In 1928 Roy’s grandfather, Heimon
Suda, bought the Kihei acreage and moved his family from Haiku to the
South Shore. The farm he purchased had been used primarily for alfalfa.
According to Heimon's son Yoshiji, Roy’s father, in an 1974 interview
in Valley Isle, a long-since defunct Maui newspaper, "when we
bought the place everything was here for alfalfa farming, but we didn't
know how to run the equipment and do those things. So we just started
farming things we knew how to grow."
family grew watermelons and tomatoes or what ever they could on the
fields. "Mr. Murphy came over from the University and suggested we
grow cotton. So we decided to try."
cotton planting was immediately successful for the farming family, but
what were they to do with? Heimon and his wife Hana, decided to complete
the production cycle and established the Kihei Cotton Factory on their
farm to process the cotton fiber.
didn't have the machines (gins) you have to have to grow and produce
finished cotton, but decided to buy two machines - a large one from Japan
and a smaller one from the mainland," he added.
are used to separate the strands of silky cotton fiber from the small
black seeds embedded in the boll. The fiber, which can be blown by the
winds after it emerges from the boll, was probably a botanical adaptation
which helped the plant survive by distributing the seeds on the wind to
Suda's planted ma’o or native
cotton because it was naturally suited to the Hawaii climate. "We
pruned the plants every couple of years" to keep them short for
easier picking, mostly by the children, he added. (Unlike the imported
varieties, which are annuals and have to be replanted every year, Hawaiian
cotton is a perennial plant and can grow and produce for many years. The
plant pictured in Kihei has a trunk diameter of about five inches and
indicates that it has been around for some time.)
Kihei Cotton Factory shipped its cotton all over the state. It was used by
companies producing fabric and by individuals who spun and wove the cotton
for personal use and crafts.
was a family affair. Yoshiji and his sisters worked in every phase of the
business - picking, drying, ginning, bagging, and shipping. Their mother
Hana designed the logo for The Kihei Cotton Factory and, probably with a
twinkle in her eye, made her and her husband's initials, H. S., into the
prominent ($) dollar symbol for the company.
also started a second business stuffing mattresses and futons with the
cotton for local families.
cotton from Kihei Cotton Factory was usually in great demand. "It was
silky, nice cotton and all the cotton we planted was not enough. People
wanted more," Yoshiji said.
family stopped growing cotton after WWII because the children were growing
up and no longer wanted to work in the fields picking the crop. Ma’o
was very labor intensive and could not easily have been mechanized because
of its wild and rangy nature.
family stopped farming cotton after WWII and eventually sold the land for
development into what is now a residential tract in central Kihei.
success so long ago is but a memory of when cotton was King for a time in
South Maui and Hawaii.