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Designing Island Sharks

This was a challenge for us all on the team and I, personally, learned a lot. Believe it or not I got into chocolate making through brand design. Island Sharks Chocolate was actually one of my clients! Now my challenge I'm learning from is making Island Sharks Chocolate, working with others and running the business. Here is how it all happened.

The Introduction

Walking through the Hilo Farmer's Market, circa 2012, I was enthralled. Sometimes, it was inspiring -- I had never seen so much exotic, rare and unrecognizable fruits (including cacao) and vegetables in my life. I started going multiple times a week and have had healthy Big Island inspired diet ever since. Here are some photos from the market back in 2017.

The vending stalls were filled with ambiguously diverse faces, smiles and cultures. I could not have felt more at home, but I was wrong, eventually I did. Running into another mainlander was perhaps even better than the allure of strangers because it was easier to make a connection. Then again, maybe this meeting was meant to happen. He was a vendor, that I connected too and I soon learned that his general vibe was to connect to his customers. We continued talking and continued to connect further. The reason being, he offered me Hawai'i Chocolate samples and his Dad was there, doing the same too! Sometimes it would be one or another of the two but I would always generously receive the samples of the best tasting chocolate I had ever had. Supporting a local family business got me more tuned-in to the Big Island. The father and son had a shop, "Hilo Sharks Coffee", and later another, "Hilo Sharks Coffee" and eventually a short lived, "Honomu Sharks Coffee". "Sharks", was a nickname for the duo that stuck and was used to market their coffee and cacao products. Their last name is "Sharkey". It was fitting and given way before my time on the island or my introductions to them. The Hilo and Honomu shop names came from the locations on the island.

One of the Hilo Sharks Coffee locations
Hilo Sharks Coffee later, circa 2017

I had returned to this market with an eagle eye and noticed how many decades late all the branding was at the market. It was so sad. There were so many vendors trying so hard to profit but their products and labels and were so out-dated. The Sharkey's were no exception. So I shared what I do with them. With strong imaging of vicious sharks, it seemed like I could be of service to them. I liked the idea of working with a father and son too, so I began to discuss toning down the imagery of their branding... Here is a friendlier, cooler shark I finally came up with years later.

Island Sharks Chocolate Logo
The Earlier Island Sharks Chocolate Logo

I got to know them well and they me. I learned about their business, cacao farming and chocolate making. Conceiving of new designs for their brand / labels would have to have come from that inspiration. There is nothing like cacao and chocolate in Hawai'i, its unique in a lot of ways. The biggest problem in the whole industry, I got to learn, was branding. The chocolate had some room to improve too...

The Conception

It turned out, the son Erin, had been asked by his Hawai'i cacao farmer Dad, to start his own brand. With no startup skills Erin turned to me for support. I began Hilo Sharks Chocolate Instagram account for him to begin on. Years later, it has been changed to The Chocolate Wave, Hilo Chocolate Company and finally Island Sharks Chocolate. Just how did that happen?

The Chocolate Wave and Leilani Chocolates, 2 Other Brands I Designed.
The Chocolate Wave and Leilani Chocolates, 2 Other Brands I Designed.

Erin brought his father-in-law to the island. He actually got him to move here. Part of the deal was that they were to run this soon-to-be named chocolate company together. I did not know this as the design exec and kept professional distance for years, practicing making my own hand-crafted Hawai'i bean to bar chocolate. It wasn't until about 5 years after meeting Erin that I was officially brought in to help create the son's brand. His father had waited too and at this point I had waited to do work on his brand for several years. We had simply stayed friends (with minor collaborations) for over half a decade. Finally the day came when I was hired by him and his step-dad Bob to formally design the brand. However, they did not have a name yet.

Here are some examples of my early work on the brand before the name was solidified. And the Hilo Sharks Chocolate image is still the logo for Erin's dad's business.

Our Name

Our name Island Sharks, came from the minds of Erin and Bob and I. We tossed out a few choices (like "Sharkey's") and chose to keep the "Sharks" in our name because Erin is a Sharkey, just like his Dad -- it was to be mainly Erin's brand and we wanted to grow Tom Sharkey's (Erin's Dad's) Hawai'i Cacao Legacy. This name emerged around the same time I was invited to officially join into a business partnership with them. I invited them to join the business with me too as my passion had left graphic design permanently and was now skewed towards chocolate making -- I had decided to start my own chocolate company one day anyway. We would eventually merge our chocolate making into 1. We formed a legitimate partnership as Island Sharks Chocolate and so I could finally begin on the logos, boxes, website and alike. I also could now make my own chocolate in partnership with the "Sharks". The client's project had finally come to fruition, about 5 years later, but was transformed from just a job into a way for this author to support Hawai'i Cacao's legacy and lineage. Its a way to aloha 'aina.

Here are some designs we have worked on together as Island Sharks.

Developing the Roles I learned painfully quick that my earlier plan to "run my own chocolate company", was extremely flawed. I had cut my self out to fill all the roles from banking to wrapping and making. I had dreamt that my place was everywhere all at once. That is somewhat true to this day though but now much less painless due to the additional business partners and the business is actually manageable. It actually would not be possible without them. Bob and Erin, as older male role models to me, were (and are to this day) amazing. They showed me cooperation, patience and love that I have never seen in business relationships before. Sure they were step-father and son, but I started to feel like family. It started to feel like a home of sorts. A dream that they had, more insightful than mine, was to work with family. Never having the opportunity to do so earlier in life, working with family-like members began to nourish me. It was good insight and has helped me understand myself and my own characteristics better.

Bob and I, Holding Down The Business In Hawai'i.

I was never so happy to be wrong, running a chocolate company with a family and as an "ohana", was unbeatably fulfilling. I continued to be wrong. For example, I was never meant to just be an independent graphic designer, I was always meant to work with others. Ooops. I also thought, I'd never be a chef or cook. My mistake, now I cook and write recipes for a living! I didn't understand my self and my role in my own life until I started making chocolate with the guys. I began to feel personal growth in ways only foretold to me by my elder business partners. And no one else. Ever. At one point, way in the past, I even thought I'd never live in Hawai'i. It's been good to be wrong and to be able to rely on my business family. I felt at home.

Erin Lugging Hawaii Cacao Beans on His Last Visit.
Erin Lugging Hawaii Cacao Beans on His Last Visit.

I went forward happily and humbly with a bent on learning more about myself and chocolate making. Erin moved to California and Bob and I began making all the Hawai'i craft chocolate. Here are our most recent creations!

Have you seen the limited holiday and seasonal bars? We have created over 15 chocolate bars in total though only some are available regularly. Only several have had the chance to be put online. Sometimes, I cannot play the role of photographer and social media manager while creating special small-batches of chocolate from scratch. It can still be a lot. So, our limited and seasonal bars will always return, but won't be able to be in production year round.

Our Christmas bar with vegan peppermint candycanes and vegan marshmallow in dark chocoalte.
Vegan Peppermint CandyCane Marshmallow Hawaii Dark Chocolate Available Every Holiday Season

Ultimately we have both become better chocolate makers and Erin, who taught us everything is marketing for Island Sharks Chocolate on the mainland. It took years for our roles to get to where they are now. Growth is slow and that seems to make our business more sustainable.

The Aftermath

2 chocolate bars; Island Sharks and Hilo Sharks
Hilo Sharks Chocolate and Island Sharks Chocolate

There are some things I would change now, looking back, on the packaging designs. I would currently like to change somethings about the website and our social media is a constant work in progress. I would have liked to get even more input on our original designs before finalizing them. Perhaps working with more people would have been more productive? I don't think I was ready at the time, but please let me know if you would like to collaborate now! I thought I could design the new Sharks labels easily. Most likely it was about 6 months of work, overtime the whole time. Island Sharks Chocolate was not a very lucrative graphic design client...although I did get a chocolate company and some priceless relationships from it.

I've gotten to learn about myself, most valuable of all. And I still have lots to learn but I think that I am done with new graphic and brand design clients. The best part was working with others after all! I know the design world is very collaborative, but working hands on in the kitchen with others is where I thrive -- where I can grow.

I couldn't help but get swept away from my stuck, Vitamin-D deficient digital arts world. The transportive quality of chocolate can take me anywhere. I never feel stagnant in this field. I can just melt a piece of rich, luxurious, creamy and dark chocolate in my mouth, and detect myriads of flavor and smell aromas from around the world. I happened to learn I like traveling too, and our chocolate transports me. Hawaii Chocolate is exotic, new and growing. Please note the brand designs of all forth-coming and previous existing brands. We tried to stand out. We aimed to represent the tropical 'aina. We designed our product to speak for itself. Please give it a try and use #sharksshare to share your feedback, tasting notes and comments. I personally welcome everyone's feedback as there will always be more for us to learn.

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