• Wendy & Mike Hee

by Mindy Yang

Nestled in paradise, Wendy and Mike Hee founded My Manoa as a passion project. Go behind the scene with us as they share their beautiful Hawaiian valley with us. 

What do you do?
Wendy: I'm an Information Technology Consultant by day, Soap-Maker by night. Mike: I'm an Operations Support Manager.

Where do you live? 
We live in Manoa Valley on Oahu, Hawaii.

If you were to have a book about you, what would be the title? 
Wendy: If You're Not Having Fun, You're Doing it Wrong.

What inspired you to start your business?
Wendy: Before we moved to Manoa, Mike had mentioned to me that he wanted us to make our own soap once we had the space to do so. Some time ago he had used a homemade bar of soap made by a friend's mom and said it was the best soap he ever used. So when we bought our home in Manoa, we sought to check that checkbox off the to-do list! Mike had grown up in Manoa playing little league sports but he had never lived there. He had always told me about how he wanted to live in Manoa and how wonderful it was. So that love for the neighborhood combined with our soap-making hobby in the end inspired us to create My Manoa. Something to inspire eco-friendliness and an appreciation for nature - our ode to the neighborhood.


Mike: I had been plagued by “problem” skin my entire life and used to use a lot of chemical-based products on my face to treat my condition. About 12 years ago, someone gave me a bar of homemade olive oil soap and I was amazed by how much better it made my skin look and feel compared to the store bought “soap” I was using. When I met Wendy, I suggested that we should start making soap for ourselves and to give away as Christmas/birthday gifts. Wendy started making soap, we used it on ourselves and really liked it, so we started giving it away as gifts. I think our friends were afraid to use it at first but it eventually got into the hands of a few “neutral third parties” and we received some very positive feedback. One day, Wendy told me that she was going to start selling the soap online and that we needed to work on a packaging concept. At the time, I was really into smoking meat, so I bought a lot of charcoal and the packaging inspiration for our first product, the charcoal + tea tree soap, came from buying those charcoal bags. Over time we were blessed to meet and work with a few influential people and businesses who supported us and drew local and international (mostly Japan) to our product. Wendy works extremely hard and I think what keeps us (mostly Wendy) going is the emails and verbal feedback that we receive from people who tell us that the soap helps to improve the health of their skin.

Best Scent Memory?
Wendy: Strange to say but my best scent memory is the bedding in my parent's room in the house I grew up in. All I know is when I moved out of my parents' I stole one of their pillow cases just because it had "that smell" that I just loved. Like soft, worn down cotton after the afternoon sun has warmed it up. I can't explain it, it just smelled like a hug. I still have the pillowcase too. It's in terrible condition (threads are coming out, it's a bit torn, etc.) but it reminds me of the house I grew up in and I don't know if I could ever get rid of it. Mike: Burnt shoyu/sugar on the grill. You smell it everywhere in Hawaii.

Favorite food or spices? 
Wendy: Popcorn. My family's "thing" was watching movies together and I guess Popcorn is that ultimate comfort food for me since it reminds me of that. Plus, it's a great, healthier, crunchy alternative to potato chips which is a guilty pleasure of mine. Mike: Crispy pork belly.

Favorite time of day?
Wendy: Evening. Mike and I try to spend most (if not every) evening out on the deck in our yard to see the sky from the sunset on the west-side of the valley and people watch. It's our time to relax and decompress from the day and spend time with our doggies. Mike: Evening, about an hour before sunset until it gets dark. I enjoy watching the way the light changes and how the setting sun casts dramatic shadows everywhere. I also love watching the lights emerge in the windows of the neighborhood houses at dusk. It gives me a cozy feeling and is probably the only scheduled down time for us.

Favorite holiday destination?
Wendy: Manoa! We LOVE the valley. It really is our most favorite place to be. It's a blessing to be able to live there. Mike: Staying at home.

Share a childhood memory with us?
Wendy: I remember attending a wedding or anniversary party with my family (Mom, Dad, brother). And when it was time to start dancing, no one was on the dance floor. It felt as if everyone was staring at the empty floor and yet no one wanted to be the first to dance and I remember wondering why. I remember my dad getting up and before I knew it, my dad and I were on the dance floor. At the time it was such a scary feeling for me and yet so awesome. My dad has always been my hero. Probably one of the best memories of my childhood. Mike: Disneyland with my parents and my sister. I remember going back to the hotel room with my Davy Crocket raccoon hat on and chasing my sister around with a rubber hatchet that had feathers on it.

What's your motto?
Wendy: Don't take yourself too seriously. Mike: Always be humble.

What's your favorite color?
Wendy: Might be boring but I just really like white. I know some people might see it as plain but I think of it as simple, fresh, and a color that gets along with any other color and let's whatever is with it shine or stand out. Mike: Gray.


Do you have a favorite song?
Wendy: Right now I can't stop listening to Light by Odesza feat Little Dragon. It just has a good vibe to it - puts me in good mood. Mike: Carbon Rose by Uyama Hiroto.

What's your favorite flower?
Wendy: The flowers on the lemon tree in our yard. Not only do they smell wonderful but eventually (if we're lucky and the wind doesn't blow them off!) they turn into lemon fruits. Mike: Iris - it’s my mom’s favorite flower. I remember she even had a painting of an iris hanging on our wall.

Who/What inspires you?

Wendy: DIYers everywhere inspire me. I think it's awesome that people take it upon themselves to create things on their own. It's really easy to go to the store and buy the things that we need or want but the sense of pride (and even the sense of failure) in attempting to create things on your own just is one of the best feelings. I think DIYers today are brave and adventurous and I'm inspired by what people have created on their own as well as the defeats they've gone through to get there. It’s that process of entering into the unknown and coming out the other end victorious or defeated that is exciting. Mike: My family - the older I get, the more I appreciate how they raised me and how fortunate I am because of the way they continue to influence me. My parents and sister - knowing all of the stress I put them through yet seeing the unconditional love and support they give to me. My brother in-law - I admire the way he wears so many different hats with constant success, humility and grace. Wendy - she is so supportive of me and is one of the toughest girls I’ve ever met. She always remains very centered, has a tremendous work ethic and I love growing together with her. She is the backbone and heartbeat of our household and she makes me feel stronger.

If a dear friend from afar were coming to stay with you for a weekend, where would you take him/her?

Wendy: For a breakfast bite and coffee I'd take them to Morning Glass in Manoa. Mahina and her crew there are super friendly and the scones, sandwiches and coffee are worth braving the line that they often have there (it's that good). Favorite lunch spots would be Sprout sandwich shop in Kaimuki and Andy's in Manoa - they have healthy offerings and have a good, local, homemade kind of vibe going on that I just love. For gifts/omiyage, we love Green Mountain gift shop in Manoa and Mono in McCully. Green Mountain owner Kyoko stocks really cool, unique items including vintage stuff and she also carries select locally made products that you won't likely find in the gift shops in Waikiki. For some outdoors fun, I'd take my buddy to the Pu’upia trail in Manoa for a nice hike (not too challenging and not super easy either) and Ala Moana beach park for a swim or paddle boarding. Ala Moana is a popular place to go for locals on the weekends as it's a great place to barbecue with friends, go for a run, get a surf session in, paddle board... it's just an overall great place to go to be outdoors in Hawaii. Mike: Somewhere to surf/swim and then to eat afterwards. There’s something about getting active in the ocean that makes everyone feel better and I feel that we as human beings are beginning to lose that privilege as we neglect our environmental responsibility more and more. Ideally I would take them to a friend’s house or back to our house for dinner and drinks but if we had to go out, I’d probably take them to a local izakaya or appetizer-heavy restaurant. I just like that style of eating if I’m in a social setting. I like Olive Tree Cafe, Morio’s, Tsukuneya and Yakiniku Seoul.

Where should visitors from TheArtOfLiving.Earth stay?
Wendy: Waikiki is the known tourist spot but it's beach is worth the visit. If you're looking for a more country vibe (less tourist-y spots) and if you can find a place around Waimanalo or up on the North Shore of Oahu to stay (beach house rentals are often available) I would recommend those areas. HOWEVER, it's important to remember that these are more "local" spots and to be conscious about what you are doing, how you're driving, and be respectful of the locals and residents in those areas. Most people come to Hawaii to slow down and that's exactly what people should do - it's important to respect the slower speed and local culture of the Islands when you visit. Mike: If it’s your first time on Oahu, Waikiki is probably the best bet. You can’t beat the availability of night-time activities there combined with its close proximity to the ocean. Some of Hawaii’s best attractions are located outside of Waikiki but most of the transportation services cater to the Waikiki crowd, so it’s just easier and more convenient.

What do YOU do for fun?
Wendy: I like walking the dogs around the neighborhood, getting a hike in at Puupia and (when the weather is right) get a quick surf session in or bike ride around the valley. But what I really enjoy doing is creating items for My Manoa! At times it can be challenging as it is something that I do while maintaining a full-time job as well as family life but it really does give me a sense of control and peace. That feeling comes from the satisfaction in creating things with my hands, feeling like I'm doing the right things for the environment and for people, and just doing things on my own terms. Mike: I have fun staying active and vary my exercise routine through jiu jitsu, surfing and circuit-based training. Learning jiu jitsu is one of the most fun and rewarding, yet humbling and complex things I’ve ever done. The physical and mental connection you experience with other human beings is unique and since you are in a constant state of learning and growth, you feel like a kid again. It’s my fountain of youth. For me, there’s nothing more fun and satisfying than relaxing at home with my family and a few friends after a hard training session or after a fun surf session - the waves don’t even have to be good.

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Mindy Yang
Mindy Yang

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