Explore the Hawaiian tradition of lei making by crafting your own lei po‘o (flower crown) at a Paper Garden workshop in Wailea. You’ll end the class with a stunning adornment to don during your Maui travels.
Looking for a unique activity to try while on your Maui vacation? Perhaps you’ve already hiked and snorkeled and driven all over the island to see the sights. If you’re the creative type who appreciates Hawaiian flora, dive into the Hawaiian tradition of lei making by signing up for a lei po‘o (flower crown) workshop. Unlike the more common lei worn around the neck, the lei po‘o is a popular type of lei worn on a person’s head.
If you’ve spent any time scrolling Instagram for Maui vacation inspiration, you may have come across the curated portraits of women posing on the beach in a flowy maxi dress, a flower lei perched on their hair, and golden rays of sunset streaming behind them.
I had to have one of these striking lei po‘o of my very own.
Luckily, my friend and Maui local Nicole introduced me to the perfect place for realizing my lei po‘o dream: Paper Garden. The locally owned Wailea gift shop (just a short walk from the Shops at Wailea) carries stationery, greeting cards, jewelry, gift wrap, and all sorts of fun and creative finds, such as a macrame plant holder kit.
Paper Garden also hosts workshops for anyone with a creative bent — from brush lettering to candle making to watercolor.
And on occasion, Paper Garden also offers a lei po‘o class.
What is lei po‘o?
The giving and receiving of leis, along with the craft of lei making, are ancient traditions in Hawaii. Lei po‘o (sometimes referred to as haku lei) is Hawaiian-style flower crown crafted to be worn on the wearer’s head.
Leis are traditionally reserved for special events and ceremonies such as graduations, weddings, and luaus. Many visitors associate lei greetings with Hawaii, and resorts often impart their guests with neck leis upon arrival.
Leis can be made of any number of materials — flowers, leaves, ferns, feathers, seeds, and nuts can all be used to craft a lei. You simply need to look around and get creative!
Our experience: Lei po‘o workshop with House of Haku
Nicole and I arrived early for the Paper Garden workshop, which is located within the Wailea Village shopping center. And since we were early, we pre-shopped before the class started.
As workshop students, we were given a 10% discount on Paper Garden purchases that could be redeemed after class. We also signed up for a raffle drawing for a $50 gift card (which I didn’t win, but I shopped my heart out, anyway).
Floral designer and workshop instructor Morea of floral design company House of Haku set up the lei po‘o class outdoors under Paper Garden’s covered patio, which the shop shares with Akamai Coffee.
Workshop attendance is kept small, with a total of seven attendees that morning. Morea sat us at long work tables with three to four participants at each table.
The $95 lei po‘o workshop fee included breakfast from Paper Garden’s neighbor Akamai Coffee. I pre-ordered from a list of options after making the workshop reservation. From the menu, I chose a bagel and lox with capers, which came with a side salad and coffee.
Morea started the workshop giving us background about the Hawaiian tradition of lei making and how she grew up making leis. Then she moved on to instructing us on how to make our own.
Keeping with the spirit of aloha and respecting nature, we made our leis completely from material that could be returned to the earth and composted. The base of the lei was foraged from banana trees. We also used raffia to weave and tie the material together.
I took the class in December, and Morea explained that she chose botanicals with a holiday theme, including: red roses, white berries, cedar, fern, and thistle. Coming from the Pacific Northwest, I chose to weave in a healthy amount of cedar in my lei po‘o design.
Morea walked from table to table as she shared her craft, giving us each individual advice and encouragement as we worked on our leis.
Some participants finished within the hour, while others took up to two hours to complete their lei crowns. Morea encouraged us to go at our own pace.
At the end of class, it was fun seeing other workshoppers’ personalities shine through in their final crown lei designs. We all had the same materials, and everyone walked away with a unique and striking lei to wear around Maui.
Morea encouraged us to continue our lei making endeavors at home. She recommended foraging for botanicals where we live for a unique, local take on lei po‘o. Another pro lei making tip: Pick up a floral arrangement from your local florist. Then deconstruct it for a quick way to source a variety of materials.
Reserve a class early
Classes at Paper Garden are small and tend to sell out, so I recommend following their Instagram account to find out when class registration opens. You can also sign up for their mailing list to receive updates.
How to keep your lei po‘o fresh for longer
Whether you’ve been gifted with a lei or you’ve made your own, these are some tips to keep it lasting as long as possible.
- Since preservation techniques may differ depending on what your lei is made of, ask the lei artisan for the best way to keep your lei looking fresh
- Spritz your lei with water and store it in the produce section of your refrigerator
- Place your lei on top of a paper towel to absorb excess moisture
What to do with your lei po‘o after wearing it
When you’re finished wearing your lei po‘o, don’t just stick it in the trash. Here’s what you can do instead.
- Hang your lei to dry and keep it as a keepsake. If you’re flying back to the continental U.S., Guam, or Alaska, you need to declare any agricultural items. You can bring your lei home with you if it doesn’t contain any prohibited items.
- Return your lei to the earth by scattering, burning, or burying it. Be sure to remove any non-compostable materials first.
The lei po‘o workshop at Paper Garden Maui was a fun and memorable experience — one of my favorite activities during my trip. There’s something satisfying about making your own lei and wearing it while on the island.
Wailea Village Center
116 Wailea Village Center, Suite 2202
Wailea, Hawaii 96753