Hui Kū Maoli Ola began as a project of two college students in Hawaii who wanted to plant some native species in their parents’ yards. Because most nurseries didn’t sell native plants in the mid-1990s, they began harvesting seeds from local natural areas and then growing the plants themselves. They ended up with too many plants for their purposes and tried selling them from the back of a truck. After a couple of good truck sales, they established their own business on a small scale. Then came a conversation at a sushi restaurant with the executive buyer for Home Depot Hawaii, and things really took off.
There’s a lot about the importance of native plants to Hawaiian culture in this article: “Alumni Growing Native Hawaiian Plants,” by Brendan Sagara, Malamalama: The Magazine of the University of Hawaii, April 2010