Profiles of Women and Coffee: Kohana Coffee

The times are changing and the signs have never been clearer: In Hollywood, “Time’s Up.” The hashtag #metoo has become a social movement. And wearing black is making a statement about far more than fashion as America comes to terms with a truth echoed by the words of former First Lady, Michelle Obama, who declared that “no country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.”

Coffee is no stranger to such paradigm shifts. From the birth of the industry’s Environmental Committee in 1995 to its creation of Fair Trade certifications, it’s been working to establish a new brand of healthy food system whose products boost both people and the Earth by providing living wages throughout its supply chain, establishing farm-to-factory environmental standards, and striving to assure meaningful sustainability at every turn.

Now two women are preparing to take the next bold step and revolutionize the industry yet again.

Last year, Victoria Lynden, founder of Kohana Coffee, and her partner Piper Jones, Kohana’s VP of Operations and Sourcing, posed a simple question to the International Women’s Coffee Alliance: How can one coffee company make a difference and bring new meaning to the phrase “drink responsibly?”

Given Kohana’s history, it was a surprising ask. After all, not since the founding of Ben & Jerry’s and the Body Shop has a company so successfully challenged business as usual on so many levels of stakeholder involvement. From aggressively pursuing organic and Fair Trade coffee sources and demanding transparency among all its partners to a pilot project providing coffee seedlings for nurseries, and green coffee agreements that dictate requirements for women’s leadership training and female management representation, Kohana has engineered a stunning series of full-circle impacts that stretch from crop to cup.

The results have been impressive, especially where women growers are concerned. In 2017, for example, Kohana purchased 115,672 pounds of women-produced green coffee, and in 2018 has so far contracted for an astonishing 543,400 pounds, an amount the company says it will likely double. Consider that the industry’s next largest women-produced coffee projects top out at a fraction of that amount, and Kohana’s impacts are stunningly clear. 

Still, Lynden and Jones weren’t satisfied. There was more to do, and they wanted to do it.

Consumers will see the results of that commitment in the first half of 2018 when Kohana launches a product unlike any other in beverage space history: The world’s first organic cold-brew concentrate 100% sourced exclusively from women farmers.

With farm lot-to-bottle traceability, the pioneering new product line will use only certified organic, direct-trade coffee produced by women growers, processed by women millers, and exported and imported by women players. Lynden and Jones intend it to be a drink that goes a long way toward leveling the coffee playing field and boosting gender equality. But in their eyes, that’s just the beginning: By 2025, Kohana intends to source 100% of its coffee from women growers. 

Neither Lynden nor Jones, however, want anyone to see this as charity. Instead, their work is focused on demonstrating by example that it’s completely possible for a for-profit enterprise to do maximum good for all of a company’s stakeholders while keeping shareholders smiling. 

By treating its supply partners as equal businesswomen, Kohana’s new project seeks to create a working business exchange that not only enhances their own financial bottom line but boosts fortunes throughout their supply chain and generates dramatic forward momentum in the gender equality movement. It’s business—and sensible business strategy—as a force for good.

This is Kohana’s paradigm, and Lynden and Jones consider it a profitable model all industries must adopt. They’re aware of the naysaying and the endless claims that such initiatives cost too much. In reply, they’re asking the coffee industry to consider the cost of inaction. The time has come to stop talking and start doing. Safe food, clean water, secure shelter, dependable healthcare, and a peaceful future are basic human rights, and it is the duty of every business to hear that call and find solutions that provide them. 

They believe coffee has a unique opportunity to become the first agricultural product to not only declare sustainability mandatory but to prove it can be profitable when everyone works together to achieve shared aims. Anything less, they argue, and the world’s collective cup will end up a good deal less than half full.

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