When I first started working in coffee, I wanted to learn everything about the process - from the farm to the cup. I found that women are heavily involved in farming the coffee crop, but because of traditional gender roles in many of the countries in which coffee is grown, they often do not have the opportunity to be in leadership roles within the industry. However, there is a movement in the coffee industry to support these women by creating cooperatives that give women access to capital and training to grow their coffee business. The more I learned about this movement, the more I knew I wanted to do my part to help.
For the past few years, I've operated 72 Company, a mobile coffee and cocktail bar in the Columbia, SC area, and we've built a reputation for quality drinks and service. I’ve made it a priority to work with women and minority-owned businesses, and actively seek to partner with those businesses often. Early on, we teamed up with a local coffee roaster to source our coffee beans from farms owned or managed by women, and I’ve always had a dream to take my passion for supporting women and open a small coffee shop. That dream is finally a reality with Azalea Coffee Bar.
According to the International Coffee Organization, up to 70% of coffee production is completed by women, however only 20-30% of coffee farms are owned by women. Although women often provide much of the labor in the coffee industry, they “have systematically lower access to resources, such as land, credit and information, than men. This often results in a measurable gender gap in economic outcomes, including yields, productivity and farm income.” (ICO, 2018).
Azalea Coffee Bar seeks to address this gender gap in the coffee industry by only serving coffees sourced from farms owned or managed by women. We also believe in the importance of telling the story behind the coffee, and want to educate the community about the disparities in the coffee industry. Upon walking into Azalea Coffee Bar, customers will be greeted by a colorful, welcoming space, and see pictures of the women behind the coffees we serve. We also plan to feature books and other curated retail items from other women owned businesses at our shop.
Our tagline "supporting women through coffee" is about more than just the coffee we serve though, and we plan to utilize local female talent to build every part of this business - from the branding to the design of the physical space.
Currently in the Columbia, SC market, there are a few established coffee shops, but none that focus solely on coffee from women producers. In fact, most of the coffee shops in the area are owned by men and tend to have a more masculine aesthetic.
We have operated in this community for several years and have established a good customer base through our private events and time spent serving at our local farmer’s market, Soda City Market - which brings together thousands of people in downtown Columbia every Saturday. We recently announced the opening of Azalea Coffee Bar with a press release and have received great feedback from our customers. Everyone seems very excited about the opportunity to support women and visit a coffee shop that is something unique to our community.
We have signed a lease for the perfect location for Azalea Coffee Bar, and are seeking funding to assist in the renovation of the space and to purchase additional equipment. Our future location is at a signalized intersection on a busy street in downtown Columbia, and is adjacent to many thriving local businesses. It is also within walking distance to several neighborhoods that are only within a mile radius. Based on SC Department of Transportation traffic counts, there are approximately 14,000 cars per day on the road in which the property is located. The property is also very close to the University of South Carolina campus in which approximately 35,000 students are enrolled.
Not only will your support through iFundwomen help us create our dream space, but it will also allow us to secure additional coffees from women producers. Our current coffee roaster carries two coffees from women producers and we will definitely feature those in our shop, but in order to ensure that female produced coffees are always available at Azalea Coffee Bar, we will likely need to order more coffee in bulk.
This business is so meaningful to us, and we want to share in our love of supporting women with our community. The name, Azalea Coffee Bar, is equally as meaningful. A few years ago, I lost my mother to cancer. She was an incredibly strong woman, and I watched her life be taken from her when she was only 55 years old. When I lost her, I promised that I would never let another moment pass in which I was not living life to the fullest. This business is inspired by my mom. Azaleas are local to my hometown of Summerville, SC, and when I think about my childhood, I’m reminded of the spring when the flower bloomed all over town. For me, azaleas represent strength and femininity, and honor the amazing women that raised me.
Your contribution and support means everything to me. You are a part of this story. Even if you do not live near our location and are not able to enjoy a coffee with us, I want you to always feel at home at Azalea Coffee Bar.
By contributing to Azalea Coffee Bar, you are not only supporting me, but you are supporting women everywhere.