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Fi O'Brien &
Casey Lalonde of
Girls Who Grind Coffee

"I think that it’s important to make mistakes, especially if you’re a new business. You’re not going to know the outcome until you do that thing and then you can go ‘well that bloody didn’t work!’"

So often brands which are built on a strong socially minded concept, don’t deliver aesthetically. You could argue (and many do) that it’s less important to a product, but personally we never understand why it has to compromised. There are so many talented designers out there who aspire to work with brands who believe in and undertake good projects and surely the better something looks, the bigger the crowd it’s going to attract. ‘Girls who Grind Coffee’, a coffee roasters run by women, which exclusively sources beans from producers where women are empowered, has managed to do just that. With punchy packaging emblazoned with incredible illustrations designed by Ben O’Brien and hot merch including t-shirts and mugs adorned with their logo, their brand aesthetic matches like for like the quality of their coffee and the social concept driving it. They’re offering way more than just coffee, they’re creating a gang and we definitely want in.

Nestled on a farm near Frome, Somerset, founders Fi O’Brien and Casey Lalonde, opened the doors of their tiny, zingy roastery and invited us in for…well…coffee.Fi & Casey from Girls Who Grind Coffee

Can you tell us a little about your background and how things started?

C: We met at baby yoga, so through our kids. We started talking and realised that we both love coffee.

F: A couple of years after we met, we were ready to do something together. Casey’s background is in coffee roasting and mine is in design but I also have experience of café ownership. By combining our skills we thought we could do something in the industry that represented, empowered and celebrated women.

Did you always know you wanted a pro-social aspect to the business?

F: I had the name ‘Girls who Grind’ in my head for quite a while and I knew I wanted to do something to empower women in the coffee industry but I wasn’t particularly a coffee roaster myself. After speaking to Casey I discovered she had that background and it seemed like the perfect way to take that idea forward.

C: Currently women make up 70% of the workforce producing coffee but in lesser paid positions and working in poor conditions. We look beyond the picking and sorting, searching for stories of those women in positions of management. With our Rwandan blend, for example, the washing station [the process where the fruit covering the seeds/beans is removed before they are dried] is managed by women.

How do you go about finding these stories?

C: Talking to importers mainly. When we began we just started spreading the word, telling people what we were trying to do, seeing if there were any producers they worked with who would fit our brief. It became clear that there were a lot of them out there. People told us ‘I don’t think you’re going to be able to exclusively import from female producers’, but we do. Some of them have reached out to us directly, as well.

F: The coffee industry in itself is changing. A lot of these producers are quite modern now and reach out via Instagram so it’s kind of a different playing field now.

Everything you produce is really well designed. Is that an important part of what you do?

F: 100%. I think without it you’d struggle these days because it’s an over-saturated market, like many industries are now. So you need to have a strong presence and connection, to be able to say something in a way that promotes interest. Sometimes the social aspect can be a little bit dry, with just facts and statistics you can lose people’s interest quickly so we wanted something that other women can connect to. Also, our market is not 100% women – it’s 50/50 really – so it’s about creating something that gathers interest from both sexes. Once we have the interest we can share these stories which is really important.

Are the illustrations on the bags based on the female coffee producers?

F: The illustrations are really about capturing the spirit of the coffee in its entirety. So whether it’s the strong boss women who are running these farms or the real kick ass lady who’s achieving great things in her country. They aren’t a representation of that particular woman, but more what she represents – and also a little bit of the flavour influence in there as well. If it’s a bold coffee it’s more likely to have a bold illustration – if it’s sweet or mild, or whatever the tasting notes are at the time, it can be a little bit more representative of that.

In the shop - 'Aroma': Girls Who Grind inspired print

This print is inspired by Girls Who Grind, and the work that they do to empower women in the coffee industry. 20% of all the profits made from the sale of this print will go to directly to Girls Who Grind to help them continue their great work. Visit the shop

What does success look like to you?

C: It might sound cheesy but I just want to be happy. Work, family and achieving that balance between the two is success to me.

Is it hard to strike that balance?

C: Yeah especially now because we are still so new. I went from not working and looking after two little girls, to this. I’ve gone from being around all the time to trying to fit work around school days – the house is a tip, dinners are last minute but we are figuring it out. I think it’s important for both of us that this works for our families.

"Currently women make up 70% of the workforce producing coffee but in lesser paid positions and working in poor conditions. We look beyond the picking and sorting, searching for stories of those women in positions of management."

Is that the same way you feel, Fi?

F: Yeah, definitely, the home/family balance. My son is 8 and I’ve been working over those years. Obviously this is a different kind of work because it’s our thing. Also for me, I enjoy connecting with people so I’d like for the brand to build a community that not only relates straight back to us, but allows people to have their own community within it.

What do you see as the biggest challenges going forward?

F: Cash flow is a massive challenge because obviously the costs of everything are huge, especially the equipment and the coffee. Being able to keep expanding out and growing at the same time is tricky. Also, we are almost at the stage where we need more people but we can’t afford to hire staff yet, once we get to that stage I think it will start alleviating some of the pressures.

Can you see that point in the future or is it a distant dream?

C: No, I think we’re heading in the right direction

F: It’s going to take some time, obviously. But we are heading that way – as long as things keep growing in the same way.

Do you find that there is help out there for new businesses?

F: Kind of, it’s more difficult because we’re not your average business, I think it’s hard for people to understand what we’re really trying to achieve. We’ve had lots of good support from people reaching out and other businesses that want to work with us which has been good. When we get contacted by a big wholesale account, for example, I don’t feel like we’re just left to our own devices. They do tend to offer their advice on how to get to that next level.

What characteristics do you most admire in others?

C: People not taking themselves too seriously.

F: Also independence and doing your own things. Learning how to be yourself a little bit.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

C: Business-wise, we went to a talk once with some female business founders and one of them said ‘if you have an issue, ask yourself if you’re going to be worried about that issue in a year’s time. If not, don’t sweat it.’

F: I think that it’s important to make mistakes, especially if you’re a new business. You’re not going to know the outcome until you do that thing and then you can go ‘well that bloody didn’t work!’. As long as you don’t lose a million pounds in the process – that you would definitely know about in a year! It’s all just part of the learning process and figuring out how your business fits into the world.

"People told us ‘I don’t think you’re going to be able to exclusively import from female producers’, but we do."

Do you have a piece of advice for your younger self?

F: That’s a hard one for me personally, as I’ve always been quite spontaneous. I don’t think too much about what I’m going to do next. So I probably wouldn’t change that element. Maybe I’d say ‘don’t party too hard’.

C: I think to not worry too much about what other people think about your decision-making. If you believe in it, just completely go for it. Throw yourself in 100%.

Final question: what could you not live without?

C: Coffee, of course.

F: Definitely coffee. And wine – I couldn’t live without that either. I’m often like ‘no wine today’ but there’s always a little glass somewhere in my back pocket. Music too, I don’t think I could survive without music.

Girls Who Grind Coffee

Unit 2, Millards Farm
Upton Scudamore
Wiltshire, BA12 0AQ
Support Girls Who Grind Coffee

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In the shop - 'Aroma': Girls Who Grind inspired print

This print is inspired by Girls Who Grind, and the work that they do to empower women in the coffee industry. 20% of all the profits made from the sale of this print will go to directly to Girls Who Grind to help them continue their great work.

Visit the shop

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