Fair trade coffee means 'coffee with heart' for this Bellingen-based entrepreneur

AMELIA Franklin has been in business since she was five years old, when she was serving customers in her parent’s newsagency while standing on phone books.

Born of an Australian mother and an Anglo-Indian father, who grew up in Calcutta, business has always been part of the Bellingen-based entrepreneur’s life.

“I saw my university-educated father lose everything and then make a come back – it taught me resilience and also that when one door closes, there is always a window … you just have to stop looking at the door,” Amelia said.

Having learnt sewing at the knees of her mother and grandmother, both of whom were skilled seamstresses, post-school she headed overseas gathering silks, cottons and other textiles to be made into garments.

She then set about importing her own clothing line, which she sold from the back of her 4WD at markets in remote communities in north-western Australia.

“People loved it – I’d come in like a gypsy, just me and my dog with my car packed full of all this exotic stuff from Afghanistan, India and Thailand.

“Sometimes I made up to $4000 in a single weekend.”

Her import business supported her travels in Asia until 2005 when an unplanned pregnancy brought her home,

Women traditionally make up 70 per cent of the labour in the coffee world with men owning 85 per cent of the business and infrastructure.

Amelia Franklin

“I was living in Wisemans Ferry with all this amazing stock, so I opened a little shop, where I also sold coffee from a roaster in Sydney.

“I realised that people were coming back every week for the coffee and the penny dropped that it was repeat business I was after.

“I decided to import my first coffee roaster and basically taught myself the skill – there were no books or mentors or weekend courses back then.”

Ten years on and Amelia and her son Kaiden now live in Bellingen and she has carved out a significant niche for herself in the fair trade coffee world.

“Using fair trade coffee is very important to me – ever since I left school my mantra has been that “I don’t want to make a living by negatively impacting on another person”.

“I try to choose a path that will also support the people in the other communities I am working with.

“I describe my business as ‘coffee with heart’ - we are suppliers of 100 per cent Fair Trade organic coffee, tea, sugar and cocoa and use 100 per cent compostable packaging with outlets from Tasmania to North Queensland.

“I imported my first beans from Papua New Guinea and the roasting side of it was just trial and error … now I can do it with my eyes closed.”

She said the coffee culture in Australia was unique because consumers really did want to know where their coffee came from.

“Consumers and café owners are very discerning here – it is a specialty coffee paradise with a low population.

“We have 20 million people and a coffee culture, in Manhattan you have 20 million people and nobody cares where their coffee comes from.”

The down side is a lot of competition and a saturated market, with more and more people seeing a café and coffee roaster as their retirement dream.

So Amelia has shifted direction to pursue the ethical side of her business.

She has created the People of Coffee Foundation and last year was a guest speaker at the International Women’s Coffee Alliance Conference in Bogota, Colombia.

“Women traditionally make up 70 per cent of the labour in the coffee world with men owning 85 per cent of the business and infrastructure.

“The IWCA is a community of women dedicated to empowering women through the whole value chain from seed to cup. Women are so heavily involved at origin so it is important they are able to sell their own products.

“We are also looking at climate change and the affect of that on coffee.

“Higher temperatures have seen rust take out entire crops, so we are looking at different resistant varietals.

“This is the end of the business I really enjoy and where I feel that I am investing my profits usefully. Social enterprise is very important to me, which is why in 2015 I shifted to a not-for-profit non-government organisational structure.”

Meanwhile at the ‘other end’, Amelia has a busy outlet in the centre of town, a traditional coffee roasting set-up in a shed out the back and employs seven people.

She also offers barista training, albeit unaccredited, to small groups of keen students.

“I looked into getting accreditation but the courses are so heavily weighted towards theory and students don’t spend much time on the machines … it seemed pretty dodgy to me.”

Strengthening connections with Griffith University in Queensland and RMIT in Melbourne are other avenues to develop fresh ideas and opportunities.

“I am still finding my way in this not-for-profit environment … but I feel very blessed because I can make a difference while keeping my son in school and being paid every week, which is ‘gold’ in a small regional town.”