Jacqueline Arias is a pioneer. Not only has she created a successful coffee brand in Australia, she has done it with such stanch ethics that Republica has been independently certified as organic, carbon neutral and fair trade.
Unlike many of her entrepreneurial peers, Arias didn’t start her business with a financial goal. “I entered business as a result of ethics, not to make money,” she says.
“My mission when I started the company was to be the most ethical food brand in Australia. We give coffee consumers in Australia great tasting coffee, but more importantly, we gives them coffee that is ethical too,” she explains.
Arias has always had a passion for giving a voice to the under-privileged. As an award-winning journalist she worked for the ABC in both radio and television and was particularly driven to tell stories that would make a difference.
When in 2005, Arias discovered ‘Fair Trade’, the movement that ensures that farmers in the developing world get paid a fair price for their labour, she was inspired to bring it to Australia.
“Whether you come from Australia or Ethiopia or Columbia you want to be paid a fair price for a days work – that is a universal right. Fair trade is about ensuring that those farmers who come from third world countries where there is no social welfare, drought relief, or flood relief are actually paid a fair price for their work,” she explains.
Arias is genuinely passionate about Fair Trade and says that it really does make a difference. “70% of the worlds food comes from third world countries and is produced by small plot holders. So much produce comes from third world countries – coffee, tea, chocolate, rice, spices – but we don’t think about it. We go to the supermarket and pick it of the shelf and don’t think about where it came from.”
In addition to being Fair Trade, Republica products are also organic certified, and carbon neutral. “Whatever we do we look for the most ethical way to get that product into your mouth,” she explains.
A good example of this is their packaging – Republica are the only brand in Australia that use recycled glass for their coffee jars. “We’re constantly looking at our packaging and asking ‘how can we make it better?'” she explains. And while for some brands “better” might mean at a reduced cost, for Republica it means more sustainable, or easier to recycle.
Although Arias had made it her mission to bring Fair Trade to Australia, she didn’t have any business experience to help her bring her vision into fruition. This lack of “business know-how” proved to be her biggest challenge. “It was a very steep learning curve,” she says.
However, Arias says that the challenge that worked to her advantage. “When you don’t know what the boundaries are you think that everything is possible,” she explains.
Although she didn’t have solid business experience, Arias says that her journalism skills have been a huge asset. “Journalism is about satisfying your curiosity for life. You’re constantly trying to understand life. That has served me well in business because I knew how to ask questions and how to find the answers,” she recalls.
Another challenge has been educating Australian consumers about the concept of Fair Trade, something she had never guessed would be an issue. “Often fair trade is not front of mind for consumers in Australia,” she says.
“We are so far away from the rest of the world – those stories about farmers in third world countries don’t make it to Australia.”
But, as her profits show, the Fair trade message is starting to sink in.
While Arias has never been motivated by the profit and loss columns, she acknowledges that a business without profit cannot sustain itself. “A business with no profit does not have longevity, so profit is very important,” she says.
“I think for the first 3 years I didn’t focus on money and I certainly didn’t think about how much profit we were making. But I then realised that we had to be financially successful if we wanted to grow the business – otherwise somebody else would come along and do it better and wipe us out,” she explains.
When it comes to her own professional development Arias says that her business mentors have been invaluable. “Caolyn Creswell, the CEO of Carman’s– has been a formidable mentor to me, I highly respect her. She has done what I want to do – she has built a great brand in Australia,” enthuses Arias.
In addition to this she is a member of Australia’s Entrepreneurs’ organisation EO that offer networking and professional development to their esteemed members. She is also a prolific reader and says that she loves the pursuit of knowledge. “I am at my happiest when I am learning. I read a lot about business, brand building, marketing, and retail.”
There is no question that Arias is totally committed to her business, in fact she says that her work is her life.
“When you are building a company you treat it like a baby – you do go to sleep with it, you do wake up to it,” she says. ” You carry it with you all the time.”