We chat with the British Olympic sprinter and Union Roasted brand ambassador about what it means to be more than just an athlete.
BY VASILEIA FANARIOTI
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Jodie Williams
A few weeks ago, I was researching Project Waterfall and the impact of clean water on coffee-growing communities when I stumbled upon a YouTube video series called Coffee Conversations. Digging a bit deeper, I realized that the host behind this series of videos is Jodie Williams (she/her), an Olympic sprinter, fashion blogger, and big-time specialty-coffee lover.
Aside from her career in track, Jodie is also a Union Roasted brand ambassador and an ambassador for initiatives like Project Waterfall, a nonprofit that provides clean drinking water and hygiene solutions to coffee-growing communities, as well as for Femlead, a charity empowering young women in Uganda.
We talked to Jodie about what drew her to the world of coffee, what inspired her to become involved in coffee and women empowerment initiatives, and what it means to be more than just an athlete.
Vasileia Fanarioti: What is it that first attracted you to coffee and its community?
Jodie Williams: For me it was coffee shops rather than coffee itself that initiated me into this world. I travel a lot and will always seek out the best coffee shops wherever I go. It’s both a great way to explore new places and a comfort in the familiarity and natural rhythm of a good coffee spot! My dad used to take me with him to coffee shops when I was younger, so they have always felt like home.
You are an ambassador for the Allegra Foundation’s initiative Project Waterfall and Femlead. Could you say a few words about these initiatives and what they mean to you?
Both of these initiatives are extremely important to me. I love specialty coffee. However, there are some deep-rooted issues within the supply chain, like fair wages for farmers and clean drinking water in coffee-growing communities being two of the biggest.
When I began my journey into the coffee industry, I wanted to make sure I was aligning myself with people who were creating positive action. Project Waterfall provides clean drinking water and sanitation to coffee-growing communities. They hire and use local people with the knowledge and expertise to deliver the best possible solutions.
The impact on young girls and women also plays a large factor in why I got involved. Young girls and women are often the ones who go and collect the water, meaning girls are out of school and the women have no time to focus on other ventures.
Femlead is a Ugandan-based NGO focused on empowering young women to reach their full potential. Our mission is to raise awareness of the rights of girls, stop child prostitution, and keep girls in education by reducing pregnancy and AIDS drop-outs. We hold monthly workshops where the girls can voice their concerns, gain access to period products, and learn about sexual and reproductive health.
I have always been very passionate about women’s rights, particularly surrounding education and giving young girls a place to feel seen and heard. At Femlead we do exactly this, and I feel very proud to work with an organization doing so much good.
How did the partnership with Union Roasted come about? Could you share with us what you have achieved through this partnership so far?
As a professional athlete you can often get boxed in to just being a “performer,” which can limit you to only partnering with sports-based brands. I reached out to Union in the hope that they would see beyond the athlete, and to my great pleasure we formed an awesome partnership!
It’s the stuff of dreams for me to work with a London-based roaster, who not only produces exciting and delicious specialty coffee, but also makes sure they are ethically sourcing and paying farmers directly.
I have spent time at the roastery learning all about the processes that happen behind the scenes, and we have produced a Coffee Conversations episode on the difference between a small and large company work environment, women’s microlots, and the process behind bean to cup. We are working on some exciting collaborations this year, so keep your eyes peeled!
Aside from your athletic career, you seem to be very involved in many other projects such as fashion blogging, specialty coffee, and your Coffee Conversations YouTube channel. Would you say that all these projects help you express yourself and discover things about yourself as well?
Yes definitely! I am someone that likes to explore different regions of “self.” I’ve never liked to be just one thing. I believe we are all multifaceted beings, and the more you explore different parts of yourself, the more you will uncover.
I like to get out of my comfort zone as much as I possibly can. For me, Coffee Conversations was a big one, as it was so far outside of what I’m comfortable being “seen” as, but I gained so much joy from the conversations I was able to have and I am very thankful for the experience.
I read that you’d love to open your own coffee shop after your athletic career is over. Could you share with us some of your thoughts on this vision?
My ultimate goal in life is to open a coffee shop. I still have a lot I would like to experience and achieve before then, but it is definitely the end goal. I’ve realized a lot of what I love about coffee shops is the sense of community they bring, and this is what I’d like to base my space around.
Aside from great-quality coffee (of course!) I envision a multidimensional space where all feel welcome! Think spoken-word nights, community evenings, good food, and studios hosting anything from yoga to self defense to pottery classes!
In your blog, you have opened up about how your career in track resulted in another side of you taking a backseat. Could you share a few thoughts on what #MoreThanJustAnAthlete means to you?
I think being #MoreThanJustAnAthlete applies to everyone in that you are more than just what you do. In today’s society it is so easy to feel defined by your job or your role as we dedicate so much of our time to these things, but it’s important to remember that you are more than just that.
In my eyes there is no greater form of self love than allowing yourself to explore all passions, regardless of whether or not you are “good” at them, doing things simply for the love of doing them.
What is the message you would like to share with the readers of Barista Magazine?
You are more than what you do; allow yourself to delve into all areas of yourself and all of your creative passions, no matter how far-fetched they may feel!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vasileia Fanarioti (she/her) is a freelance copywriter and editor with a primary focus on the coffee niche. She has also been a volunteer copywriter for the I’M NOT A BARISTA NPO, providing content to help educate people about baristas and their work. You can follow her adventures at thewanderingbean.net.