Specialty Coffee Takes Center Stage at New York Fashion Week

The crowd at the Tome Fashion Show was thrilled by the specialty-coffee service.

Aida Batlle Selection, with Blue Bottle, brings specialty coffee to New York Fashion Week

BY CHAD TREWICK
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE

When a childhood friend who works in fashion PR (www.bradburylewis.com) reached out to me to see if I could think of someone who would sponsor an early morning fashion-week show for Tome, I thought immediately of Aida Batlle. I know her Aida Batlle Selections coffees well and am familiar with her mounting efforts to spread her œselections  to other origins. Aida, at my suggestion, reached out to James Freeman, her longtime client and friend, at Blue Bottle to see if they had any of her Finca Tanzania in NY and if they would partner on the sponsorship with her.

Combining super high quality coffee with a super high quality fashion show just seems like a natural fit.
Combining super high quality coffee with a super high quality fashion show just seems like a natural fit.

Day of Show ”Sunday, February 14

Record cold temperatures for New York and an uncivilized early Sunday start (9 a.m.) to the show could have threatened and dominated the tenor of the bickering among arriving observers. Instead they were greeted by a prominently displayed Blue Bottle pour over service of Aida’s Finca Tanzania natural process. It was so appreciated and unexpected by the early morning crowd.

Fashion show schedule, with Aida Battle Selection coffee service.
Fashion show schedule, with Aida Batlle Selection coffee service.

Sure, they talked to us about the delicious flavors of the coffee, but do you know what people asked us most? If we, as purists (read: coffee snobs), can support consumers  who add condiments to their coffee. You see, instead of making people feel smart and welcome and empowered to enjoy their coffee they way they want to, these people’s elevated experiences with coffee to date have intimidated them with œschooling  of how to drink their coffee. Not cool. Didn’t make them feel like worthy consumers.

Coffee service at the Tome fashion show during New York Fashion Week.
Coffee service at the Tome fashion show during New York Fashion Week.

The runway show itself was an otherworldly and thoughtful (up-cycled denim, natural fleece, gender fluid) spectacle. The crowd of onlookers gave a glimmer into a world of tastemakers and trendsetters coming to glance a super early peak of ever evolving styles.

Something struck a chord later as people interacted with us and were so thankful for the coffee ”the thoughtfulness of it and how it was brewed so dramatically in an elevated way. We realized something so important: far fewer people exist outside of coffee who are as into it as we think they are or should be ”and, certainly it occurred to us that these worlds (coffee + fashion) do not collide often despite the fact they both espouse connoisseurship of the best. Yeah, the really illuminating realization was that our special and fancy and premium-fetching top-tier has not really reached an important top-tier in the world of social influencers.

The crowd at the Tome Fashion Show was thrilled by the specialty-coffee service.
The crowd at the Tome Fashion Show was thrilled by the specialty-coffee service.

If only this crowd knew and understood more about what, exactly, it takes for a coffee to be really, really good, they would almost certainly seek it out more and more. Soon, a good friend in attendance suggested, they would only want this œbest  coffee in the same way that they only want the œbest  handbag or the must have Fall/Winter coat next season.

This spelled to me and Aida an opportunity for our industry to further foray into this fashion world with so little price sensitivity to truly test the limits of how fancy and elevated and expensive ”you read that right ”coffee can be. And I can’t help but to think that if this crowd of influencers whose tastes eventually trickle down to the colors and fashions that you find at your local Target or other big stores ”well, maybe folks will start to see and appreciate the value of coffee and pay for it ¦. I’m suggesting that it might just rub off in ways that we have not experienced thus far despite our industry’s best efforts.

Influencers in the gourmet world such as the kind of people who attend New York Fashion Week can have an amazing reaction, and effect, on the work we do in specialty coffee.
Influencers in the gourmet world such as the kind of people who attend New York Fashion Week can have an amazing reaction, and effect, on the work we do in specialty coffee.

In my consulting work, I am always prioritizing the consideration of what it will take to get an ever increasing share of the wealth coffee can generate back to the people who toil in its production. So that they keep producing it, frankly, and can live more dignified lives than we see now on our overly glamorized adventurous and harrowing origin travels. Oh, how we cling to that travel to another world where we can see so clearly just now limited the means of folks at the beginning of our value chain can be. We glamorize a familiarity with the disparity, but have not really elevated the conversation of why it exists in our luxury product’s value chain. Perhaps it is time to embrace a new crowd of influencers who can help us to give rise to valuing coffee more and on a mainstream scale eventually. It could just happen someday.

Producer Aida Battle and Chad Trewick, the author, at New York Fashion Week.
Producer Aida Battle and Chad Trewick, the author, at New York Fashion Week.

No doubt people in our industry will minimize these efforts and perhaps even find it difficult to see the opportunity, but it is here. This engagement has already planted seeds for a growing expectation of an elevated coffee experience among fashionistas. When they come asking again, I will do what I can to make it happen for them.

 

 

 

 

chadABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chad Trewick
has long been a champion of responsible sourcing. He’s spent his years in the specialty coffee industry building bridges between wide ranging stakeholders, from coffee farm to cupping room to boardroom. His focus (and personal mission) is to preserve access to coffee by strengthening the entire value chain and ensuring scalable mutually beneficial relationships. Under his leadership, Caribou Coffee achieved 100% Rainforest Alliance certification in 2011 by working together with producers to elevate their farm operations (rather than abandoning long-term relationships).

After more than two decades working primarily on the roaster side in the specialty coffee industry, plus time spent gaining a deeper understanding of the financial side of the coffee market, Chad formed Reciprocafé, LLC a consultancy service that prioritizes shared value and measured and meaningful coffee value chain work and support.

Trewick has participated in the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) as a volunteer for 20 years. He supports industry efforts toward knowledge about and understanding of our product and its value chain. He is on the SCAA’s board of directors and is a liaison to the organization’s Sustainability Council that works toward embedding responsible considerations and behaviors throughout the specialty coffee industry.

 

 

 

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