We launched Kuju in 2016 at Summer Outdoor Retailer. We remember building our 100% wood booth by hand, skipping our lunch and powering through that day with so much gusto we know now to never skip lunch again.
The show was a blast and shortly after we saw our pour overs land nationwide in Sportsman’s Warehouse and a few months later in REI. Things almost went better as we had hoped. We had put everything on the line, went all in, and perhaps our naivete was the wind behind us. We had driven 11 hours from San Francisco to Salt Lake City in a Nissan pickup truck loaded with our trade show booth boards, product, tools and the most adrenaline you could probably summon.
But it was on the drive back to San Francisco that I remember my cofounder/brother Justin commenting that almost no one at the show looked like us (we’re Asian Americans or Chinese or Chinese with Chinese parents who grew up in Indonesia, whose earlier forefathers were from China - to be exact). It didn’t bother us but it was a fact that we remembered, and something that we have been aware of ever since.
One thing it did cause us to ask, however, was if no one in this industry is Asian, would it work against us to show photos of ourselves as co-founders of an outdoor coffee brand who were Asian? Would people not find our passion for the outdoors and nature credible? Or would they not find resonance in co-founder photos where the individual's hair color did not usually match the hair color of other outdoor photography at the time?
We therefore did not post any co-founder photos of ourselves for this reason and even used a photo of two white male models to contextualize Kuju’s “our story” page on our website - not intentionally and mostly because we liked the photo, but we did realize people might have thought the co-founders of Kuju were white as a result. We also thought sharing the fact that we are both Eagle Scouts could alleviate any potential issues. We still do the latter – because we really are Eagle Scouts – but we don’t do the former anymore.
Since that 2016 year, the outdoor industry has changed quite a bit, and for various reasons. There are organizations and individuals who are pushing ever harder to broaden the demographic of who looks like they belong in the outdoors. And because this issue is bigger than just a company blog post we want to leave you with this question:
Have you ever adjusted a course of action you considered, out of a concern that if people saw what race you were, it might affect your desired outcome in a less than positive manner?