If you had to name the drink that’s created a fizz around the capital in the last 3 years, you’d have to say it was Karma Cola.
This ethical drink company is one of my favourite tasty drops, not only because it is delicious (I am in LOVE with their new orange flavoured Summer drink and a long time fan of Lemmy Lemonade) but because they’re doing good with their work, promoting Fair Trade all the way.
Cosmo Hawke is one of the faces of Karma Cola around Wellington, in his bright blue and red van doing sales and marketing. He has certainly drunk the Karma Cola when it comes to walking the walk and talking the talk. “Karma Cola is a challenger brand, breaking the mold from other sustainability drinks” Cosmo explains. “We’re transparent, we explain what we do and why we’re doing it. It isn’t a business for business sake. There’s more than a bottom line.” Karma Cola doesn’t have secrets. It lays out its ingredients in its drinks, and aspires to be transparent in everything it does. So, to test Karma Cola’s transparency, I sit down with Cosmo for a long black to find out what makes this capital man tick.
How did he get here?
Cosmo was born in Wellington. “I moved around a lot” Cosmo explains over coffee at Memphis Belle. “We lived above Ernesto when I was teenager. My early memories of Wellington were of Newtown School, Te Aro School, South Wellington Intermediate, Wellington College and then Victoria University” Cosmo says. “Wellington College didn’t really suit me, with my personality. It was quite traditional. I used to spend a lot of time on Cuba Street growing up, hanging out and doing things we weren’t."
Cosmo didn't know what he wanted to be when he grew up but went to study at University anyway. "When I finished school, I knew I wanted to go to University, taking random papers" he says. "After 3 years, I was ready to leave so I asked them what I could finish, which is how I ended up with a Math and Philosophy Degree.” With experience as a Barista at Fuel Espresso under his belt, who he credits for a lot of firsts for coffee in Wellington, Cosmo moved to Melbourne within 3 months of finishing his degree, asking for his new girlfriend to come along for the ride.
In Melbourne, Cosmo fitted in right away. “You’re only 2 hours away from home. Culturally, we’re very similar. I probably would have had a hard time fitting into Auckland to be honest!” Cosmo laughs. While he intended to use his degree, he found that he wasn’t interested in much of the work on offer (“Low level finance roles, which didn’t really appeal”). Instead, he fell back on barista work, and ended up finding a role working for a new Coffee Supreme roastery after a customer asked him to come and work for them.
“Challenger brands associated with food and beverage - I ended up working for these kinds of companies all through my time in Melbourne, almost the whole 10 years” Cosmo explains.
“I lived on the North side of Melbourne, near Fitzroy in Brunswick. There were loads of Kiwis working in the hospitality industry in Melbourne. I ended up owning a place of my own, with a buddy of mine, which we opened in 2010. We called it Bager and Hawk, a burger place on La Trobe St. It was harder than I thought it was going to be!” says Cosmo.
At 31, Cosmo decided to swap Melbourne for his hometown after his partner and he had a baby. “We didn’t have the family support and Wellington is a better city for family. The business also was taking up a lot of time” Cosmo explains. On arriving, and moving to Karori, he started door knocking to look for work. “I’ve never waited for an ad to be posted. Half the time a job hasn’t existed until a company meets me” Cosmo explains. “I approached Matt from Karma Cola, who didn’t have anything. But then within a month it was all on! There’s Matt, Chris and Simon who head up the ship” says Cosmo.
What does he love about his job?
Cosmo is passionate about what makes Karma Cola different and loves getting to talk about it all day long. “Karma Cola is challenging the norms of what soda has been so far. It works in a few ways, sustainability, transparency and honesty. We have a booklet that states everything in our drink. Also, the founders went to Sierra Leone and set up a Fair Trade network for cola nuts. It’s about taking the product they have to offer and helping them stand on their own two feet” Cosmo explains. He’s a big believer in fair trade and telling the story of a brand. “Coffee started it all, looking to get a fair price for a product, breaking the mold of big corporations. It can be hard for a Guatemalan farmer to know what a Kiwi coffee drinker wants, but if we work more closely everything can be better across the board.”
What’s next for Karma Cola?
The idea of it is to become a truly global ethical sustainable cola. “There’s no reason it has to be about New Zealand specifically. It’s big in the UK now and we’re proud about our out of the box thinking!” says Cosmo. “We have to export, and to make our mark, so we need to defy the norm at Karma Cola.”
“After being away for so many years it didn’t feel like home. It probably took me a full year to feel at home again but when it did it felt much stronger than anywhere else. The familiarity, understanding and knowing how things work” Cosmo explains. “But now, for me, its home.”