Here at Business Chicks we are passionate about creating a community where our members can share their stories, learn from each other and inspire one another. We’d love to introduce you to Celina Lazarus – Lawyer, Actress, Co-founder and director of First Crop Coffee and Maillard Atelier Melbourne and self-acclaimed goal-digger. Oh, she’s also the 2017 IABCA (India Australia Business & Community Awards) Business Woman of the Year Winner and currently on the 2018 Global Women to Watch List. She also raises money for charity outside of business on a personal capacity, donating the money she raises to Water for Life. Yep, she’s one brilliant woman to watch.
“Growing up in South Africa and as a child going to school when the Apartheid was ending. I saw a lot of injustice”.
A kick-ass woman with a passion for justice and coffee, Celina decided to merge her two loves and start her flourishing business, First Crop Coffee. There is no doubt that Celina is a pioneer in Australia’s specialty coffee industry. Her business, First Crop Coffee sources coffee beans in an entirely transparent and ethical manner. Celina is actively involved in each and every process – from the farming to the roasting. On top of all of this, Celina gives back to the communities that farm First Crop coffee, helping out with the livelihood of the people from the communities that are struggling.
You moved to Australia at such a challenging age. What was that like?
Moving to Australia was a very overwhelming leap. Leaving my life in South Africa at 16 was really hard, but I was excited for a new chapter, and everything that has happened to me since is just another chapter.
Everything that has happened throughout my journey has made me who I am. I am a stronger person and I have learned so much from so many people and I don’t think I would have the strength and the courage to do the things that I do, if that leap wasn’t taken.
So proud to be able to share my knowledge and be associated with an event run by women for women. Even prouder to be able to host the venue for the first day of the event! A big thank you to @mi555u @zweidick and @camillalefevre for bringing @barista_connect to Melbourne 🙌🏽❤ #melbourne #melbournecoffee #specialtycoffee
You left the legal field to run your own business, what motivated you to do this?
As I grew up in South Africa, I saw a lot of injustice and decided I wanted to be a part of a movement – that is why I studied law. It was going to be amazing; I was going to wear awesome pantsuits. It just so happened that before I started practicing, I was working as a paralegal in criminal law firm and it was too much emotionally.
I realised the law doesn’t really protect those that need protecting – it kind of broke my heart a little. So I channelled my heartbreak into my second love, coffee. Now I get to fight injustice and poverty by employing people who surround the coffee growing regions and buying from small coffee growing businesses to keep them alive. I have taken my love for justice from law and applied it to coffee.
What is your dream for First Crop Coffee? Where do you see it going?
My dreams are huge, I want to build more schools, more help centres and be more involved on the ground level with the communities that farm First Crop’s coffee. I want First Crop Coffee to grow, not for the money, but for the scope of all the things we could achieve with those funds.
On Friday I won Business Woman of the year at the Indian Australian Business Awards. While the award was completely unexpected, it’s validation that I am on the right track as a business woman and made me realise that my influence reaches far beyond my own scope. I spend everyday in my own bubble, just doing what I’m doing not knowing what things look like from the outside and seeing that this is it, it’s extraordinary! . To those who know me, you will know that business has never been about money. It’s a means to do what I can, for who I can, with what I have and that will never change. At the centre of everything, it’s about doing good for those less fortunate and in my case, it’s keeping coffee framers in business, providing their communities with education and health facilities and that makes my heart happy. . I’m overwhelmed and (when I’ve recovered from the last few weeks) will be inspired to keep doing what I’m doing! Thank you so much to the #IABCA community for the recognition and to Sonia from @gandhicreations for her vision and the platform that she has created for Indian immigrants like me to be heard. #firstcropcoffee #maillardatelier #businesswoman #businesschicks #bosslady #girlboss #actor #winner #award #india #indian #incredibleindia
Giving back is obviously something you hold very close to your heart. How do you have this as the foundation of your businesses and continue to run them successfully? Have there been any challenges in doing so?
The biggest challenge is funding. We are 100% self funded. Which is insane when you think about it, and also very scary. Our second challenge is customers not wanting to pay a fair price for coffee. Regardless of the transparency and ethical side, we are the most reasonably priced coffee importer in the country. As a small business we have certainly had to fight and stand our ground because we have to support these people.
How do you cope with running two businesses?
I am honestly a really determined and driven person and I NEVER give up. I never take no for an answer and if I want something I work really hard for it until I get it.
“You might think that there are a thousand things working against you, but there is also a thousand things working for you.”
A goal-digger. That’s exactly what I am. I have these goals, and I have these things that I want to do and I just don’t rest until I get them. I don’t care if I am exhausted, I’ll sleep when I’m dead.
If you could offer any advice to someone wanting to start their own business, what would it be?
JUST DO IT. There is really nothing holding you back, you might think that there are a thousand things working against you, but there is also a thousand things working for you. The longer you wait, the quicker someone else is going to do whatever your idea was.
The only way you are going to get anywhere is to take that leap of faith and just start, just do it, do something! Even if it is putting a little bit of money away, making your first design or doing a short course. Don’t think about it. Just do it.
Connect with Celina here, check out First Crop here.
Images: Marnya Rothe / @marnyarothephotography