Katrina Survivor Indonique Tea Reinvents Itself with a New Type of Capitalism–With George Constance

His first customer was a slim-legged exotic dancer from Bourbon Street. His second, a Catholic priest in clerics. Both came to George Cosntances’s Indonique Cafe to drink high-end teas. George and his wife Daya ran the Magazine Street cafe for 16 months until Katrina hit, emptying the city of people and molding stocked tea leaves. After Katrina, George moved his family to Connecticut and his focus to those who had been less lucky. His story is about including those at the bottom of the supply chain and reinventing a business with a passion for tea and a compassion for people.

The crannied effects of Katrina now ripple through Darjeeling and Assam, India, where the majority of Indonique’s tea is picked. Through his T42 program George takes 10% off the top of his sales (not profits) and gives this to Mercy Corps to invest in tea growing communities in India. A $10 box of tea sends $1 to Mercy Corps, which invests 89 cents of every dollar (a high efficiency ratio).

George and I talk about how his background in geology and paleontology shapes his business, how he won over Mercy Corps and why sending 10% of his profits to Indians whom he will never meet wasn’t a choice, but a compulsion. After a limited run as a successful storefront and tea distributor in New Orleans, George is reinventing Indonique as an online commerce site.

Excerpts are highlighted below. To download instead, right-click and save.

  • Trained as a geologist and having worked for two decades as a paleontologist, George views the world in terms of evolution. Rather than trying to tear down the system of capitalism and building something entirely new, he wants to take capitalism and change it slowly so that it evolves into something better than what it is today.
  • George isn’t willing to wait (and realizes he doesn’t have to) to make his living and then do good, opting instead to have both in his business and life now.
  • After his family drove out of New Orleans and into Connecticut, George was struck by his fortune of having a family and someplace to go. It changed his perception of fortune and gave him an urgency to help others. He looked at Indonique’s supply chain and “didn’t need to look far to see the problems.”
  • From this, he launched T42 to reinvest in the lives and communities of the Indians who pick Indonique’s tea.
  • Building a better and stronger business mandates that “No one is left out of the project stream. If they do well, I do well.”
  • After determining that he wanted to include tea growers in his business, George assembled an informal team of advisors, who promptly talked him down from his first idea to something that he could execute more immediately.
  • He began by researching NGOs with a strong presence in the tea-growing areas of Darjeeling and Assam. He looked for good return on his dollar and an understanding of the region, which led him to Mercy Corps.
  • Before approaching Mercy Corps, George submitted a formal business plan. His advice is to approach a potential non-profit partner as a business partner and to get their attention the first time.
  • One incentive he offered Mercy Corps was open accounting. At any time, Mercy Corps has total access to Indonique’s books.
  • He made actual contact by calling the local Mercy Corps office in Cambridge, MA, and finding an internal champion there.
  • George used the Small Business Administration’s SCORE program for guidance and services.
  • Indonique does not charge a premium to fund its tea pickers, instead it forgoes a marketing budget.
  • Honesty has helped George. When he needs something or doesn’t know something, he asks for help and finds it.
  • Unexpectedly, some suppliers have shied away from Indonique, anxious that their poor labor practices will be exposed through the T42 program. Conversely, George wants to work with them, not punish them. His solution is to go further down the supply chain and support the individuals who pick the teas, starting a chain reaction from the grassroots that benefits all stakeholders.
  • It’s not always easy. Indonique is a business and it doesn’t get a pass on hard times regardless of its owners’ good intentions. The transition from a beloved community-based cafe to an online e-commerce site has been tough. George is using blogs and humor to connect with tea-drinks and coffee drinkers just waiting to be turned.

You should tell George what you think of the interview on Twitter

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.