From the Art joins Melbourne’s social enterprise ranks

Jan Vykydal

How should you go about making your business ethical?

You could source your food from local farmers. You could use recycled, biodegradable takeaway containers. You could work with companies that have similar values, such as STREAT, which helps young homeless people. You could train asylum seekers in how to work in the hospitality industry. You could work with a Cambodian organisation that recycles bomb shells from the Khmer Rouge days into bracelets and earrings.

Or, if you’re like Melbourne’s From the Art: Ethical Handicrafts and Café, you could do all of the above.

“We like to say that we have a holistic approach to making our space as ethical as possible,” says Crystal Fickers, one of the café’s founders. From the Art is one of a growing number of social enterprises in Melbourne that are dedicated to giving back.

“These days, more and more people like to know the background story to where their money goes,” she says, and it’s paying off; after only a short time in business, the café has already served more than 800 people.

We like to say that we have a holistic approach to making our space as ethical as possible.

Fickers and her partner and co-founder, Trishay Trada, wanted to help people and to do something practical, and they found a way to do both with their business.

Starting up was slow. The paperwork took six months to complete, sourcing their products is difficult and expensive, and they need to be careful about what they pick to sell – fair trade items are paid for upfront.

They didn’t want to only partially commit to being an ethical business, either, which is why they ended up working with STREAT. Proceeds from the coffee beans they purchase from STREAT go to training and employing at-risk youth.

They’ve also worked with three asylum seekers so far. “We work closely with the kind folks at Brotherhood St. Laurence, who essentially act as the intermediary between asylum seekers who are eligible to work and employers who are keen to employ them.”

“If our business is successful in the long run, it will be because the community has been so kind and welcoming.

Many of the gift items they sell come from communities around the world. As well as Cambodia, the café is connected to artists in Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, Denmark, India, Thailand and Mozambique.

A friend of Fickers' regularly travels to Africa, and helps source items from several countries there.

“Proceeds from bracelets pay for Kenyan girls' school uniforms, or a school for children with disabilities. Baskets from Ghana are made with local grass, vegetable dies and cruelty-free leather, where the animal passed away from natural causes,” she says.

Fickers says the reaction from the community has been very rewarding. Neighbours help with trades and promotion, they have a lot of support from the vegetarian and vegan communities, and people like to learn about how their purchases help make a difference.

“If our business is successful in the long run,” she says, “it will be because the community has been so kind and welcoming.”

Jan Vykydal

Jan is a Sydney-based writer and editor whose work has been published in a stable of titles including the National Post, The Daily Planet and Edmonton Examiner. He is currently Editor at ShortPress.