Empowering Entrepreneurs: Interview with Ashley Kvamme
Meet the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Kimo Sabe Mezcal
Kimo Sabe Mezcal has been supporting Whole Planet Foundation since 2016 with product donations of mezcal for fundraising events and starting this year contributing, through its non-profit organization, $1 per bottle sold in select Whole Foods Market locations.
What inspired you to start your business / start supporting Whole Planet Foundation?
Growing up I was always connected to the land. My father started the predominate chocolate plantation in the US, in Hawaii – Hawaiian Vintage Chocolate. As agrarians creating products that we cultivated ourselves was always critical as it allowed us our high standards at each step of the way, producing the best tasting products. We’ve done niche to mass consumer products that have all originated from our chocolate fields. When we started growing a large-scale cacao plantation in Mexico we fell in love with another plant – agave. Agaves fiber – inulin was enticing as a low carb sugar replacement for our chocolate. But the more time we took getting to know the plant the more we fell in love with the spirit of Mezcal. My father and I felt we could create a flavor profile for mezcal the way we did with chocolate – rounding the harsh notes, smoothing the taste out and that’s what started us on the pursuit of making the best tasting tequila – Kimo Sabe mezcal.
Part of what we did in Mexico was creating a social entrepreneurial project in helping the farmers grow cacao which we applied to our agave farming with our building bridges project. When we learned that Whole Planet Foundation funds microcredit in Mexico it was a clear sign we needed to give back to the foundation.
How did you progress from your origin story to where you are now?
Cacao threads the backbone of my life’s narrative starting at 5 with memories of running through the fields in Hawaii. It was only natural for me to stay connected to the land. As a family of entrepreneurs and having worked for my father since I was 15, there was only one path - starting Kimo Sabe Mezcal with him. He has been my mentor through life guiding me and always telling me that woman can do anything. So, to be a female founder in a male dominated liquor industry makes me proud. Creating a brand together that promotes inclusivity and building bridges, has been one of the highlights of my life.
Tell us how it felt when you experienced a setback, and how you overcame it?
Our biggest hurdle with Kimo Sabe was before we even started. With a year of research, travel and taste testing we were at a dire state to figure out how to distill the flavor we knew we wanted for our joven. The mezcal industry has been known to be a smoke heavy drink – which comes from the way it’s processed and has been one of the issues for consumer appeal. We wanted to put out a product that was balanced and smooth. We tried many ways of distilling, blending, and agave types but couldn’t get rid of the smoke bomb taste. We almost gave up as we were not going to put out a product we didn’t like the taste of. And by a lark through some deep research we found a potential answer – sonication, sounds waves that homogenize the water and the alcohol. Connecting with a company out of the country, re-piping our distillery, a few tears and many trials later we finally got the taste we wanted - a balanced mezcal.
What makes each day an opportunity to make a difference for yourself and microentrepreneurs around the globe?
To maintain a healthy agave population Kimo Sabe mezcal has planted agaves since 2016 to replace the ones we have used in our spirit. Why is this important? Most agave is gathered from the wild which isn’t replaced. Whereas Kimo Sabe practices sustainable farming by replanting the agaves. These agaves have been donated to independent farmers in Mexico who are the suppliers of some of the juice we use for our blend. We microfinance farmers and give them access to market. Each bottle you buy donates 2 agave plants to the Kimo Sabe planting program. 2 agave plants will produce 10 bottles of Kimo Sabe in turn giving jobs to farmers and families across the 11 mezcal states of Mexico.
What’s the most impactful part of a program/project/product you developed?
5 years ago, when we started Kimo Sabe the biggest issue with the mezcal category was the sustainability issues, inconsistency of flavor, high price tag and the very smoky taste. People wanted to like mezcal but those barriers to entry stopped them. We created Kimo Sabe mezcal to solve those problems thus opening up the mezcal category to a broader audience by being sustainably produced and grown, consistent in flavor, balanced and well-priced.
What’s your 5-year dream?
Like California wine did to the wine category - We are drivers to create a broader agave category where people around the world can participate as entrepreneurs being a part of this exciting category. And by expanding this category I hope we start to see this category explode with some women run companies.
What’s your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs who want to embed a cause in their business strategy?
Find a cause that not only resonates with you but also your business. There should be a clear connection between the two. Once you have that, find a charity that contributes directly to the ones in need. That’s why Kimo Sabe chose Whole Planet Foundation, because it funds microlenders across the globe directly.