Growing a Woman-Owned Supply Chain
“I know a woman who can make anything,” an old coworker in Saigon told me. It was the end of my
second sourcing trip in October 2016. I had spent the last two weeks trying over 40 Vietnamese coffee suppliers to determine where we’d source our Copper Cow Coffee. Now that the coffee was coming together, I had to figure out how to package and sell it. I wanted the packaging to match the quality and
care we had put into what was going to go in it.
We showed up to the factory in typical Saigon fashion – slowly creeping along a crowded Saigon street
of out-of- order addresses until we found a nondescript doorway that my friend recognized. Inside
there were people making everything from children’s notebooks to high end jewelry boxes. I’ve sat on
her factory floors for countless hours waiting for prototypes that are always perfectly crafted, down to
the 1/10 th of a millimeter. Her attention to detail and passion for quality in unparalleled of any
manufacturer I’ve worked with. People in both Vietnam and the US are constantly asking me how I
found her – the woman who can make anything.
Ms. Diep is just one example of the women-led community that has made Copper Cow Coffee possible.
When I left my old career at the World Bank I envisioned a path where I’d have more ownership of what
I did. I wanted to be able to have an idea or a solution and just go for it. What I didn’t anticipate was
how amazing it would be to find other companies, and not-so-coincidentally women-owned companies, that shared the same passion to get the job done, and better than anyone else. This community also includes our women-owned and operated fulfillment center in Southern California. I didn’t anticipate the amount and support I’d gain from them – everything from managing new product production to writing handwritten notes for us in online orders. They do whatever it takes (and with humor and transparency) to ensure we make our customers happy.
Copper Cow Coffee also operates out of WomenMadeLA, which now hosts four growing women and
minority-owned companies. We share interns, conference rooms, supplies, contacts, but mostly the
highs and lows of running a business. It started off as a more casual arrangement of sharing office space between two of us, and is quickly growing size and in the ways we help one another. It’s amazing to have advice about how to deal with a challenging buyer, or to share successful social media strategies to help each others’ businesses.
Mostly, the practice of being surrounded by strong, smart, energetic women is the biggest game
changer— to look forward to being in great company even when struggling to build your own. It’s easy
to feel overwhelmed by setbacks or even opportunities when growing a new business. This community
provides me with inspiration from other amazing women who have made the same crazy plunge into
being their own boss, and how proud you are that they’ve done the same. Like Ms. Diep once told me
after running her own factories for the past ten years, “My life is not a peaceful one; but I love my life.”
Words by Debbie Wei Millen
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