The Story of the Coconut Oil We Use in Our Soap Bars.
The Little Shipping Co. source ingredients for making our natural soap bars from businesses who align with our own ethics where possible, and although we began by using virgin coconut oil we sailed back from Vanuatu on our own little sailing ship, we have found another ethical enterprise operating in the previously politically unstable East Timor, who produce the beautiful organic virgin coconut oil we now use in all of our soap.
Lospalos Coconut Oil is providing an income to many people especially women, and those who have never received an income before, and they are helping small communities in Timor-Leste to become independent and make a new life for themselves. I caught up with one of the co-founders, Shannon French, who helped create this opportunity, to find out a bit more about the Lospalos Coconut Oil story.
So Shannon, you were in the Australian Army in East Timor during the civil unrest? Tell me about your experience there.
Hard question first up and I still struggle with a lot of what happened in 2000. We went there expecting to be peacekeepers but found ourselves involved in a militia and Indonesian insurgency trying to destabilize the peace process by coming across the border to threaten, kill and destroy. What it meant for our battalion was heavy patrolling the huge mountains and thickly vegetated border areas looking for the armed and dangerous so-called militia. I got to see the destruction of the country firsthand and the results of a scored earth policy against Timor for daring to vote for Independence from Indonesia.
Why did you start Lospalos Coconut Oil project?
Lospalos Coconut oil was started because I had been working with coffee plantation owners and realised that coffee only grows for half the year and coconuts grow all year round. I was able to find a model that was sustainable, produced high-quality coconut oil, and that everyone from the community and the districts benefitted by selling us coconuts that previously were dropping to the ground and rotting. We were able to provide employment to many women who previously had never had paid employment or training before.
How is the community involved in the project?
We started with 7 women who we trained and employed to around 40 that work in the factory. We are now also buying coconuts not just from Lospalos but also in surrounding areas of Viqueque and Baucau.
Tell me what makes this coconut oil better than other coconut oil that’s available in Australia.
Our coconut oil is made with Direct Micro expelling which means from the time the coconut is cracked after an hour we have fresh organic virgin coconut oil. It’s not mass-produced in factories but by small scale factories in remote communities putting money into the hands of people who need it most.
What are the challenges the enterprise is facing currently?
COVID not being able to travel back and forth. So hard running a business in Timor let alone via WhatsApp. Shipping lanes to Australia are almost impossible to navigate even though Timor is only 500km from Darwin. Also trying to break into a saturated market where people are happy not to read beyond the label of the products they are buying. I have found a lot of companies are desperate to be seen to be ethical but that’s about the extent of their interest.
What are your hopes for the future?
We really hope to expand factories to other districts. We began by helping around 30 families and now we are helping more than 1000. We haven’t really been supported in Australia which is a shame but finding a consistent bulk customer would be the key to us helping more families get an income to keep improving education, health, and nutrition which we are seeing these improvements in Lospalos already and know that this model really does work for rural Timorese.
The Little Shipping Co. is so proud to be supporting Lospalos Coconut Oil and using such a yummy product in our soap bars. By purchasing our soap bars you as the consumer is also playing a small part in helping ethical social enterprises such as this.