Business - Issue 87 - Magazine | Monocle

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News forecast


UK-based start-up Byline aims to do for online journalism what iTunes did for the music industry: convince people that something they’ve largely stopped paying for is still worth the money. Co-founders Daniel Tudor and Seung-yoon Lee launched Byline in April as a crowd-funded platform for writers. “We want journalism that pays the reporter but isn’t reliant on advertising,” says Tudor.

Journalists create an online profile – including details of their expertise – and entice readers to fund them with the promise of specialised, high-quality stories, along with access to extra material. Byline has got off to a solid start, with writers including Norman Finkelstein and Alex Andreou now regular contributors to the site. “By providing a platform for a million different niches,” says Tudor, “we’ll let people start paying for what they really care about.”

Creative connection

Toronto — TRADE

“Immediately after a conflict or a natural disaster of course you’re very focused on aid,” says Hedvig Alexander. “You’re focused on feeding and housing people but not on building the private sector. That takes a long time.”

Alexander, who worked in international development in Afghanistan for a decade, is the founder of Far and Wide Collective, an online marketplace that connects artisans in developing economies with markets in the west to sell everything from delicate cotton napkins handwoven in Sri Lanka to bold hand-embossed notecards made in Afghanistan.

“They’re business people,” Alexander says of the artisans she works with. “It’s really the local private sector that’s going to pay for infrastructure, health provision and an education system in the long term. So we want these businesses to continue to grow.”

Stepping it up

León, Mexico — FASHION

Since its 1987 launch, Mexican company Caborca has carved out a sizeable niche handcrafting boots, mostly for American consumers. The devaluation of the Mexican peso and the strengthened US economy have offered an additional boost; in the first half of 2015, Caborca’s sales in the US rose 32 per cent year on year.

Emboldened by its North American performance it is now giving the boot to Asia, a historic rival to Mexico in the shoe business. This year models wearing the high-end footwear strutted down the catwalk in Japan – a move Caborca says will help it kick open the door to China.

Seeds of change


Any food analyst will tell you that our consumption habits, particularly those in cities, need to change. But can we achieve the holy trinity of sustainable food production, quality produce and economic viability? Kate Hofman thinks we can.

“We want to change the way we feed cities,” says the co-founder and ceo of the two-year-old GrowUp, an alternative agriculture firm. Its speciality, aquaponics, capitalises on the symbiotic relationship between flora and fauna: fish waste is used to fertilise plants; plants clean water for fish; and both are sold to restaurants at a profit.

The enterprise began with a converted shipping container at a park in east London, intended to gauge demand. And demand there certainly was: this autumn, the company is upsizing from 14 sq m to 600 sq m. The new project is the UK’s first commercial aquaponic urban farm. The controlled environment allows for the year-round growing of exotic herbs, from Chinese celery to holy basil.

“We wanted to create a successful business while also being sustainable and having a positive social impact,” says Hofman. “These goals drive every decision that we make.”

Tech roast

London — COFFEE

Developed by Royal College of Art graduates Andrew Stordy and Rombout Frieling, Ikawa Home Roaster is the world’s first digital micro-roaster controlled by a smartphone app. Their concept was to have a positive impact on the coffee industry. The company sources high-quality beans from Africa and South America through direct relationships with farmers and sells them to users of the roaster. As Stordy puts it: “Our vision is to change traditional supply chains for the benefit of coffee growers.”

The Ikawa roasts up to 50g of green coffee beans, with the user able to vary the duration, temperature and airflow.

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