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Enlightened Capitalism

Adam Kendall Woods hand-painted a custom artwork for coffee mugs and other items at Starbucks’ Ferguson store.

Next month, the Starbucks in Ferguson, Mo., will celebrate its one-year anniversary. Ramping up to the occasion, the store recently received a form of recognition rarely afforded among the coffee giant’s 10,000-plus U.S. locations: unique, custom-designed artwork applied to dozens of coffee mugs for use in the store as well as ones for sale to customers. Working from the company’s Seattle HQ, Starbucks visual designer Adam Kendall Woods (also of the band Tenderfoot) used wet-blooming watercolors to spell out the word “Ferguson” in vivid, emerald green lettering—minus the letters US in the middle, which he left white.

“Finding that ‘us’ in Ferguson was serendipitous,” Woods says. “It tells a story, and you get it right away. The typeface is a classic called Clarendon that has history within America’s National Park system. Using all lowercase gives it a human, friendly quality and so does the crafty watercolor look.” Along with mugs, Woods says other merchandise will be printed with the artwork and it may eventually become a mural inside the Ferguson store.

Usually only stores in massive markets like Los Angeles or Brooklyn get custom-branded merch, but Starbucks is treating Ferguson as a special case, worthy of deeper community ties. Alongside cafés in Chicago, Phoenix and Queens, Ferguson is an “opportunity store” opened in the last year in low- to middle-income areas where Starbucks hopes to become a driver of employment and economic development. (This year, five more will open in other markets, including Seattle’s White Center neighborhood.)

Each opportunity store was constructed with an additional room adjoining the standard café. This room can be reserved for free for civic meetings or book clubs; since last fall the Ferguson store has hosted “Coffee with a Cop” meetups to foster common ground between the public and the local police force. But its primary function is as a classroom for free job-training programs available to the local community.

Opportunity stores serve “young people, people not in school and not employed, looking for a way to get their foot in the job market, that basic experience to get them there,” says Starbucks public affairs associate Alisha Damodaran. She says the company rejects the term “at-risk youth” for this particular demographic and instead prefers “opportunity youth,” who train in resume writing, interviewing, customer service and retail skills during the six-to-eight-week program.

Baristas and store managers volunteer as instructors, with primary instruction coming from members of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. Students who complete the program are encouraged to apply for Starbucks positions—or take their new skills wherever else they desire.

“Every other company in retail or customer service is looking for people that are willing to do this entry-level work,” Damodaran says. “Opening up this new pool of talent is so valuable. As much as it’s part of our business run through U.S. operations, it’s also a statement about the way a business can operate and make social impact.”

In 2015, Starbucks publically committed to hiring 10,000 opportunity youth across the United States by 2018 and has already reached that number; they’ve since partnered with 50 companies around the country to expand the goal to 1 million opportunity youth hires by 2021. In early February, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced the company would hire 10,000 refugees across its 75 U.S. markets—a complement to its current initiative to hire 10,000 U.S. military veterans.

“We announced in December that we’re opening 10,000 more stores in the next five years,” Damodaran says. “That’s globally. With 20 to 25 people in each store, that’s a lot of jobs we need to fill.”

For his part, Woods is continuing to seek out work within the company that satisfies his thirst for social justice.

“Right now I’m finishing the designs for the Pride shirt for this year,” he says. “It’s the first time they brought it in-house to be designed in the studio, and we built our own team of completely queer partners. We had a queer copywriter, queer producer, the VP we put it through was queer. I’m super honored to do it.”

Woods’ design will debut at the Miami Beach Gay Pride in early April and will appear at parades and in stores nationally throughout the month.

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