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Emma Chamberlain checks all the boxes. A stylish and savvy influencer with millions of devoted followers across multiple platforms, the 19-year-old is praised for her authenticity as she maneuvers from partnerships with luxury houses like Louis Vuitton to retail-for-the-masses chain Pac Sun. But the brand closest to her heart is the one with her name on it — Chamberlain Coffee. Launched a little more than a year ago, Chamberlain Coffee turned heads for adorable packaging, must-have merch and the way it caused coffee snobs to do a double-take at its line of instant coffee bags. As the line expands , Chamberlain got on the phone with The Hollywood Reporter to discuss her long-term growth strategy, post-pandemic travel plans and why she’s so desperate for a hobby.
It’s 11 a.m. which feels like a good time to ask how many cups of Chamberlain Coffee you’ve had so far today?
One very, very large cold brew so far but I also did have an energy drink. That’s where I’m at right now.
Got to prep for this interview. What is your go-to right now? Is it cold brew?
It’s always tied between cold brew and a latte. I usually do a cold brew in the morning because I’m too lazy to make espresso, and then, in the afternoon, that’s when the latte comes in and I do a nice little almond milk latte.
That sounds amazing. One of the reasons that we’re talking is because Chamberlain Coffee is expanding with decaf, espresso variety packs, drippers, and new merch. How do you decide what product lines you want to introduce?
It’s a combination of what I love and also what I feel like other people would love. In the beginning, it was like, OK, I’m going to do what I love, things that I specifically use on a day-to-day basis. Then, at a certain point you start to realize, OK, wait, some people want different things. I’m a big ice coffee drinker and I rarely drink hot coffee but so many people love and drink hot coffee every day. So, let’s do things for the hot coffee lovers too. I’m not the only customer, right? It’s about finding that balance between making the stuff that I use and love the most but also being open-minded to what other people like.
What is your testing strategy like when you want to introduce something new? Because you can’t really have back-to-back coffees if you’re meant to be testing so many, right?
Sometimes I need to taste multiple blends, and there’s usually no more than five but sometimes there has been up to five. Usually what I do is I’ll make all of them and only do tiny sips. Make every sip count because I know that I don’t want to get too wired. Although, I do think that I might be immune to caffeine at this point. I’m not lying, yesterday I had two very large cold brews and an energy drink and then took a nap for an hour. This fully happened. I was like, “How is that possible?” My body just doesn’t absorb caffeine anymore, I don’t think.
I noticed somebody recently asked you about introducing a Chamberlain Coffee tea or tea bags. How is it going with all of these new products and what other areas do you foresee expanding into?
Right now, the decaf has been really exciting. People love it. I was kind of nervous about releasing a decaf because I’ve always been somebody that was like, “What? Decaf? No.” I’ve always been kind of anti-decaf because I’m somebody that barely absorbs caffeine as it is. My mom is super sensitive to caffeine and I remember she said, “Emma, you need to do decaf.” So, we did it and people love it. I want everybody to be able to enjoy coffee, whether they can tolerate caffeine or not. The espresso is new and also super exciting because I’m a huge latte drinker and I always have been. Having a special espresso blend is a dream because I’ve been using the other ones for espresso for a while now, but this one is just perfect.
The drippers are really fun. We’re always trying to find new accessories to make the coffee experience more of a full experience. We’re also thinking about down the line creating more merch products that are cute and fun so that you can represent Chamberlain Coffee even when you’re not drinking it because I’m personally somebody that loves doing that. Just coming out with more stuff that we love and going with the flow. We haven’t started testing tea or anything like that but I’m super open-minded to anything that I become obsessed with down the line. We have such a solid foundation right now of products that I feel like I have the space to take my time.
Are you able to say what has been the bestseller on the merch side is?
A big hit has definitely been the Mason jars, which I totally understand. I mean, I’m obsessed with it. I’ve always loved drinking coffee out of a cute receptacle. Having something like a cute Mason jar to drink your ice coffee out of is just so great. We recently introduced a clear tumbler cup. I was so adamant about finding the perfect plastic tumbler cup that’s reusable. I kept saying, “We need this right now.” I literally would not shut up about it and I kept pinging the team until we got it. The colorful reusable straws have done really well. But mainly the Mason jars — we were mind-blown.
What is the long-term strategy for how to grow Chamberlain Coffee?
The goal is to, hopefully, grow a fan base. I’ve been so fortunate to have such loyal fans that I have such an intimate relationship with and they support me in everything that I do, which is seriously the greatest gift of life and I’m so grateful. But I also want Chamberlain Coffee to grow its own fan base, whether that’s from my fans buying my coffee, their parents trying it and then their parents becoming a fan. Or through ads and other kinds of marketing tactics.
I want it to grow a base that has people buying it who don’t even know who I am or don’t even care. I’d like to build it as a brand and let the coffee speak for itself. At the same time, I want to stay true to the brand voice, which is just, honestly, all about playfulness and acceptance. So many coffee brands are stern or professional, but we like to be wholesome, comforting coffee brand that makes you feel warm and fuzzy when you’re drinking it rather than, “Oh, I’m so sophisticated.” That’s a great feeling, too, but we want to be the fun coffee brand. That’s what keeps people coming back because our packaging and the whole experience of using our products hopefully lightens your day.
What have you learned about running a business over the past year?
I definitely learned about all the things that I don’t know, you know what I mean? There’s been a learning curve because a lot of the business skills that I have are instinctual. I didn’t go to school for running a business. I have such an amazing team that I work with that has been guiding me through this process and teaching me the things. But a lot of it has been accepting and realizing that nobody knows everything; nobody knows how to perfectly run a business, no matter who you are. It’s kind of the unknown. It’s also about accepting and putting my ego aside for a second to say, “OK, let’s look at the big picture here.”
Another thing I learned was that nothing happens overnight. In the infancy of a company, it’s not going to be where you want it to be. It doesn’t start out being perfect, ever. It’s going to be far from perfect. Growing a brand, creating the voice and the aesthetic of the whole brand, that takes time. I always thought, oh, you stick to one brand voice and do this. No, that evolves over time. You’re constantly going to be editing things and changing things to get it to exactly where you want it to be. You’re never fully done. It’s a lot more work than I thought it would be with everything from small details, emails, taste testing, the number of products you try, or the samples you end up hating. There’s a lot more disappointment than you would expect, but also, the reward from when you sample that perfect product is so exciting.
What have you learned about yourself during the pandemic?
Oh God, I have learned a lot. I was alone a lot throughout this, and, I mean, this is totally unrelated to coffee but I’ve learned how much I appreciate having a small and comfortable circle of people in my life of people that I know love and care about me. That includes my team, my family, friends, all of that. I just appreciate those people and I appreciate time by myself, too, to check in with myself. I’ve also realized that working — whether it be on the brand, my YouTube channel or my podcast — makes me feel really good. I never realized how good that that stuff makes me feel. When I put my heart and soul into it, which I’ve had so much time to do this year, that’s when I enjoy it the most and that’s when the most magical things happen. When things start to open back up, I think I’m going to be spending a lot more time alone and a lot more time working on all of this stuff, because it makes me feel good in more ways than just like, “Oh, I’m posting something.”
I know you’ve said in the past Coachella is something you’re really looking forward to on the other side of this. When restrictions are lifted and everyone’s healthy and vaccinated, what else do you want to do out in the world?
There so many things! I have not really left L.A. a lot this year. So, definitely a lot more traveling. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with traveling, but when I tell you, I’ve never craved something more in my life, I really have never craved something more in my life. I need to get out of here. Finally, when I get to sit on a plane, I promise, I will not complain about it because I usually do. I’m also excited to try new restaurants, go to the beach. Mainly, just get on a plane. I’m honestly about to freak out here, at this point.
I saw you partnered with Pac Sun. Your statement referenced the nostalgia of that store for you and this partnership signals that you’re not setting off to only be in the luxury space exclusively after aligning with Louis Vuitton and other brands. Why was this important for you?
As much as I love the higher fashion side of things and as much as that’s become something that I’m passionate about and interested in, I don’t wear Louis Vuitton every day. I have never been somebody that even necessarily feel super comfortable wearing designer, luxury-type of stuff every day. It’s not me and it’s also not realistic. I’m not buying sweatpants from Louis Vuitton to wear to bed. That’s for special occasions and I do like to add a little fun bag here and there to casual outfits. That’s awesome. The dilemma a lot of people have is that they feel they need to choose one avenue. I totally disagree because it’s like there’s so many amazing brands out there and so many amazing brands that I love, why would I only stick to one genre when there are just so many great ones?
Pac Sun was my store growing up. That was like the first place I went to in the mall every single time. There was absolutely no way that I couldn’t say yes. I mean, it was an immediate yes. I’m literally wearing a pair of their sweatpants right now. They just have amazing stuff and they’re the perfect California girl vibe.
When you said “immediate yes” it made me think you must get just inundated with requests. What’s an immediate no?
Anything that feels like it’s not me. I’m open-minded when it comes to brands. My criteria are, OK, either, do I love this? Or would this be useful for my audience? A hard no is when any brand wants me to do a full, dedicated YouTube video only about their product. I’m not going to make a full YouTube video as a commercial for your product because what’s the content? There’s no content there. That, to me, feels fake. Whereas, if I’m vlogging about my day and for a 60-second portion of my video, I talk about a product that I genuinely enjoy or that I genuinely think that my audience would enjoy, that’s totally fine. It doesn’t get in the way of the content. It’s just a little moment that feels comfortable.
What’s the best thing you’ve consumed during quarantine, whether it be a TV show, book, movie, YouTube, podcast, et cetera?
I’ve gotten really into cooking videos on YouTube. I just love Binging with Babish and Joshua Weissman, they’re YouTubers who do cooking videos. I’ve been desperate for a hobby, like desperate. Cooking is fun — it’s not always easy — but it’s always fun. I feel like on the internet, especially on YouTube, there can be things that are like “junk food” for your brain, stuff that doesn’t make you feel good because it has drama in it or whatever. I want to watch content that is comforting and cooking videos are that for me because there’s no drama, nothing famous or clout-driven. It’s just cooking, that’s it. I love it.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
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