They [some arbitrary people] say things come around in cycles and it appears to be true, particularly of fashion. Who thought we’d see the likes of platform shoes again (let alone silver ones) or those tattoo-chokers which were popular in the 90s and most recently flares have also started making a come back. Who woulda thunk it. But what else is making a come back is ginger, the hideous root as well as the golden follicle, which for the purposes of this article, we shall dub the gingernaissance. One brand which has cottoned on to the trend is Karma Cola which has even released a zine about ginger/gingers to celebrate its Gingerella Ginger Ale concoction.
Before falling in the eyes of the public estimation and being left out of sports teams, teased and ridiculed gingers were held up as a hallmark of beauty (or at least the women were) which can be seen via the art world throughout the centuries. The Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood’s Rossetti was famous for the red-headed femme fatales staring out from his canvases.
Karma Cola understood the appeal, however, deciding to use a sassy red-headed vixen called Gingerella as the fictionalised mascot for its ginger ale product, making it as obviously ginger as possible to fit into current gingernaissance ideals.
The zine called Gingerella – What Goes Around Comes Around celebrates all things ginger says Karma Cola chief of propaganda and the dark arts (as her Linked In profile reads) Angela Barnett. “The subject of ginger is quite hot right now. In the UK they are doing a ginger pride red head day. One of the stories in the back the Thomas Knights interview [shows this]. [He is a] photographer in London and grew up as a red head and was bullied and he was adamant that there were no good ginger role models to look up to. Ron Weasley is the wimpy guy in Harry Potter. The ginger is never the hot guy or the heart throb but he created this exhibition (called Red Hot) that went nuts. He called all the modelling agencies and said ‘Give me the names of your ginger boys’. And they said ‘What do you mean, we don’t have any’. And he thought ‘What if I make an exhibition showing red headed males’ and it went nuts.”
However, sadly there is still some discrimination, as when I Googled “Gingers making a comeback”, I also stumbled across some very sad posts where gingers were asking for ‘comebacks’ to being teased. Not cool. Leave the gingers alone, they have souls too, damn it!
But luckily for Karma Cola, the ginger craze doesn’t only pertain to red heads, but also to ginger beverages. According to hotelmanagement.net in US restaurants and bars tracked by Technomic’s MenuMonitor online resource, the number of specialty drinks containing ginger beer climbed 75 percent from Q3 2013 to Q3 2014. “The number of operators with ginger-beer concoctions on the menu rose by about the same share (76 percent). Moscow Mules alone saw their numbers rise 45 percent.”
Barnett, who contributed her writing skills to the zine, says this is the company’s second crack at it after creating its first in May last year around its Karma Cola product, also called Karma Cola, which tells the story of its sourcing of cola nuts from Sierra Leone and how it gives back to the community .“Simon Coley who is one of our co-founders had the idea last year and his line was ‘There’s too much to fit on the back of the bottle’ in terms of the story behind our drinks. We wanted to find a way to tell the story about the drinks and where we get our ingredients and try to connect people drinking the drink with people who have grown the ingredients in other parts of the world.”
The current zine features an interview with red headed supermodel and actress Lily Cole, a story about ginger farmers in Sri Lanka who also harvest spices (appropriately dubbed ‘The Spice Girls’), a look at Sri Lankan street food, ginger and its cures, ginger cocktails, a great comic about the birth of the company's fictionalised Gingerella character and much more.
The team printed a whopping 20,000 copies, distributing 10,000 in New Zealand and another 10,000 in Australia which were printed by the Herald’s printing machine. Barnett says some copies will also be flown over to the UK, but they haven’t been distributed there yet.
When asked if a zine is a good way to market product Barnett says you have to be careful with it. “You have to have a story to tell that’s not just ‘Here’s my product aren’t we great’. You have to have something to say and it’s still evolving but making sure you are thinking about who is reading rather than who’s writing it. You have to make sure it’s entertaining people … You want people to get to the end and say ‘Ohh they’re doing good shit’.”
The company strived hard to do this, as it spent six months gradually curating stories for the 56-page zine, with the story on Lily Cole bound to be a well-read piece. “We just had a synergy with her. It was difficult [to arrange the interview] because she was about to have a baby. [And] it is difficult trying to find the right path to get to her but once you get through all the gate keepers it was okay as we thought she might like what we do because we are fair trade and organic and she’s always fighting for farmers and when she was 17 she travelled to Botswana and met Kalahari bushmen who were making amazing jewellery out of ostritch eggs.”
Barnett says the ostritch egg jewellery made a big impact in London design circles and as the zine piece says were examples of a “trade, not aid” initiative.
The zine also wasn’t exactly cheap says Barnett. “It was mainly in time. In terms of writing it, researching stories and we have an in-house designer Finlay Brazier so it took up a lot of his time. We did a lot of it in-house but it ... took a reasonable chunk of our marketing budget.”
Perhaps the time, money and effort is why the zines are only being released once a year which also allows the time for the team to gather good stories. Barnett says the next zine will be released around the same time next year and will be based around its Lemmy Lemonade product.
Zines also seem a good way to get the word out, as much like gingers, they too are becoming popular. In fact, next month a zinefest will be held in Auckland, “celebrating zines and all things DIY".
Barnett says there is also some merit in having something in print which. “We quite like the low-flying nature of it, which is why it’s in news print. Everyone is blogging online and creating so much content so it’s quite nice to be able to have something in your hands.”
The Karma Cola team also had the idea of pushing the zine and the Gingerella product by collaborating with the organisers of the Comedy Festival which eventually led to it teaming up with the Snort improvisational comedy group. “We created the design for it and all the wigs we had on social media. It just felt really great to be part of something and working together on how we make it bigger for you guys [the Snort team] and how we can make it fit with us.”
This writer was at the show which was held at the Q Theatre and was bursting to the brim with people. There was also a handy bit of product placement as a ginger-haired member of the Snort crew ambled on stage with a bottle of Gingerella Ginger Ale. And also a healthy bit of rival brand hate, as he made the crowd shout “Fuck Bundaberg!” – all in good fun.
Goodie bags were handed out at the end containing a copy of the zine, a bottle of Gingerella Ginger Ale and a piece of ginger crunch donated from Karla Goodwin at Bluebells Bakery. “We made 250 bags, hoping we might get 250 people to show up and 378 came, we had to add an extra 60 seats in the afternoon.”
Barnett says its working model of giving back has worked well for the company and the communities they’ve been able to help. Karma Cola's products are now in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK, as well as New Zealand, of course.
The company, All Good Organics (Karma Cola is the drinks side of the business) is also growing at over 120 percent a year and 60 percent of its sales are in overseas markets, Barnett says.
Six cents from every bottle of their product sold goes to the Karma Cola Foundation then the proceeds are distributed in Sierra Leone and then the community decides how to use the money, Barnett says. “So far we have given US $30,000 to them and they decide how to use the money and they have done some fantastic things with it.”
She says since the first Karma Cola was bottled in 2012 the community has built a bridge, sent a few children to school and built a rice hulling centre. The foundation also supports an HIV theatre group and employed a primary school teacher as well as putting a focus on rebuilding forest farms after several were wrecked after the civil war.
When asked the classic “what’s next” question, Barnett says co-founder Simon Coley is currently in the UK beating the karma drum and generating noise in London. She says the brand just made it into Waitrose there and Coley also just featured on the BBC.