Our Kinds Community: Ashleigh Parnham

Our Kinds Community interview with Flow Master Ash Parnham

Felicity Smith

March 4, 2022

Ash is an artist, café liaison and all-round coffee Flow Master living in the Our Kinds team. She's been working in hospitality since age 17 and has developed a passion for the industry's people alongside the roasting and brewing.

How did you get into the coffee industry?

It was a bakery down the road and me, my mother, and my brother went in. My mum actually said to the owner "do you need staff? My kids want some work". I think my mum was basically just trying to get us out of the house on the weekends.

My brother and I both ended up being hired and my brother even went on to get his Bakers ticket there 6 years later. I kind of squeezed my way onto the coffee machine because I was always interested. I got some time with the head barista and she taught me how to make coffee.

How did you get into art?

I used to watch the animated film Spirit a lot. There was an extras section on the DVD menu and one of the options was a video that taught you how to draw horses. That was the first time I realised how simple lines that are drawn in a particular way can create an entire character or story.

When I'm drawing the process feels very intuitive and fluid. It puts me in such a state of mindfulness. I'm also amazed at how we interpret what we see. If you have the ability to see, your entire nervous system can be influenced just by eye movements and the amount of light we're exposed to.

Those simple lines drawn in particular ways can make the viewer understand exactly what the artist has attempted to portray in only a matter of seconds. I always found it engaging and I ended up studying graphic design and illustration.

Does it fit into the world of coffee?

Design projects are longer and there's lots of edits and refining work. Coffee is different, everything moves at a faster pace. There's still an opportunity to make it really beautiful with elements like latte art so I do think it fits together well.

Have you been able to start working creatively and working in hospitality? How has it been trying to balance both?

At a certain time, doing both was the only financially stable option for me. I think the only options for my art or my design was to work for an agent or a company. I felt there was no real creative freedom. In terms of pure freelancing, I was not prepared to run a business by myself, I just didn’t have the expertise so I felt very lost.

I find people who study a more niche degree like creative arts do end up working in hospitality or retail or something to support themselves while they develop skills on the side. I know a friend who has started up their own clothing line, they create sustainable clothing and one of a kind pieces, called Zero Waste Project. They also work in hospitality on the weekends. As well as financial stability I think we enjoy the social aspect of it. I love art but I found the main difference was that I missed working in a team. I found it very isolating working from home all the time. So it’s good being able to come into work, see your friends and still set challenges for yourself. I wanted to get to a point where I could start curating recipes and managing cafes.

I also always enjoyed having a good relationship with the customer, especially over COVID when I’d have my favourite customers coming in during the morning and there’d be no one else there so you could just sit and have a chat which is really nice.

Do you find working with Our Kinds allows you to explore this?

I do feel that Our Kinds has allowed me to be myself, which I think is rare in any kind of job, especially in customer service. So it’s really nice to feel comfortable and accepted for who I am. I think it does help, it’s amazing to be paid a wage to create artwork for something you care about. Then I’m able to swap from that to going and connecting with people, it’s a very nice polarity. It’s also a good way to keep up momentum for other projects, if I’ve got a morning shift and I finish early enough I can be really productive because I’ve already had that fast paced start.

Did working in cafes alter your views on sustainability?

About 5 or 6 years ago, I was working at this one cafe called Swan Valley Vegetarian Cafe and we were really cautious of waste. The owners were both into very sustainable practices. The whole cafe was vegetarian, they wanted to have a holistic approach to hospitality. We did our own composting, we made our own almond milk, there were heaps of things we did to cut down on waste.

Was that hard to get used to?

I think as you move into different workplaces there are just different standards, I’ve definitely worked at places where you would use plastic on everything, it’s easy to get swept up in that when everyone’s doing it. Like, when there aren’t any clean containers around and you think “I’ll just plastic wrap it” but actually it would only take a minute to wash and reuse a container.
It’s a behaviour change and it’s not impossible either, like when we banned plastic bags everyone had to remember to bring in their own bags to shop with. That seemed difficult at first but a lot of people have gotten into the habit and do it religiously now.

Has working with Our Kinds also altered your behaviour?

It was like a second nudge—it’s changed the way I get coffee. It’s so funny, I went to a cafe yesterday with my Dad and I’m so used to visiting cafes that have reusable takeaway cups and they didn’t so I said to dad “we’ve got to dine in”, but we had to get going. I ended up going across the road and buying him a reusable cup and told him that he had to keep this one and reuse it, he was like “bloody hell” it was great. No one’s perfect but I like to practise what I preach. It's really nice to be working in a place that cares about the people and the environment.

If you'd like to see more of Ash's work, visit her Instagram page here!

We’re building community so we can stamp out single use culture. Would you like to be a part of the movement?