Founder Of Stiletto Coffee Reveals How She Turned Adversity Into Opportunity And Pierced The Premium Market

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

When coffee-entrepreneur Kenia Costanzo made the heart-wrenching decision to stay in the United States instead of returning to her home country of Brazil, she never knew that her decision would eventually lead to starting the world’s first coffee company on a mission to help women rise in more ways than one.

Founded in 2015 by Brazilian-immigrant turned American-entrepreneur, Kenia Costanzo, Stiletto Coffee is a unique coffee brand with an inspirational story of overcoming the odds, rising in the face of adversity and pursuing dreams.

The coffee is even reported to already be a favorite of several well-known celebrities and they recently sent their first order to the Facebook corporate headquarters to be served to employees of the world’s largest social network.

A Humble Beginnings In A Small Brazilian Town

Born to a very humble family in a small town in Minas Gerais, which is the coffee capital of Brazil, Kenia grew up amidst the coffee farms that sustained the local economy. From an early age she remembers playing in the fields and fire-roasting fresh coffee in a hand-cranked tumbler over an open flame.

“When coffee roasts, it POPS!” Kenia explains, “the beans don’t explode the way popcorn does but they let out a loud crack. This ‘first crack’ is what roasters have been listening to for centuries. And whenever I hear the sound, it reminds me of home.”

The immigrant-work-ethic is strong in Kenia and she holds a very special place in her heart for those who dreamed of coming to the U.S. and made it happen. “I came legally, with my ex-husband on a visa and eventually earned my U.S. citizenship. I know not everyone comes here that way and although I very much respect the immigration laws of our country, I also respect the American Dream.”

But Kenia’s American Dream Had Its Nightmare Moments

In 2001, Kenia immigrated to the U.S. with her ex-husband, excited to start their lives. But a few years into a struggling marriage, she discovered her husband had been hiding secret affairs when he left his email open and she stumbled across messages no woman ever wants to read.

Kenia found herself at very precarious crossroads: on her own, with broken English, a broken heart and very little money, she had to choose between returning to Brazil and the comfort of home or forging her way in the land of opportunity… alone.

“The same fire that melts butter” Kenia states “also hardens steel.”

Kenia took a job at a department store makeup counter and in less than a year became the top sales person despite the fact that she used the job to learn English by focusing on only one product per day.

A few years later, a customer she met at the makeup counter recognized potential in her and offered her a job as a mortgage loan officer. Having never owned a home and not knowing how to even spell mortgage, she accepted and learned the way she always has, by jumping in and getting started.

Bitten By Entrepreneurial Ambition

Now over ten years into a successful mortgage career, living in San Diego and happily married to serial entrepreneur, Brad Costanzo, Kenia began yearning for something more, wanting to channel her ambition into a business of her own and make a positive impact on the world.

One night, on her honeymoon on the island of Santorini, Greece, she asked her husband what he thought about starting a coffee company.

Instead of opening a coffee shop, the entrepreneurial couple decided to start a new brand of coffee and focus on roasting the best beans they could find, from regions across Central and South America and delivering the coffee to customers on demand, starting with a simple but gorgeous website,

Stiletto Coffee Makes Its Debut

The retail value of the U.S. coffee industry is approximately $48 billion with specialty coffee, the ultra-premium variety sold by companies such as Stiletto, claiming approximately 55% of the share of the market.

Standing out in such a crowded market wouldn’t be easy without some type of product differentiation.

Kenia states, “our coffee is amazing, it’s organic, free trade and spectacular. But so is a lot of coffee out there. To break into a new market like this, selling a ‘me-too’ brand would be incredibly challenging.

So we created a new way to stand out. We decided to focus on our tribe first, our consumers and create a company that resonates with them. I decided it would be women because they’ve played such an important role in my life and I wanted to find a way to give back.”

Why the name “Stiletto?”

When asked about why she chose the name “Stiletto” for her coffee, Kenia replied, “First, I love the name and the sound of ‘stiletto’… it sounds like espresso, macchiato, Americano, cortado.

More importantly, stiletto heels are beautiful and elegant but they can also be painful. The key to wearing them well is to feel the pain and wear them anyway. It’s similar to being a professional woman or an entrepreneur, trying to balance career and family in a male dominated business. Women may make it look glamorous, but it rarely feels like it.”

Kenia continues “Stiletto heels help a woman rise up, literally, on their toes. Stiletto Coffee helps a woman rise up out of bed with a kickstart to her day. And Stiletto Coffee’s impact program of helps women ‘rise up’ in life.”

Helping Women Rise Up

Sexy packaging and beautiful branding are not the only reason Stiletto Coffee is for women. The company created an impact program whereby they are creating a “pay it forward” program that dedicates a portion of the company’s profits to help women’s programs, initiatives and charities as well as funding micro-loans to women around the world.

This is one of the reasons that customers keep coming back to the brand because they realize there’s a worthy social impact.

Coffee Names You’ll Never Forget

Kenia admits that one of the most fun parts of her new business in naming her new roasts and blends. “I wanted it to be fun, playful, sexy and most importantly, memorable for our customers and fans.”

Stiletto Coffee offers fun and inspiring names such as Ambition, Elevation, Little Black Dress, Gloria Colombiana and “You’ll Never Glo Back Blend.”

Who Inspires Kenia Costanzo?

When asked who has made a big impact on her, Kenia names her husband and family of course. But she also pays homage to many women who she has learned from or looked up to.

“First of all, I’m a big fan of Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx. Her company is amazing, her energy is contagious and she does amazing things to help female entrepreneurs with Spanx’s Leg Up program.

I’ve followed businesswoman Marie Forleo for a couple years, I’ve learned a ton from her videos and she is as entertaining as she is inspiring.

Two other women who I’ve been watching closely and absolutely love what they do are Jessica Alba and her Honest Company and Sophia Amoruso founder of ecommerce company NastyGal and author of #GirlBoss. What amazes me about her is that she has done all of this and started a foundation that helps fund women-owned businesses.

What’s Next For Kenia Costanzo and Stiletto Coffee?

Kenia says that this is just the beginning. After only a year in business, Stiletto Coffee is gaining a lot of traction and fans. Surprisingly many men are also loyal subscribers and use Stiletto Coffee as a gift to the women in their lives.

“I really just want to focus on growing the brand, roasting amazing coffee and making a difference.” You can find out more about Kenia and Stiletto Coffee on their website.

Popular in the Community