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How I founded The Rainforest Co. - Albana

How did it all start? With love for nature. 

I grew up in Botushë in Kosovo, surrounded by mountains, nature, and animals. With no electricity, no hot water, and only homegrown food, but a tenacious and affectionate grandmother who raised me with a lot of love and dignity. My grandparents owned a farm, where they would grow everything by themselves. The water came from the mountain springs and my grandmother baked fresh bread every day. My grandparents taught me the love for nature and animals. We named every cow, chicken and sheep living on the farm. They were part of the family and we treated them with the utmost respect and love.

When the war in Yugoslavia broke out, I had to leave my grandparents and my home in the mountains. I followed my parents to Switzerland who had migrated there as guest workers years before. I was seven. And that was the first time I saw a supermarket. It was mind-blowing for me. Did they put the milk in a box? How does a cow fit in this box? I took a while to understand this new world.

My parents were the hardest-working people I knew. My father and mother had to take care of their entire family in Kosovo. I saw my parents striving for a better life, working seven days a week. That work ethic formed me. I felt it was my duty to support my family wherever I could, so I started working at my father’s cleaning company after school. There I understood the meaning and importance of teamwork, and that being part of something bigger gave me more meaning than my individual satisfaction.

I also noticed that growing up as a woman in underprivileged circumstances, wouldn’t be easy. When I was twelve, I promised my grandmother, “nana” as I called her, that I would unfold the possibilities she and women of her generation were denied. Nana’s hardship should get meaning through my achievements. The values she taught me guided me. I learned from her to always stay truthful and walk through life with grace, no matter how hard it gets. To find love in the little things, but don’t settle beyond your worth and potential. To stay curious, control what you can control, and let go of what you can’t, unfold your possibilities but always on your own terms. Be loyal, be kind and be tough.

When I finished high school, I went backpacking for almost two and a half years. I would work in every place I could: I cleaned, washed dishes, and worked as a waitress, and at a farm, just to earn enough money to explore the next city or country. I felt at home wherever I was, on four continents and in more than 20 countries. That is where I developed a strong sense of global community and responsibility.

When I returned to Zurich, I studied business administration and to finance my studies I had to work full-time as an accountant and later project manager. After my master’s program in the UK and the US, I worked for several years in the finance industry. In my early thirties, I went on a three-week trip in the Amazon Rainforest that was supposed to be an adventurous getaway vacation. These three weeks in the middle of the Amazon turned out to be life-changing. I remembered another side of me. I wasn’t only a career-driven woman to pursue a life of independence, but I wanted to be part of something bigger with meaning.

While I saw the beauty of the rainforest, I also so saw the vulnerability of the green lungs of our planet. Many of the people I met there had no other option but to sell their land and work for unsustainable agricultural industry, planting soy monocultures or raising cattle, as this was the only possible source of income to support their families. The rainforest was destroyed because of economic necessities.

During my time there, eating with the locals, the açai berry was a staple for every meal of the day. This fruit, then unknown in Europe, was praised by the locals for its health benefits due to its rich content of antioxidants and crucial vitamins.

Açai is harvested in the wild rainforests; therefore, its collection does not destroy the surrounding biotope. If the farmers could harvest açai regeneratively and make a living from it, this little berry could help protect the rainforest. Instead of making space for monocultures and farm animals, the rainforest itself becomes a sustainable economic opportunity. And that is how the idea for The Rainforest Company was born.

A few months later, I quit the corporate world, took all my savings, and founded The Rainforest Company, initially called Amazonian. With a small team of young, like-minded, mission-driven people, we built The Rainforest Company into what it is today.

We would be at every fair and every market, like the Kollwitzmarket in Berlin. We sold self-made, delicious, vegan, and organic açai bowls. As a small team, we managed every aspect of the business — product development, supply chain, marketing, finance, branding, and sales — and even worked in the cold store and packed the products with our assistant students for retail customers.

In 2018, we got our first big deal: a national listing at REWE in Germany, and we started our collaboration with Pamela Reif. That was our breakthrough.

The vision of The Rainforest Company has only grown over the years, along with an expanding network of organizations that support us. One such example is our cooperation with world-leading scientists from ETH Zurich to increase and verify our impact. I wanted to ensure, from a scientific standpoint, that The Rainforest Company stands for environmental protection and human health. Our goal is to create healthy and sustainable food products rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.

Today, I’m very proud of what we have achieved as a team. All our products are organic, vegan, and naturally delicious. And most importantly, every single product makes a significant positive impact on the rainforest and its inhabitants.

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