While most 14-year-olds are just starting to consider getting their first job, Cooper Palmer is already celebrating a major milestone in the workforce, marking the first anniversary of his business Surfing Is My Coffee.
The phrase was coined by the Illawarra teenager in 2020 while he was at the beach with mates, but he didn’t realise just how popular it would become.
“We thought we would put it on a couple of shirts and wear it around,” Cooper said. “I wasn’t expecting it to turn into this.”
Months later Cooper hand-sketched the slogan and screen printed it on a tote bag at school during his textiles class.
When he showed his parents the bag, they realised that he had created something special and sellable.
Cooper’s parents were committed to helping him start up the business but his mum Sam Palmer warned him that it wouldn’t all be easy.
“I said, ‘This will be a lot of hard work and you may want to throw in the towel but if you want to do this, we’re all in’,” Sam said.
It took almost 18 months to get off the ground as the family worked through trademarking and business planning.
But now the business is in full swing with an expanding stock list of jumpers, hats, shirts, stickers and more sold online and at markets.
“It’s an amazing feeling because people are actually buying into my story as well,” Cooper said. “I’m a kid and they want to see me grow as a business and a person and they’re investing in my future.”
He sometimes even spots people wearing his merchandise out in the community.
“It’s cool to see that there’s people out there wearing my brand,” Cooper said. “And that they’ve chosen to wear that over a Rip Curl or Billabong shirt.”
But for Cooper and his family the business is about more than just sales and profit.
“There’s so much learning involved in it, so much growth,” Sam said. “In a year we’ve seen huge personal growth, huge character growth and it has been tough, but he’s taken it all on board.”
Sam said he’s developing valuable skills that he will use for the rest of his life such as time management and communication.
“He is just a champion,” Sam said. “He walks around to the other market stall holders and they give him tips and tricks and he’s growing and maturing in a thousand ways.”
Cooper already has a more holistic understanding of all the components needed to make a retail business operate and be successful.
“It’s been a great experience, I’ve really enjoyed the learning aspect of it and figuring out things over the year all the different things that need to be done, like marketing, talking to people, what to include and how to present the story,” Cooper said.
And Cooper has his eyes set on national expansion in the future.
“I’d love to go Australia-wide,” Cooper said. “There are a lot of factors to think about, but I’d like to go big like Rip Curl; it will take time though.”
He’s already had to make some sacrifices as he balances working on the business, attending school and just being a kid.
But Cooper is determined to push through any tough times to see what the business could become.
“If I was to give up now and then in five years I’d be like, ‘Why did I do that?’, and it could be a massive regret on my behalf,” Cooper said. “So I just want to keep going.”